The best way to keep warm this holiday season is with a festive twist on the nog and toddy. Rich, frothy homemade eggnog can be so decadent, you’ll likely forget about dessert. And hot toddies are so easy — they’re nothing more than booze + hot water + sweetener — it’s no wonder they’re just what the mixologist ordered to keep your insides toasty.

From a shaken cocktail nog at San Francisco’s Southpaw to a smoking twist on the classic hot buttered rum at Oakland, Calif.’s B-Side BBQ, bartenders are getting into the holiday spirit with fresh, seasonal ingredients and subtle twists on old standbys.

At Five in Berkeley, bartender Oliver Greenlaw crafts the traditional Five Christmas Nog with eggs, bourbon, nutmeg, sugar, cinnamon and heavy cream. He infuses the sugar with vanilla bean for 24 hours before blending it in, and he also adds dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to give the nog an unexpected tinge of chocolate.

“My idea was to get away from the egginess and still have those flavors of Christmas that people recognize,” says Greenlaw, who recommends separating and beating the egg whites into soft peaks before folding them into the sugar mixture. The extra air will give your nog the ultimate froth, he says. (It’s available at Five through December for $10 a glass.)

Over at Southpaw, a shaken cocktail nog has become a standard since the Southern cooking spot opened in San Francisco’s Mission district about a year ago.

Bar manager and co-owner Edward Calhoun grew up on the North Carolina coast sipping the “cloying stuff” from the carton. Then one Christmas, a family friend showed up with the real deal: Rum, spices, eggs and ice cream blended into a smooth, frothy, pale yellow confection. They let Calhoun, then 10, have one sip.

“That became the gold standard for me,” he recalls. “Ever since, I’ve wanted to have that experience again. But I wanted something that wasn’t as heavy — and still fun to make.”

His version, available through December for $9, uses single malt whiskey, spiced rum, amaretto, eggs, milk and a housemade, winter-spiced syrup of cinnamon, allspice, cloves and star anise. Calhoun grates a coffee bean on top of the cocktail instead of sprinkling ground nutmeg. “I think it’s more aromatically interesting,” he says.

Ultimate toddy

Without snow as a visual reminder, Connecticut natives Tanya Holland and Phil Surkis of Oakland’s B-Side BBQ like connecting to the holiday season through creative cocktails. Their tips for the ultimate toddy?

“We try not to use the expensive bourbons because you’re going to add water,” Holland says. “But it still needs to be of good quality and high in alcohol.”

She also suggests using agave nectar instead of sugar or honey because it is lighter. Another place to experiment is in the citrus. “Lemon juice is traditional, but why not try lime or orange? We’re so fortunate in the Bay Area to have access to all these wonderful fresh ingredients,” she says.

Their star toddy this year is the Smoked Buttered Rum ($9), a dreamy drink that starts by slow-smoking a stick of butter at 200 degrees on a big rotisserie smoker. Surkis says you can create the same effect at home using aromatic wood chips and an electric or charcoal grill.

One tablespoon of that smoky butter melts atop a thick pint glass of dark rum, mezcal — a type of agave booze — hot water, and a spiced sugar syrup made with brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, star anise and vanilla bean.

“(The butter) creates such a phenomenal flavor,” Surkis says.

Merry cocktails

There’s a lot of inventive flavor and holiday spirit in Five’s 12 Cocktails of Christmas, a seasonal lineup that includes a toddy called 11 Pipers Piping Hot. The $12 drink started as a hot apple pie cocktail, but Greenlaw added heavy cream to the apple cider, dark rum, clove water, brown sugar and spiced simple syrup for texture and richness.

He heats the concoction with the cappuccino wand of an espresso machine, then serves it in a tower glass fitted inside a metal casing, which keeps the drink warm. “It’s like a little metal heater inside your glass,” he says.

Locanda’s Shades of Grey is so steamy, you won’t need a heater. Gabriel Lowe, who directs the bar at the San Francisco osteria, took a cue from author E.L. James when crafting this Earl Grey tea toddy, which includes reserve bourbon, aperol, lemon and a spiced cherry syrup made by soaking amarena cherries in honey, cloves, cinnamon and brandy for one year.

The drink is served “really hot,” Lowe says, and garnished with a tuft of loose tea wrapped in a lemon rind twist.

“Rich, boozy, and delicious,” he says.

The perfect holiday prescription.

Smoked Buttered Rum

Makes 1 drink

Note: Keep leftover sugar syrup in the refrigerator.

