With wildly fluctuating weather — record heat on one December day; a rainy, 45-degree afternoon the next — it’s hard to know when we’ll be able to curl up under a blanket by the fire, a steaming mug of hot toddy in hand.
Hot cocktails are ideal on cold nights. In this Austin winter, feeling a chill in the air seems to be harder to come by than in past years, but that doesn’t mean local bars and restaurants have shied away from offering warming drinks. There are hot cocktails aplenty that we can enjoy no matter the temperature outside, thanks to the magic of this time of year.
Here’s where to go for a piping hot cup of booze.
Revelry on the Boulevard, 6215 N. Lamar Blvd.
Like much of the main cocktail menu at this Brentwood neighborhood restaurant, the trio of hot drinks are all riffs on classics. Then again, there doesn’t tend to be a whole lot of variation with cocktails that come with puffs of steam.
"With hot cocktails, you have your typical heavy hitters," bar manager Alana Zanello said.
The more family-friendly sister restaurant to East Sixth Street’s Revelry Kitchen + Bar, Revelry on the Boulevard offers three hot drinks featuring whiskey: hot apple cider (rye whiskey, apple and cinnamon), a hot toddy (bourbon, lemon and honey) and an Irish coffee (Jameson Irish Whiskey, coffee, whipped cream and mint).
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Each one will leave you feeling cozy in your seat. But order the creamy hot buttered rum (Captain Morgan Gingerbread Spiced Rum, brown sugar, butter, cream, allspice and clove) — it’s like the cocktail world’s version of comfort food. And yes, it really does call for butter and sugar. ’Tis the season of indulgence.
Whisler’s, 1816 E. Sixth St.
It’s also the season of giving: Whisler’s has once again launched a small menu of holiday drinks for a good cause. Order the Mama’s Hot Toddy, Oaxacan hot chocolate or Whisler’s Good Ol' Fashioned Egg Nog, and a portion of their sales will go toward Toys for Tots. The boozy hot cocoa— featuring El Silencio mezcal and its notes of smoke and baking spices — will give you heat in more ways than one. The clouds of whipped cream on top are dusted with cayenne.
Radio Coffee & Beer, 4204 Manchaca Road
There aren’t many mixed drinks available at this popular South Austin coffee bar, but Radio makes ’em count by focusing on the essentials. One of those for owner Jack Wilson is an Irish coffee that can be prepared hot or cold and always features Jameson whiskey and Stumptown coffee from Portland, a favorite of the roasters from which Radio sources.
Juliet Italian Kitchen, 1500 Barton Springs Road
The two types of rum in Juliet’s hot buttered rum are sure to give you a very merry night, indeed. This version of the holiday-time drink — which dates back to American colonial days — relies on cinnamon for its spice and, of course, has the requisite pat of butter, lending a nice silky texture to the hot cocktail as it’s intended to do.
The Upside Bar at the East Austin Hotel, 1108 E. Sixth St.
Beverage director Jason Stevens decided to put the rum masala toddy on the menu at East Austin Hotel restaurant Sixth and Waller year-round because of how "comfortable" it is to drink after a day of traveling. No doubt it’s especially a comfort this month. Another option is to head upstairs to the Upside Bar for its Up on the Rooftop holiday pop-up, running through Dec. 28, that has additional hot drinks on offer with names like the Sugar Rum Fairy.
El Naranjo, 2717 S. Lamar Blvd.
A popular punch enjoyed at Christmastime in Mexico is Ponche Navideño, a hot beverage made of hibiscus blossom tea that has been sweetened with piloncillo and flavored with canela (cinnamon) and things like apple, guava, sugar cane, dried plum and raisins. El Naranjo’s new South Austin location makes it throughout the winter. Get it spiked with rum, and the name changes to Ponche con Piquete — appropriately, "punch with a bite."
The Cavalier, 2400 Webberville Road
During the winter months, this East Austin hangout has a menu of $8 "hot dranks," such as a classic Irish coffee. Starting on Dec. 19, the Cavalier’s Nostalgic Noel holiday pop-up promises additional warming beverages like the Thunder Punch, essentially a mulled bourbon.
The knockout on Nostalgic Noel’s hot cocktail menu is the Fraggle Rock (El Silencio mezcal, coconut cream, strawberry syrup and chai). No, the Fraggle Rock isn’t one of the usual hot cocktails you see this time of year, and that’s partly what makes it so interesting. But it’s also really good, with smoke, fruit and spice combining in the heated mixture. The Cavalier co-owner Rachelle Fox leaned toward making the drink iced, but her partner, Chadwick Leger, "said it was such a unique flavor to have hot," she said.
He was spot on. Fox likes that the creamy Fraggle Rock tastes like something you’d want to sip by a roaring fire, even if it’s 80 degrees outside.
"You can smell the fireplace in it because of the mezcal, so it sort of is a stand-in for what you’d drink by the fire if you actually had one going in this Texas weather," she said. "It’s a nice, cozy cocktail."
Gibson Street Bar, 1109 S. Lamar Blvd.
Nearly every inch of space, inside and out, has been decked out for the holidays. The South Austin watering hole has gone similarly all out with its seasonal menu, which includes a section of five winter warmers. (A very cozy-sounding term for "hot cocktails," huh?) Lounge in one of Gibson’s black leather booths — underneath a sea of poinsettias — with the Ho Ho Hot Toddy (Ben Milam bourbon, spiced honey, lemon and cinnamon).
Lefty’s Brick Bar at Arrive East Austin, 1813 E. Sixth St.
Apparently, smoke and steam go very well together. Another local spot with a hot mezcal drink is the Cajun-inspired Lefty’s Brick Bar, outside of the new Arrive East Austin hotel. With mezcal, Averna, Cynar, grenadine, lemon and soda, the Quarter Smoke has the sort of bracing, booze-forward quality of a good after-dinner drink and enough warmth to keep you feeling good in Lefty’s outdoor courtyard.