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Four steamy cocktails for the winter weather 

Jessica Stroud and Peter Sapia, owners of Café Sasso, sample hot cocktails at their sidewalk table

PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

Jessica Stroud and Peter Sapia, owners of Café Sasso, sample hot cocktails at their sidewalk table

When Rochesterians tout the benefits of distinct seasons, particularly our long winters, we generally don’t give proper due to how hot cocktails make the cold that much more bearable . . . er . . . enjoyable. We embrace the change, like when the hot mulled apple cider of the fall gives way to toasty winter mug drinks. Comfort comes in all flavors, whether sipping eggnog by the fire during the holidays, thawing out in the ski lodge with a Thermos of something cocoa, or fighting a cold with a “prescription” Hot Toddy. Boozy, steaming drinks are undeniably enchanting.

The origin of hot libations most popular this time of year can be traced to European cultures. The Romans served spiced, mulled wine in communal proportions dating back as far as the 1300s. A few hundred years later, the British applied their own riffs to warmed wine, bestowing catchy monikers on the concoctions, such as the Smoking Bishop, a Victorian-era sweet, spiced red wine punch. Recall that it was over that drink that a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge proposed to change the fortunes of his put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit, at the conclusion of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The manifestation of the famed Hot Toddy, another classic that has stood the test of time, transpired almost simultaneously in Europe and the Americas in the late 18th century. The therapeutic drink, consisting of Scotch whiskey, hot water, lemon, often honey, cinnamon, and star anise, was served as a remedy for the ailing (whose perfectly healthy caretakers took a nip, too!). Tea, which dates back millennia to China, was later used to regionalize the drink in parts of Europe. In the States, Scotch was often replaced by rum or other whiskey derivatives.

The early 19th century ushered in perhaps the most popular American Christmastime drink you may have never heard of — the Tom & Jerry. Once a wintertime staple served in taverns across the United States, it languished in relative obscurity until only recently. The cocktail was for many years credited to the grandfather of modern mixology, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, due in no small part to his insistence during his lifetime that he invented the drink. But cocktail historians — yes, they exist — have since unearthed enough pre-Jerry Thomas references to the Tom & Jerry to sufficiently discredit Thomas’s claim. Based on a true batter, with its copious rations of sugar, butter, vanilla, spices, cognac, rum, and simmering milk it’s almost more of baker’s a bailiwick than a mixologist’s. No fewer than a dozen Buffalo-area watering holes offer the sweet and sticky hot cocktail this time of year, but it’s much more difficult to find in Rochester. We have our share of seasonal standbys, though.

click to enlarge “We’ve certainly seen more day drinking since COVID-19 hit,” Stroud said. “Anyone can conspicuously carry out a cocktail at 9 a.m. if they want, take it with them, and go work from home.”
  • “We’ve certainly seen more day drinking since COVID-19 hit,” Stroud said. “Anyone can conspicuously carry out a cocktail at 9 a.m. if they want, take it with them, and go work from home.”

The pandemic has us mostly hunkered down, but there’s no place like home to cozy up with one (or three) warming drinks.

For some easy-to-make recommendations, I turned to Jessica Stroud and Peter Sapia, owners of Café Sasso on Park Avenue. Their hopping corner coffee shop doubles as a comfy cocktail lounge with a menu that has featured eight hot cocktails ($10 each) since opening 2015 (plus some killer chilled ones, too). You’ll have to grab a sammie, salad or pastry with your drink as per New York’s new rules.

“Combining our barista skills with bartending chops came natural to all of us,” Sapia said.

While most bars and restaurants report nosediving sales, Sapia and Stroud said the booze side of the business has remained steady.

“We’ve certainly seen more day drinking since COVID-19 hit,” Stroud said. “Anyone can conspicuously carry out a cocktail at 9 a.m. if they want, take it with them, and go work from home.”

Their cocktail menu spans sweet to herbal profiles — from the Hot Toddy-esque Flower Power, to the balanced Caramel Chameleon, to the dessert-like Sweet Tooth, and Irish-influenced Molly’s Hatchet.

Sapia said Café Sasso will remain open for take-out drinks and food, even if dine-in ends up shutting down again due to rising infection rates. If you can’t make it in, here are a few easy to replicate recipes to get you through the holidays and beyond.



Caramel Chameleon
click to enlarge hot-drink-4.jpg

*Served in 16oz Latte Mug
w/ Saucer + Demitasse Spoon

In bottom of mug combine:
- ½ Shot Bailey’s Irish Cream
- ½ Shot of Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
- Double shot of espresso
- 2 Count of Monin caramel syrup
- Steam milk* and pour like a latte.
- Artfully decorate the top with caramel sauce 



Molly’s Hatchet

click to enlarge hot-drink-3.jpg
*Served in Irish Coffee Glass*

In bottom of glass combine:
- ½ Shot Jameson Irish Whiskey
- ½ Shot Bailey’s Irish Cream
- Double shot of espresso
- Fill remainder of glass with hot coffee
- Top with whipped cream and powdered cinnamon



Flower Power
click to enlarge hot-drink-2.jpg
*Served in 16oz Latte Mug*
w/ Saucer + Demitasse Spoon

In bottom of mug combine:
- 1 Teabag of hibiscus tea
- 2 Count of clover honey
- 2 Lemon wedges
- 1 Shot of Bulleit Bourbon
- Fill with hot water



Sweet Tooth
click to enlarge hot-drink-1.jpg
*Served in 16oz Latte Mug*
w/ Saucer + Demitasse Spoon

In bottom of mug combine:
 - ½ Shot Ketel One Vodka
- ½ Shot of Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur
- 2 Count of dark chocolate sauce
- Steam milk* and pour like a latte
- Artfully decorate whipped cream top with caramel and chocolate sauce drizzle
- Top with Maraschino cherry (because you deserve it!)
*Milk can be replaced with skim milk, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk or even egg nog.

Vince Press is a freelance food writer for CITY.
click image holiday_gift_delivery.png

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