Warm Potables.

When it gets really cold out, a fragrant warm mug of something delicious to drink, alcoholic or not, is really what you want to press into your company’s hands as soon as they take their coats off. I have often thought that the human impulse to gaze at a friendly, warming blaze comes from an ancient gene we carry. We carry another, similar, gene for wrapping our hands around a bowl or mug of hot food or drink.

Years ago, I acquired a set of six red mugs with golden reindeer galloping around them. I take them out after Thanksgiving, and put them away after New Years. In between, I use them for tea; coffee; wine punch; hot whiskey punch; hot cider with, or without, ginger brandy; hot chocolate; hot buttered rum; and, inspired by Dicken’s Christmas Carol, a favorite hot port and brandy drink, called negus, that I love to serve during the holidays.

Thanks goodness, I seem to be among the fortunate who can have a spirited drink without danger of harmful habituation. That means that I can vary beverages as much as I can vary salad or soup combinations, taking advantage of both traditional and modern flavo  red brandies, rums, and cordials. I haven’t even begun to explore all those flavored vodkas, though I make my own cassis—a vodka-based black currant cordial—and my own rhubarb vodka.

The purpose of most spirited additions to hot beverages is to enhance flavor, not to promote tipsiness. Perhaps the simplest way is merely adding some spice, a couple of cloves, or the merest shake of cinnamon, grating of nutmeg, or macerating a slice of lemon with sugar in the bottom mug before adding the beverage. I prefer raw sugar for my sweetening but plain granulated will do the job.

Following are some of my favorite, and very simple, ways to assemble enhanced hot drinks.

Hot Cider

Warm the cider to your desired heat, add a shot of rum, spiced or not, or ginger brandy.


Hot Chocolate

Add coffee brandy or chocolate liquor to the hot chocolate.


Hot Buttered Rum

In a mug, mash together a half-teaspoon of butter with a shake of cinnamon, and a touch of sugar to taste. Add a shot of rum, and top off with hot water.


Hot Whiskey Punch

Macerate a slice of lemon with a bit of sugar in the bottom of a mug. Pour hot water in, then add a shot of whiskey.


Hot Wine Punch

Macerate a slice of orange and one clove with a bit of sugar in the bottom of a mug. Fill the mug halfway with red wine then top off with hot water.



Macerate a slice of lemon with a bit of sugar in the bottom of a mug. Fill the mug halfway with port wine, add a shot of brandy, and top off with hot water.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.