Spiced sugar syrup:

2 quarts water

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

2 pieces of star anise

1 vanilla bean

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Smoked butter:

1 stick unsalted butter

Buttered rum:

2 ounces Gosling’s dark rum

¼ ounce Vida mezcal

1 ½ ounces spiced sugar syrup

1 tablespoon smoked butter

3 ounces hot water

1. Place sugar syrup ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer mixture until sugars are completely melted, about 10 minutes.

2. For the smoked butter, ignite an electric grill or start a small fire in a charcoal grill and heat it to about 200 degrees. For the electric grill, place hickory, mesquite or other aromatic wood chips in a piece of foil and punch holes in the foil with a fork; set it on top of the grill grates. For the charcoal grill, place wood chips directly on the charcoal. Place a stick of butter on a piece of aluminum foil on the grill grates. Allow the butter to smoke long enough to absorb the flavor without melting into your barbecue, about 15 minutes, if possible.

3. Fill a 10-ounce glass mug or thick pint glass with very hot water from a tea kettle; let it warm the glass for about a minute. Empty glass.

4. Add rum, mezcal and 1 ½ ounces sugar syrup to the warmed glass; stir. Place butter on top, then pour in about 3 ounces hot water. The water will be twice as much as rum mixture. Stir until the butter has mostly melted and is frothy on top. Serve immediately.

— Tanya Holland and Phil Surkis, B-Side BBQ

Eleven Pipers Piping Hot

Makes 1 drink

Note: For clove water, steep 10 cloves in 4 tablespoons hot water for 1 hour.

2 ounces apple juice

1 ½ ounces Gosling’s black seal rum

1 ½ ounces clove water

½ teaspoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon spiced simple syrup

1 ounce cream

Stir ingredients, then heat with the cappuccino wand of espresso machine until hot and frothy. Pour into mug or heatproof glass. Garnish with cinnamon.

— Patrice Brault and Oliver Greenlaw, Five

Five Christmas Nog

Note: Use leftover sugar to flavor your coffee or hot cocoa.

Vanilla sugar:

1 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean


4 whole eggs

⅓ cup vanilla sugar

½ teaspoon cocoa powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream

1 ½ ounces bourbon per cocktail

1. Slice the vanilla bean in half, place it in the cup of sugar and let it sit for 24 hours or more to infuse the flavor.

2. Separate the eggs. Beat yolks until light in color. Add 1/3 cup vanilla sugar and combine until smooth. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cream. Whisk until all ingredients are thoroughly blended together.

3. Beat whites to soft peaks, then slowly fold into egg mixture until light and airy. Adjust nutmeg and cinnamon to taste.

4. To serve, pour 2 ounces of eggnog and 1 ½ ounces bourbon into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake, then strain while pouring into a glass. Garnish with a light touch of freshly grated nutmeg.

— Patrice Brault and Oliver Greenlaw, Five

Shades of Grey

Makes 1 drink

1 ½ ounces bourbon

½ ounce Aperol

¼ ounce spiced cherry syrup

½ ounce lemon juice

2 ½ ounces hot water

Combine all ingredients except water in a shaker; shake without ice. Add hot water and pour into preheated glass. Garnish with a pinch of Earl Grey tea and a lemon twist.

— Gabriel Lowe, Locanda

Spices Cherry Syrup

Note: Makes a huge batch. Feel free to divide the recipe as needed

1 pound garnet cherries

1 quart honey

12 ounces brandy

2 tablespoons cloves

2 tablespoons cinnamon

Crush half the cherries, combine all ingredients and let rest for 2-4 weeks. Strain and bottle.

Southpaw’s Tugboat Egg Nog

Makes 1 drink

Note: Any simple syrup will work, but Southpaw’s spiced mixture is explained in step 1.

1 ounce simple syrup

1 ½ ounces bourbon, whiskey or scotch

½ ounce spiced rum, such as Sailor Jerry

¾ ounce amaretto (or any nut, coffee or chocolate liquor)

1 egg

1 ounce whole milk

A coffee bean

1. To make Southpaw simple syrup, mix equal parts cane sugar and boiling water; stir until sugar dissolves. Add baking spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, allspice and orange peel in small, equal proportions to the mixture. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let cool completely; strain out solids.

2. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, adjusting the amount of simple syrup to the sweetness of the spirits used. This recipe is built for a 100 proof whiskey and a drier spiced rum. If your spirits are sweeter, decrease the simple syrup to ¾ ounce.

3. Dry shake (without ice) vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Take care to secure the shaker with both hands, as the mixture will want to escape as pressure builds.

4. Add ice and shake vigorously for another 10-15 seconds.

5. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer into a glass with a 9- to 10-ounce capacity. Grate coffee bean on top.

— Edward Calhoun, Southpaw

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