Five Hot Cocktails that Keep Us Warm on Winter Nights

Dark Chocolate with Mandarine Napoleon and Homemade Marshmallow at Mindy’s HotChocolate (Wicker Park | 1747 N. Damen Ave.)

Warm like: a thick, heavy down comforter

Forget thin, watery Swiss Miss. The titular drink at Mindy’s HotChocolate is so thick with real chocolate that it’s a full dessert unto itself. I chose the 72% French dark-chocolate variety, which came with a shot of Mandarine Napoleon—a liqueur made from mandarin oranges and aged cognac. On my waiter’s advice, I added just a splash of the liqueur at first to open the chocolate up quickly. The resulting first sip was so intense with chocolate flavor it actually gave me a jolt. The faint hint of orange cut the sweetness a bit, and the marshmallow, which I gobbled down soon after, was light and airy—far removed from the dehydrated cubes of my powdered-mix youth. In went the rest of the liqueur, adding a complex flavor and warmth that lasted long after the final sip. – Carolyn Alterio

An off-menu coffee drink at Sable Kitchen & Bar (River North | 505 N. State St.)

Warm like: the steam off your morning latte

When I asked about a warm drink, our bartender, Mike, could have apologetically explained that there were none on the menu. Instead, he whipped up a soul-calming coffee drink off the cuff, assuring me it was no trouble. Lifting it to my lips, I inhaled a rich, buttery scent that complemented the drink’s warm, nutty flavor. At its heart, Cardenal Mendoza brandy lent the richness of oaky vanilla and toffee, tempered by dry curacao’s orange notes. Dark crème de cacao added more complexity than sweetness, and a dash of Moroccan bitters rooted this drink with some of fall’s best flavors—coriander and cinnamon, among others. – Michelle Schuman

Know Your Magi at Billy Sunday (Logan Square | 3143 W. Logan Blvd.)

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Warm like: a frothy, foamy bubble bath

Eggnog has long been a fixture among holiday drinks, but there are other ways to get a creamy foam mustache. Billy Sunday’s newest winter cocktail uses fluffed egg whites as an accent for a sour-sweet blend of cognac, Cappelletti aperitif, cider bitters, and almond-and-myrrh honey. The congac and flavored honey lend a pleasant spiciness, while the aperitif and cider bitters work together to cut the richness of the egg with a refreshing, citrusy tang. Even the presentation is festive: a sprig of greenery erupts from the drink’s surface, resembling grass poking through snow. Sipping this while glancing around Billy Sunday’s dim interior, which always reminds me of an old-fashioned parlor in the home of some eccentric relative, felt just as good as cozying up with a nightcap on Christmas Eve. – Will Landon

An off-the-menu creation we named Winnie the Pooh, a.k.a. the Bear Hug at Nellcôte (West Loop | 833 W. Randolph St.)

Warm like: the den of a (friendly) hibernating grizzly

There weren’t any warm cocktails on Nellcôte’s seasonal menu yet, but our bartender, Courtney, was eager to experiment with some autumnal spirits. She took care choosing her ingredients, inhaling their aromas to be sure they’d fit the bill. The result was a spicy, fragrant blend of three liqueurs—Sorel, Bärenjäger, and pimento dram—with Hudson Manhattan Rye, lemon, and cardamom and walnut bitters. As I started tilting the drink back, the hurricane shape of the glass funneled warmth toward my face. I tasted the honey (from the Bärenjäger) and lemon immediately, yet the cocktail wasn’t overly sweet or tart. The cardamom and allspice (from the pimento dram) flared with each swallow, and for awhile, the cocktail turned into an easily gulpable elixir reminiscent of warm apple cider. But I savored it slowly, and as it cooled, the rye whiskey’s potency took over, ending the drink on a strong note. – Kelly MacDowell

Glögg at Simon’s Tavern (Andersonville | 5210 N. Clark St.)

Warm like: the space heater in your grandpa’s basement

Amid the popular brunch spots and upscale bars of Andersonville, Simon's Tavern stands out as one of the historically Swedish neighborhood's last ethnic pubs. Starting on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving each year, Simon's barkeeps honor their Scandinavian roots by mixing up batches of glögg—a hot winter cocktail of mulled wine, spirits, spices, and fruit. The concoction comes in a glass mug with a garnish of hooch-soaked raisins and a side of ginger wafers. Though the drink's syrupy, cinnamony sweetness usually keeps me from having more than one, settling in to a nice corner of Simon's and downing a glass of glögg often feels like the perfect antidote to Chicago's bitter winter. It also helps that Simon's is decked out like a fun-loving grandpa's rec room, with plenty of kitschy decorations, an analog jukebox, and an alcove in the back lined with sofas. – Patrick Winegar

Photo credit: Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon