“Basically, no,” said the bartender at one of Kyoto’s ritzier drinking establishments when I asked if he could make something hot. I could have fancy juices, cream, egg whites or yolks in my cocktail, but I could not have heat. Even in winter.
Bartenders don’t seem enamored with hot drinks. Pick a bar, any bar, and ask for something to warm your innards. I’ll bet you get a hot wine, hot toddy, buttered rum, boozy coffee or an apologetic wince. It’s a meager lineup compared with their repertoire of iced cocktails. Luckily, I’ve only got space for four recipes on this page, and I know some bartenders who always have an idea up their sleeve.
If you fancy trying these recipes at home, use heat-proof glasses and warm them first by filling them with hot water and leaving to stand for a minute or two.
Vin chaud — Koji Ozaki, Bar Radio
Mulled wine has been popular since at least medieval times, and the recipe is as varied as it is old. Cafe de Metro, inside Omotesando Station, makes a version with one part cheap plonk and one part hot water, which tastes like hot, watery plonk. I don’t suppose anybody has ever ordered it twice. Two blocks away in Bar Radio, Koji Ozaki makes something much more sublime. He bases it on the French recipe, which calls for plenty of fruit, but while vin chaud usually contains cassis, Ozaki uses freshly squeezed orange juice and Grand Marnier. He recommends the drink for anyone experiencing the early symptoms of a cold. Or anyone that isn’t.
60 ml red wine
60 ml orange juice
10 ml Grand Marnier
Heat the juice and wine together (a saucepan or microwave will do), then add the remaining ingredients.
Bar Radio, 3-10-34 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3402-2668; www.bar-radio.com; 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
Hot wine — Hirotaka Konishi, Bar Blossom Hirotaka Konishi put Osaka on the cocktail map when his fruity, gin-base Sundowner won the Nippon Bartenders Association’s 2006 award for best cocktail. His 5-year-old Bar Blossom gets everything just about perfect: world- class cocktails — including a menu of seasonal fresh fruit drinks — Osakan hospitality and a bar tab that will surprise you in a good way. He, too, offered a recipe for hot wine, using a Chilean cabernet sauvignon and a just-launched curiosity called Umeshu de France Prucia, a plum liqueur from the South of France. The grapes and plums combine for a very rich, Christmas puddingy drink, and, as the strongest drink on this page, it will put a little fire in your belly.
90 ml red wine
30 ml plum liqueur
10 ml honey
Heat the wine, plum liqueur, honey and fruit slices in a pan. Pour the drink into a warmed glass and garnish with one of the fruit slices.
Bar Blossom, 2-1-6 Sonezaki, Kita-Osaka; (06) 6311-6530; open 5 p.m.-1 a.m. (closed Sun.)
Kentucky eggnog — Hidetsugu Ueno, Bar High Five
Eggnog is another drink that predates the cocktail era and has no definitive recipe. Early versions mixed eggs and milk with wine or sherry. Colonial-era Americans began using rum, which was in cheap and plentiful supply back then (George Washington was said to like his with a frightening blend of sherry, rum and whiskey), but most eggnog these days contains brandy.
Hidetsugu Ueno, who trained at Ginza’s legendary Star Bar, was inspired by his American wife to use bourbon as the base for his Kentucky eggnog. This is by far the hardest recipe on the page, requiring a delicate hand to ensure that the egg doesn’t coagulate. Ueno says the trick is to “beat the egg really, really well before blending with the hot stuff. It’s much easier if you have a hand mixer. Then stir the well-beaten egg while you add the hot stuff really slowly.”
30 ml bourbon
135 ml milk
15 ml syrup
One whole egg
Beat the egg well and set aside. Heat the milk, bourbon, syrup and cinnamon powder in a pan, being careful not to let them come to a boil. Then pour the hot drink slowly onto the egg, stirring constantly. Remove any coagulation with a tea strainer.
Bar High Five, 4F No.26 Polestar Building, 7-2-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3571-5815; open 6 p.m.-2 a.m. (closed Sun.)
Hot chocolate mint — Prinz
Prinz is northern Kyoto’s still-kinda-hip Shin Nishibori-designed cafe-bar-gallery- library-hotel (hyphens are lovely, aren’t they?). It isn’t — and never will be — famous for its drinks, but Prinz’s liquid version of an after-dinner mint would have been a nice post-prandial Christmas beverage, if only I’d told you about it yesterday. It’s a lowbrow drink to represent one of the planet’s greatest cities, but for all its dazzling World Heritage, Kyoto is rubbish for hot cocktails.
30 ml creme de menthe
120 ml milk
Heat the milk, pour over creme de menthe and top with cocoa powder.
Prinz, Tanaka Takahara, Sakyo-Ku, Kyoto; (075) 712-3900; www.prinz.jp; open 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m.