- Beth McKibben
The snow is coming, Atlanta.
Generally, we prepare for this season of wet, icy, cold weather the only way Southerners know how: with bread, milk and booze. But, forget the run to the grocery store. Head to bars around town, where you can find everything from wassail to toddies that will light a fire in your belly on a cold day.
Here are five hot mugs of good cheer to help bide the time until our patios and porches wake from their winter slumbers.
Note: In light of the inclement weather, managers at these restaurants suggest patrons call prior to heading out for a hot drink this weekend.
While there is no fire to sit beside at No. 246 in Decatur, the tea lights spread throughout the black granite, candlelit bar invite you to sink into a seat and wrap your hands around a mug of spiked cider. Using Mercier Orchard cider, Plantation Original Dark rum and Cocchi di Torino vermouth, what at first seems simple is a carefully crafted combination. The Caribbean-style dark rum holds hints of clove and smoke, the vermouth offers a touch of citrus and berry, while the cider brings sugar and spice. The Fireside Chat is not only a session-worthy sipper, but an excellent, seasonal alternative to a typical after-dinner drink or even a light dessert option for those watching their waistlines between holiday parties.
No. 246, 129 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 678-399-8246, no246.com.
Wet Your Wassail
To Chastity West, general manager of Victory Sandwich Bar and S.O.S. Tiki Bar, Christmas means walking into her grandmother’s kitchen in Tennessee and smelling wassail simmering on the stove. “No one really knows how long it’s been in the family, but my grandmother’s been making it all my life. It’s not Christmas without her wassail,” West recalled of the generations-old recipe. This play on Grandma’s secret recipe maintains the spiced cider base — a festival of pineapple and orange juices seasoned with clove and nutmeg — but is accompanied by the aptly named Three Sheets spiced rum. The vanilla-infused white rum, with its blend of seven spices, is enhanced with Angostura bitters that tone down the cider’s sweetness and accent the rum’s baking spice notes. It’s a whimsical wassail as only Victory can do.
Victory Sandwich Bar, 340 Church St., Decatur. 404-377-9300. 913 Bernina Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-963-1742, vicsandwich.com.
While most traditional toddies are made with scotch or single-malt whiskey, in the South we like bourbon to soothe what ails us. The Shed is known for its culinary spins on classic Southern dishes, so it was only natural to bring a little sass to the hot elixir that many remember their mamas giving them when they had the sniffles. This toddy uses Charleston’s rebellious Virgil Kaine ginger bourbon as the base, building around its signature sweet spiciness with honey, lemon and cinnamon. What elevates this comforting cure-all is the floating star anise. With each sip, the familiar warmth of cinnamon and ginger hits at the front. The surprise is at the finish as the heat activates the robust aroma of the star anise, sneaking into the nose and preparing the palate for faint notes of licorice. Ah, we’re feeling better already.
The Shed at Glenwood, 475 Bill Kennedy Way S.E., Atlanta. 404-835-4363, theshedatglenwood.com.
Scotch hot toddy
Served in a mid-century vintage mug, Empire State South’s scotch toddy is pretty as a picture. It’s also a smart drink. “It’s more than just hot alcohol,” said bar manager Kellie Thorn. “We built our toddy to be a cocktail.” Using Isle of Skye 8-year blended scotch, with its malty richness, Thorn pairs it with a sweet chamomile liqueur infused with grappa (grape brandy) to bring out the smoke, tone down the peat and lend a lusty richness to the drink as it cools. It’s rare for a drink to transform from a warm, comforting sipper to a “cold” toddy cocktail without losing any of the flavor of its former life. Cocktail enthusiasts will want to check this one out.
Empire State South, 999 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-541-1105, empirestatesouth.com.
Hot buttered rum
A well-made hot buttered rum is surprisingly light, despite using butter and brown sugar. Ration and Dram’s rendition is downright addictive — and charming, served in a dainty gold-rimmed tea cup. The batter is the typical mixture of brown sugar, unsalted butter, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg dissolved in hot water in a preheated mug. But that’s where tradition ends and crafting a cocktail begins. Rather than simply pouring a rich, dark rum into the drink, possibly putting it out of reach of imbibers who are turned off by sweetness, Ration combines the smooth, caramel-forward Jamaican Blackwell rum and Bitter Truth’s pimento dram (allspice berries soaked in rum), which mellows the sugary batter with a hint of bitterness. You may find yourself ordering another, and still another, while you read a book and nibble on the daily popcorn offered at the bar.
Ration and Dram, 130 Arizona Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 678-974-8380, rationanddram.com.