White Hot Chocolate with Cognac, photo by Cameron Rector of Vera, Buffalo, NY

White Hot Chocolate with Cognac, photo by Cameron Rector of Vera, Buffalo, NY

I almost don’t need to say it, but what. The. Hell, 2016? It seems we’ve all collectively as a species been through the wringer this year and I know quite a few of us are just wishing for the end… of the year, that is.

Well, here’s something that just might help. I’ve always thought of hot chocolate as a hug in a mug. As the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, what could be more comforting than sitting down with a steaming hot mug of Serotonin-releasing deliciousness? Making it boozy, of course!

Since the main ingredient is the chocolate, it’s important that it’s great quality. Ideally you want something with a good cocoa content, usually the darker the better, too. In the UK, I’d say the go-to would probably be Bournville (Cadbury’s) or if you’re feeling a little fancy, Green and Black’s do a great range too. In the US, and further afield you can find great quality cocoa in your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or try Ghirardelli from San Francisco. Some of these recipes even call for chocolate bars rather than a powder, so the options are there if you have a preference.

Now onto the exciting part! Here is a list of 10 of the best recipes I’ve found to give you the warm and fuzzies and put a smile back on your face.

Green Chartreuse I only discovered this one back in 2014 when working alongside Sam Kershaw who introduced me to its delights. From that first herbaceous sip I was in love. It’s such a genius combination and to this day I still kick myself that I’d never thought of it.

Since Chartreuse has quite a powerful flavour, you don’t want to use too much. A single shot is more than enough per mug. Just make your hot chocolate to the exact specifications on the box…or don’t, who are they to tell you how much chocolate is enough chocolate, am I right? Then add in your shot and mix well. Garnish with sprinkles and marshmallows if that’s what takes the pain away. If you prefer the more sultry, honeyed notes of Yellow Chartreuse then use that instead.

Pastis Hot Chocolate by Alex Taylor of Dead Canary, Cardiff

Pastis Hot Chocolate by Alex Taylor of Dead Canary, Cardiff

Kamm & Sons this British Ginseng Aperitif usually imbibed with a little tonic, however it also happens to be the perfect ingredient for a hot chocolate, adding a little touch of something bitter and complex. 30ml/1oz per mug is just the ticket.

Some cocoa powders need a little extra sugar to sweeten them up but it depends on the flavours that you want to entice out of the final product. Here the key is to allow the rooty, earthy flavours to peak over the top of the sweetness.

Slingsby London Dry Gin Gin works with everything and the great thing is that there’s so many different styles. Slingsby is a smooth, dry gin that recently won gold in the 2016 NY International Spirits Competition. Why not use 30ml/1oz per mug and add in a little dried orange peel to accentuate the citrus notes in the gin? The subtle pine notes that the juniper brings add a nice touch and you could choose to accentuate them with a drier, more juniper-led gin such as Plymouth or Sipsmith VJOP. A fantastic combination is cardamom and chocolate so I also like to use Sacred Cardamom Gin for that extra touch of aroma and spice.

Bols Genever This is one of my personal favourites. I’ve always had a soft spot for genever and this is one of the most comforting winter drinks for me. Genever has both the chocolate and malt notes that you might find in a whisky and also the botanical notes you usually find in gin. This perfect combination of spice and sweetness is enough to breathe life into even the weariest of winter nights. I prefer to make this Belgian style with real chocolate.

Rum and Chili Hot Chocolate, photo by Josh Powell

Rum and Chili Hot Chocolate, photo by Josh Powell

Pick your favourite chocolate bar, not a snickers but something a bit more plain that comes in easy to break squares. I go for the Green and Black’s sea salt and dark chocolate. Break off about 50g and melt it in a bowl over simmering water. Add 200ml of milk and a cinnamon stick to a pan and warm. Add in the chocolate and stir until it and the milk become one. Remove the cinnamon stick. Once the chocolate is ready, (it should be a little thicker than usual since liquor will be added to it), pour into a mug with 40ml/1oz of Genever. Sit back, relax and let the waves of pure bliss and peacefulness wash over you.

Santa Teresa Rhum Orange – No self respecting drinks writer could write a list like this without including some kind of orange liqueur. This one is different though, because it’s rum-based. Chocolate and orange just screams Christmas and also Terry’s… wait do you even have those in the states? If you don’t you are missing out. (Editor’s note: yes, we do, Josh. Also running water and electricity.)

Anyway, I digress. Chocolate orange is what I call a Marmite flavour. You either love it or hate it. With this one though how much to use is a personal preference. If you just want a hint of orange then 20ml will do just fine. However if like me you’re a bit of a fiend for it then I would suggest a cool 40ml. This one works with powder or melted chocolate so again the prerogative is all yours.

