Warm Specialty Drinks Heat Up Bar Business

Bartenders put twists on the classics, like hot buttered rum and hot chocolate
Warm Specialty Drinks Heat Up Bar Business
Maryse Chevriere

From the swank cocktail emporium to the kickass country bar, classic warm drinks like hot buttered rum, hot toddies, and spiked coffee are entering the seasonal spotlight. While some operators hew to traditional formulas, the innovative add distinctive touches, like cardamom-scented bitters, pumpkin-infused rum, or a spice-and-sugar coating on the glass rim.

Nostalgia is a big part of the appeal of steamy specialties, operators agreed.

“They are adult versions of something you may remember fondly from childhood,” said Kenneth McClure, vice president and group general manager of Hospitality Holdings, which has six high-end cocktail lounges and a bistro-wine bar in New York City. “Every kid enjoys hot chocolate and marshmallows.”

The new signature hot chocolate served at Bookmarks, Hospitality Holdings’ upscale rooftop lounge at The Library Hotel in Manhattan, combines rich chocolate ganache with French orange liqueur and steamed milk, and is served in a glass rimmed with orange-scented sugar.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte, another new creation at Bookmarks, is made with hot caffe latte, spiced rum and Irish cream liqueur, plus pumpkin pie spice, sugar and a topping of spice-dusted whipped cream. Warm drinks like those, regularly priced at $13.75, are sold at half price from 9 p.m. to midnight nightly to stimulate late-evening business.

“Couples especially seem to respond well to these drinks,” McClure said. “They enjoy coming up to the 14th floor rooftop lounge to have a nice warm drink in front of the fireplace.”

When temperatures dip in Chicago, patrons of Shaw’s Crab House, part of the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant group based there, call for hot buttered rum. Shaw’s version features aged Puerto Rican rum mixed with a housemade batter of butter, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.

Joshua Tilden, Shaw’s beverage manager, said he sees warm libations rising in prominence along with brown spirits in general, driven by the distinctive and flavorful drinks that cocktail-centric bars mix these days.

“That seems to be where the trend is going,” Tilden said. “People are getting away from the Lemon Drops and Cosmos.”