7 hot cocktails to warm up a blustery Pittsburgh winter

Boozy hot chocolate, an espresso-chai concoction, even a garnish of straight-up butter

Rossilynne Culgan

Brace yourself for a cold and snowy Pittsburgh winter. After shivering every time you step outside, you’re probably not going to want an ice cold gin and tonic or a frozen margarita at happy hour.

In the spirit of keeping you warm and keeping your spirits up this winter, we’ve tracked down some of the city’s best hot cocktails. From an espresso-chai concoction to a hot spin on a tiki classic featuring a garnish of butter (!!!), these winter warmers offer up fresh new tastes and a dose of heat.

Miracle_BadSanta_mh3140_preview 2
Courtesy of Miracle

Bad Santa

Miracle on Market, Downtown

Reminiscent of a holiday fruitcake, the Bad Santa is a combination of mulled red wine, tawny port, orange liqueur, spices and golden raisins. It’s served hot in a very Instagrammable mug with a bevy of Christmas decor as a backdrop. At this popular holiday pop-up bar, every day is Christmas Day. Be sure to get there before it closes on New Year’s Eve. Until then, the bar’s open every day from 4 p.m. until midnight. Here’s what else to expect at Miracle on Market.

Floor 2
Courtesy of Floor 2

Chai Warm Up

Floor 2 at Fairmont Pittsburgh, Downtown

This is like something you’d order at Starbucks — only better because there’s rum. The bartenders at Floor 2 combine local Maggie’s Farm Spiced Rum, espresso, chai tea, maple syrup, hot-frothed milk and star anise, and then top it with a peppercorn garnish for the Chai Warm Up. Expect to taste “a beautiful medley of flavors for the winter,” said Andrea Stehle, Fairmont Pittsburgh’s communications manager. Bitter coffee notes balance out with the sweet maple syrup flavor, and the frothed milk adds a creamy texture. While you’re sipping, look out over the bustle of the city in this newly reimagined Downtown venue.

Courtesy of The Commoner

Who Steals a Christmas Tree?

The Commoner at Kimpton Hotel Monaco, Downtown

Head bartender Alex Dando describes this drink as “the best hot cocoa of your life.” It features Dolin Génépy, malted hot chocolate and an Angostura marshmallow. Yes, that’s Swiss Alpine liquor, chocolate and and a boozy marshmallow — sold. It’s the grown-up version of that delicious mug of hot chocolate you’d gulp down after sled-riding as a kid.

Its name — and four other drinks on The Commoner’s holiday menu, including the next one on this list — was inspired by “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Each year, the team at The Commoner themes their holiday menu around an iconic Christmas movie. Last year’s was “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” The year before, “A Christmas Story” took the spotlight.

The Commoner_ JURY DUTY
Courtesy of The Commoner

Jury Duty, Jury Duty, Black Mail, Pink Slip, Eviction Letter, Jury Duty …

The Commoner at Kimpton Hotel Monaco, Downtown

If The Commoner’s chocolaty concoction isn’t for you, try this mulled cider named for Jim Carrey/The Grinch’s famed post office scene. It’s got Wigle Organic Monongahela Rye Whiskey, mulled cider and Grand Marnier Cuvée 1880-vanilla bean whipped cream. The mulled cider recipe comes from bartender Alex Dando’s mom, Sherry Dando, so you know this beverage owns — mom tested, bartender approved.

Courtesy of Vallozzi's Pittsburgh

Warm apple cider

Valozzi’s, Downtown

This drink is perfect for right now — the time when fall’s just letting go to transition into winter. The base for this beverage is Mayer Bros. Cider from Buffalo, NY, which then gets mixed with Poli chamomile grappa. Cinnamon sugar rims the glass and a cinnamon stick serves as a garnish (and a handy drink stirrer).

The Wine Bar at Market Street Grocery

Mulled wine

The Wine Bar at Market Street Grocery, Downtown

This wine bar tucked behind a Downtown grocery store is a hidden gem. The bar carries Collefrisio wines imported from Abruzzo, Italy, which you can buy by the glass or by the bottle to take home. For winter, the bar offers a hot version of its signature wine. Mulled red wine mixes together with cranberry and orange, infused with cloves, allspice, star anise and cinnamon, plus some brown sugar and local vodka. It’s simmered on low heat until the flavors meld together for an aroma that fills the cozy bar and a drink that’s sure to warm you up after a shopping trip to the Market Square holiday market.

Hot Zombie

Hidden Harbor, Squirrel Hill

The Zombie is a classic tiki drink, and the Hot Zombie takes tropical flavors to a new level. The original Hot Zombie recipe (circa 1941) came from the Ronrico Rum Company, a Puerto Rican rum producer that moved a lot of rum in the U.S. after Prohibition ended. The original recipe calls for: Puerto Rican rum, lime, passion fruit, pineapple, brown sugar, boiling hot water, and a small pat of butter on top.

“In our experience, hot drinks work best with flavorful, pot-stilled spirits,” the bar’s co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry said, so the bar takes a spin on the original. Hidden Harbor bartenders substitute Jamaican and Demerara rums instead of the Puerto Rican rum and use honey instead of brown sugar. They also work in maraschino liqueur, allspice and bitters and then top it with a pat of butter, a star anise pod and a Ceylon cinnamon stick. It’s served in a double-walled glass mug to keep the drink (and your hands) piping hot — at an island paradise.