Mugs of Good Cheer

If winter has finally started to seem unjust, it's time for a hot toddy

But eventually my friend arrived and all was forgotten as we perused a menu of 15 or so warm drink options, including coffee, cider, wine, and warm-milk varieties. The mulled wine was a favorite: good Cabernet fortified with brandy and simmered with spices and currants. It's served with a slice of orange, and has a playful fruity taste that contrasts nicely with what too often tastes like an unstable competition between cloves and cheap wine. Also tasty was the Nutty Irishman (Frangelico, Baileys, coffee, and whipped cream), and the Peppermint Patty (Rumplminz and hot chocolate) is an ideal drink for anyone looking for a way to mainline the flavor of Girl Scout cookies.

Other tasty selections with curious names include the Hot Apple Pie (Tuaca, apple cider, cinnamon, and whipped cream), the White Nun (latte-style frothed milk spiked with Kahlua and brandy), and old-fashioned selections such as hot buttered rum and wassail bowl. After a couple of drinks and some shared cheese plates, I had admittedly warmed to the place; it's scaled at a level appropriate for a giant, but there are plenty of little warm touches, including fireplaces scattered about the room like a well-placed pause in a poem, and twinkling garlands and Christmas wreaths. Even the swimming-pool-sized painting didn't seem so overwhelming once I realized that there were also paintings about the size of my hand right beside it.

Hot, highly caloric booze: Minnesotans' wintertime little helper
Allen Beaulieu
Hot, highly caloric booze: Minnesotans' wintertime little helper

In the end, I have to say that I've learned that a warm drink is only as good as the sum of its parts. No amount of cinnamon or orange slices will rehabilitate cheap wine that has sat open in the fridge for several days. You can pour all the Irish cream and Kahlua in the world into hot coffee, but if the coffee is stale, then that whipped topping is a crown for a kingdom of lies. In reality, what makes a great warm drink, or any drink or meal for that matter, is a beverage where all of the ingredients could stand alone. A drink shouldn't have to aim for extra credit, but the simple fact of the matter is the good ones do.

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