Tasty hot cocktails arrive in time for winter

by Angela Erika Kubo

Special To The Japan Times

On finding refuge from the fall and winter cold in a warm bar, there’s no need to endure a chilled beer: Recently hot cocktails are becoming more common, in Tokyo at least, and make for a comforting start to a night on the town.

The Barn (0422-77-0143; www.the-barn.jp), close to Mitaka Station, is a fine place to warm up. The proprietor, Israel-born Avi Zelinger, gives his personal twist to mulled wine by adding orange juice and just a hint of mango liquor to the famous winter warmer. The result is an almost-tropical concoction, garnished with a stick of cinnamon.

Zelinger also makes a great cup of hot buttered rum, a simple cocktail involving hot water, dark rum, butter, cinnamon and cloves. One sip is enough to banish the cold.

For the ultimate pick-me-up, ask Zelinger for a cup of Hot Chocolat à la Barn — the ideal “dessert” to top off the mulled wine and hot buttered rum. Chocolate liquor and even more chocolate liquor — along with a bit of almond liquor — is added to hot milk. It’s especially popular among those with a serious sweet tooth.

Bar Atrium Ginza (03-3564-2888; www.bar-atrium.com) is another bar that has hot drink options.

“Customers like to start off with a hot cocktail because it was cold outside — or they like to finish up with a hot drink before they go out because they know the trip back home will be freezing,” says my bartender, Chieko Shimizu.

Atrium serves the most basic and well-known hot cocktails, such as Irish coffee and hot buttered rum, and it also has more creative options available. Nothing says autumn like a cup of hot milk mixed with chestnut liquor and spiked with brandy. Atrium also infuses its vodka with ingredients such as black peppercorns, coffee beans, hot peppers and ginger. Try something unique such as its beef broth spiked with black pepper-infused Stolichnaya, or chase away a cold with hot ginger vodka.

If you’re looking for a place that’s cozy and out of the way, check out Sweetback Bar (03-3461-1189; www.facebook.com/SweetbackBar) in Shibuya. The bartender there, who goes by the name Go-mi, dances professionally in his spare time and mixes up cocktails as warm as his personality. The specials’ board for hot drinks is limited to the basics — hot wine garnished with a fresh orange slice, whiskey mixed with spices, and hot buttered rum — but his chocolate cocktail is worth ordering. Go-mi melts chocolate flakes and chocolate powder into milk, then adds even more chocolate in the form of liquor and just a dash of brandy. Mini marshmallows are sprinkled on top, making the drink reminiscent of the hot chocolate my mother made me in my younger days, but one sip is enough to remind you that this drink is for adults — and is surprisingly strong!

Finally, if you’re in downtown Tokyo, check out Repos near Koiwa Station (03-3672-0456; r.gnavi.co.jp/g924000/lang/en) It is known mostly for its thick burgers — and the bizarre cigar-smoking pink gorilla decorating the inside of the restaurant — but it has some hot drinks during the colder months.

Plenty of honey is added to its spiced wine, great for a sore throat. The most notable item on the menu is the hot Kahlúa latte, topped with plenty of cream. The drink comes with an Oreo cookie to dunk. Repos also makes its own homemade yuzu umeshu (citrus plum liqueur), which can be served mixed with hot water. Or if you’re feeling down, try the Hot yuzu ginger: yuzu liquor and homemade yuzu jam mixed with ginger ale.

If the cold weather is a bit too much to handle and you’d much rather stay in bed bundled up in blankets, you can still enjoy a hot cup of comfort in your own apartment.

“Thanks to the wonderful invention of the microwave oven, anything can be done quickly,” says The Barn’s Zelinger. “The nice thing about these cocktails is that they are easy to make. You can make them at home.”

Zelinger recommends that warm cocktails should be made on the sweeter side. Also, since mixing liquors with hot liquids drastically changes the flavor of the liquor, there’s no need to use an expensive bottle.

“There’s no need to ruin the taste of a high-end brand of whisky,” he says. “The same thing goes for sake.”

Most spirits go well with hot water or milk. Brew a cup of oolong tea and add cassis syrup and a lemon slice to make a hot variation of a popular cold cocktail. A shot of brandy — or two if you’re daring — goes well with hot apple juice. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment.

“I think you should be creative when you make it at home. Don’t be uptight about it,” says Bar Atrium Ginza’s Shimizu. “Also, cloves and cinnamon add a bit of spice and fun to your drink.”

Why go outside at all?

With a microwave and a few ingredients, you can start mixing hot cocktails in the warmth of your own home.

Hot umeshu: For a winter twist to this classic plum liqueur, add a teaspoon of honey, a slice of lemon and a shot of your favorite umeshu into a mug or heat-resistant glass. Top off the ingredients with boiling water.

Hot cassis oolong tea: Microwave a mug of oolong tea or brew a cup. Add a shot of crème de Cassis and mix well.

Grown-up hot chocolate: Melt a spoonful of chocolate flakes and another of cocoa powder into a cup measure of milk on the stove. Once heated, transfer the mixture to a glass mug and add a shot of chocolate liquor (or two, since there is no such thing as too much chocolate). You can optionally add a dash of brandy or mini marshmallows.