Dining | Cocktails: Hot Toddies & Grog 

Nothing speaks to me of winter quite like hot mugs of grog, glögg, wassail and other cold-weather liquid warmers. In fact, the first boozy beverage ever to touch my lips was a wee sip from my mom’s hot toddy, a drink she’d learned to love during the icy winters of Montana. Well, spring is not all that far off. But we’ve still got at least a couple months of chilly weather ahead—as good a reason as any for stoking the fireplace and settling in with a warm winter beverage. Here are a few of my favorites.

The old English word “grog” is from the nickname of Edward Vernon, an English admiral called the Old Grog, who was known in the mid-1750s for diluting his sailors’ rum. Since then, it has become a generic term for hot liquor-based drinks which are diluted with water, and often include sugar and lemon juice.

The hot toddy is one classic example of grog. My mother’s secret hot toddy weapon was her sweetener: honey, rather than sugar. Honey subtly flavors the drink in a way that sugar doesn’t—and, also, I think, dissolves and blends a tad more thoroughly than sugar.

Here’s my favorite hot toddy recipe. Since most of us have microwaves in our kitchens, it’s a snap to make; no need to heat water on the stove like in the old days. So, in a Pyrex or other microwave-safe glass container, heat 3 ounces water, 1 ounce honey, and 1/3 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice (don’t even think about using the lemony liquid from one of those plastic lemons) for 30 seconds to one minute. Stir to blend the ingredients and then add 1 1/2 ounce whiskey. That’s all there is to it. I also like to make this with dark rum in place of the whiskey. Other variations include using brandy or substituting tea for the water.

Another great cold weather treat is Swedish glögg (also called gluhwein in Germany), which is mulled wine with spices. You can experiment with using different favorite spices in your glögg, making it truly your own. Common spice ingredients for glögg include cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. I like a smidgeon of dried ginger (not fresh) in my glögg, and one of these days I’m going to try a snippet of cumin.

Here is a classic recipe for glögg: In a large saucepan, heat the following ingredients until steaming hot, but do not boil. Boiling the glögg will burn off the alcohol. Heat a 750 milliliter bottle of red wine, preferably something fruity (I like Zinfandel), 20 or so cloves, 15-20 cardamom seeds, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, the zest from a lemon, four cinnamon sticks, a cup of sugar, 5 ounces brandy (optional, if you’d prefer less alcohol). Adjust the sugar to your liking and serve hot in mugs with a cinnamon stick or piece of lemon peel for garnish. It’s traditional to serve glögg with gingerbread.

Wassail is a spiced punch popular in Northern Europe—another beverage served warm or hot. There are myriad variations; some recipes include pineapple juice, some apple cider or sautéed buttery apples. I’ve even had wassail with Dr. Pepper as a secret ingredient. Here is a good, all-purpose recipe that you can fiddle with to your heart’s desire: In a large pot, combine the following: 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup lemon juice, 1 cup pineapple juice, 2 quarts apple cider, 2/3 cup sugar, 15-20 cloves, four cinnamon sticks. Heat until hot but do not boil. Serve warm. If you’d want to booze it up a bit, add vodka, brandy or rum.

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