"I almost always find hot drinks disappointing," says Martim Smith-Mattsson, beverage director at New York's Vandaag in the East Village. "So many just taste like they've been sitting on a warmer all day. I wanted to make something fresher, more vibrant."
He calls them his "winter warmers," not only in that they're of course served hot; all make use of rich, complicated spice blends and sufficient liquor to warm you through. As with Vandaag's bar program as a whole, often disparate-seeming elements are blended for drinks that are ambitious but focused, unexpected but never bizarre.
Dutch East Cocoa
Bols Genever adds a malty backbone to the spiced hot chocolate, which makes use of cayenne, cinnamon, and ginger. Between the alcohol, the heat, and the cayenne, it tingles all the way down... in a good way, of course. It echoes the dark, warming spice of a Mexican hot chocolate while featuring completely different flavors. At the restaurant, Smith-Mattsson uses a kaffir-maple whipped cream for a nod to Southeast Asia.
New Amsterdam Toddy
"The problem with most cider drinks is that they just hang around on a hot plate all day," says Smith-Mattsson, "so the flavors get too concentrated." Here, he allows Laird's Bonded Applejack "to do most of the work," delivering powerful apple flavor and the fruit's crisp acidity without that all-too-familiar boiled-down sweetness.
His cider is subtly spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and a bare floral hint of lavender (recipe included). Orange peels and orange curacao add complementary citrus flavors without things getting too juiced up.
Smith-Mattsson wanted the richness of a hot buttered rum, but went a totally different direction by making use of coconut, pumpkin, and garam masala. That blended spice mixture, mixed together with butter to form the base of drink, contributes cardamom, cloves, mace, cinnamon, cumin, and more, for a balance of earthy, warming flavors. "When I think of rum, I think of coconut," said Smith-Mattsson. "So I thought I could make those flavors work in a way that wasn't a piña colada."
Coconut milk serves as the structure, while the butter creates a rich canvas for spice, pumpkin, and rhum agricole; the result is something like a pumpkin spice muffin, but in rich, comforting drinkable form.
We're not giving you the recipe for this one (pictured at top) but had to mention it because we like the way Smith-Mattsson thinks: we think the idea of cooking wine sous vide is pretty ingenious, and the thought of spiking it with Fernet is, too. "The guys in the kitchen are using sous vide all the time," says Smith-Mattsson. "I love it because it keeps the wine from oxidizing." His take on the traditional glogg includes cardamom, clove, and allspice; almonds and raisins; and both Fernet and aquavit. I loved the pine-y, menthol-y Fernet in among the spices, enough to consider breaking out a bottle in my next pot of mulled wine.