Botran Reserva Blanca This makes the most delicately buttery and vanilla-toned hot chocolate one could ever dream of. A good, clean, aged white rum such as this is a fantastic backbone for any kind of winter warming drink. 30ml/1oz is enough to create a smooth, velvety chocolate that kisses the lips in just the right way. Who knew drinking chocolate could be so provocative? Obviously, darker rums work fantastically too, feel free to experiment with different styles and origins of rum for different effects.

Cognac – It’s smooth, rich and all at once familiar. I mean there’s usually a good glug or two in the Christmas dessert anyway, right? Why not prepare yourself for that in the weeks leading up to it with this delicious classic?

Gently warm a glass of Cognac (such as Maxime Trijol Spécial, another gold medal NYISC winner) in a pan with some star anise, cloves, cardamom, orange peel and a cinnamon stick. Make sure that the heat is really low as you don’t want to burn off the alcohol. After a few minutes, take the spices out and add in some heavy cream. Stir down well to make sure that it doesn’t separate from the heat. Make your hot chocolate as you normally would but then add in a nice 40ml of the brandy cream. Serve straight away.

Cameron Rector from Vera in Buffalo, NY shared his take on this with his White Hot Chocolate. He uses Rémy Martin VSOP, white cocoa, cinnamon and a nice big toasted marshmallow.

Red Wine – When my housemate first told me about this recipe I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right. Red wine in hot chocolate didn’t sound that appealing to me but oh boy, is this one a game changer! It’s essentially a mixture of mulled wine with chocolate.

She makes hers with intuition. She warms the milk in the pan and melts the chocolate in a bowl. To the milk she adds various spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and ginger and then a small glass of whatever red wine she has open at the time. She lets the spices meld into the milk for a few minutes before taking them out. Then she mixes the mulled wine milk and chocolate together. You don’t need to be a world class chef to make any of these drinks. Just use your gut instinct.

Tequila Añejo hot chocolate, courtesy Nicci Stringfellow, tequila Herradura

Tequila Añejo hot chocolate, courtesy Nicci Stringfellow, tequila Herradura

Mezcal – My best friend Jenny made a kick ass cocktail for a mezcal competition and it honestly deserves some love so I’m sharing it with the world. It’s a damn tasty beverage and I hadn’t even thought of mezcal and chocolate as being friends, but the sweet, savoury and salty smoke notes work miracles. This has a little caffeine in it too so it also makes a great pick-me-up. Technically, I guess it isn’t a hot chocolate but it is a warm boozy, chocolate beverage so it’s perfect for this list. This one is a little more labour intensive so it’s worth making in batches and rewarming when needed or inviting your friends round for some communal soothing. Just double/triple/quadruple the recipe as needed. It’s named Amor Caliente or “Warm Love,” which I think describes it so well.

Firstly you need to make a batch of Mole Poblano which is a traditional sauce from Mexico containing at least 4 different types of chillies and a healthy measure of chocolate. Find a recipe online and follow it but double up on the amount of chocolate to make it palatable in the drink.

To a pan add 40ml of medium-smoky mezcal, such as Del Maguey Vida (anything too smoky will be overkill). To this add 25ml of Mole Poblano, 2 dashes of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters and 20ml of good, cold brew coffee. Warm gently and mix well.

Tequila Añejo – This one is indulgent in many ways namely because a recipe with Añejo tequila isn’t likely to be the cheapest one to make on the list. You can obviously use a reposado if you need to be a little kinder on the wallet. However, we all deserve to push the boat out every now and again, and after the year we’ve all just had I think we all have permission to treat ourselves a little. Except for Trump. He doesn’t deserve any.

In a pan add 200ml of half and half with 20ml of Ancho Reyes, 40ml tequila añejo and 2 teaspoons of spiced cocoa powder (chocolate powder with pinches of cinnamon powder, nutmeg, pasilla chili and cascabel chili). Add agave syrup to taste.

It’s a little boozy so feel free to cut it with a little extra half and half and share with a loved one.

Mayan Hot Chocolate from Leanne Solarik, Barchef,Toronto

Mayan Hot Chocolate from Leanne Solarik, Barchef,Toronto

Get as creative as you want with garnishing these. I’ve included the photo of the “Mayan Hot Cocoa” from Barchef in Toronto as something to work towards. Nah I’m just kidding but seriously wow! It features Mezcal, Green Chartreuse, rosemary, spiced Mayan cocoa, bitter almond, orange zest and late harvest Vidal. I’m buying my plane ticket as I write this.

Of course there are hundreds of possibly delicious combinations to work with like cream liquors, crème de banane, crème de menthe, butterscotch bourbon. My friend Alex makes his with Pastis and it certainly helps you to see light at the end of the tunnel.

So there we have one of the finest assemblies of comfort drinks the world has ever seen and I know throughout this piece I’ve joked about how much we need these drinks to deal with life in 2016, but please remember to indulge responsibly. Cheers!