A lot of places don’t bother with hot drinks because they can be difficult to execute, but it’s something we embrace,” says Bob McCoy, beverage programs liaison at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Boston. “Not only do we offer five or six hot specialty drinks seasonally, but we are ready to prepare anything a guest might call for.”
Eastern Standard is about to launch its Winter Warmers menu. Among the avenues the bar team explored is mescal. “Mescal is gaining popularity, and there’s a lot of potential for using it in hot drinks. It’s a rich and intriguing spirit,” says McCoy. “The hot toddy was originally a Scotch drink and mescal has that same smokiness.” One toddy variation at Eastern Standard substitutes agave nectar and lime juice for the traditional honey and lemon. “Agave-based spirits like mescal pair well with chocolate and coffee. So we have been playing around with coffee drinks and hot chocolate too.”
For inspiration, the bar team looks to the classics—and adds a few tweaks. Some are perennials, like Eastern Standard’s take on Hot Buttered Rum, made with Old Monk Rum, housemade “Better Batter” and freshly grated nutmeg. London Toddy is made with gin instead of the classic whiskey; the white spirit’s botanicals are complemented by vanilla, cardamom and Eastern’s Compound Bitters. Most cocktails are $10.
Hot drinks are add-on sales, says McCoy. Guests often drop in during cold afternoons to sip a comforting Winter Warmer, and the drinks are also popular as an after-dinner quaff.
Operationally, there are a few hurdles with hot drinks, admits McCoy. “Temperature is a concern in any cocktail, but it’s even more critical with hot drinks,” he says. “It’s certainly a challenge.” The bar preheats glass mugs and builds the drinks quickly and efficiently to get them into guests’ hands while they’re still hot. Many drink bases, such as mulled cider and toddy batter, are prepped ahead and kept warm on hot plates. It helps, too, that the barista station is right next to the bar, which facilitates coffee-based drinks such as the Anatolia Café, freshly pulled coffee spiked with brandy, cherry liqueur and a touch of cinnamon. McCoy says customers came in looking for the hot drinks as early as September.
What’s heating up?
- Hot news is the debut of the first hot carbonated soft drink. Coca-Cola Japan is releasing 180 ml cans of Canada Dry Hot Ginger Ale. The soda will be warmed by C-store equipment or in vending machines. Japan has a huge yet fickle appetite for the novel, but should hot soda take off there, it might show up on these shores, maybe in a can with a built-in heating element.
- Taking a page from Starbucks’ playbook, McDonald’s is rolling out an LTO of Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Although pricier than its McCafé drinks, the latte is about half the price of Starbucks’ version.
- Pour-over coffee is the rage at trendy cafes. Fans say the slower, manual extraction method brews a richer, more full-bodied cup. The technique is simple but takes time and a knack, which is why it’s usually the province of coffee specialists.
- Wildberry Pancakes and Café, a three-unit Chicago-based breakfast and lunch concept, has been offering pour-over coffee since day one, says owner Peter Bovis. “I’m not sure how many others are doing it, but we get a nice cup of coffee and our guests enjoy it.” Bovis concedes the method is time-consuming; that’s why he charges more—$5.50 versus $4.50 for machine-brewed coffee. “It’s worth the upcharge,” he says. “The true coffee connoisseur really enjoys it.”