Where I grew up in New Jersey, there were plenty of ski areas within easy driving distance, but the quality of the trails and the length of the lift lines always left something to be desired. It might take 15 minutes to hurtle down a dangerously crowded, icy slope from the summit, and then you’d have to wait another half hour or more in the bitter, biting cold for another run.
Still, I remember getting up well before dawn to make the drive so we’d get in a few runs on the thin, man-made snow before it totally iced over. By lunchtime I was usually done, but the hardcore skiers I’d carpool with would want to keep going until dusk. So I’d hunker down in the big A-frame lodge in front of a roaring fire and start drinking.
To this day, sipping a well-made hot toddy instantly brings back memories of those lost afternoons. And while no excuse is really needed to enjoy the vanilla sweetness of a good old American bourbon mixed with honey and lemon juice, it’s good to remember that it’s also the perfect antidote for the chills and sniffles of flu season. I remember a particular mulled cider with Scotch whisky, honey, lemon and a cinnamon stick that smelled something like a cough drop, but deliciously warmed you to your toes.
The only downside: Once you sipped your way through a couple of these winter warmers, the slopes were strictly off limits for the rest of the afternoon. (I learned that lesson the hard way — my head narrowly missing a massive chairlift support beam that would have popped it like a Christmas cracker!)
Of course, you don’t need to heat your liquor to enjoy a robust seasonal beverage. I love the richer, higher-alcohol seasonal beers already well-represented on store shelves. For example, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome from England is big and malty, so it works great with heavier winter foods (like roast turkey, beef stew and lamb shank). If you want something seasonal that’s a little lighter, look for Goose Island’s Mild Winter Ale. Its deep, caramel color belies the lightness and finesse it shows on the palate. A couple of six packs would go down easily during a frigid football Sunday.
For Christmas, search out Brewery Ommegang’s Three Philosophers, a Belgian-style blend of malty ale and real Belgian cherry lambic blended in Cooperstown, N.Y. Available all year, I don’t know whether this delicious, slightly fruity concoction is named in honor of the three wise men who made their way to Bethlehem to witness the birth of a king, but let’s assume it is. In any case, it’s a true crowd pleaser that clocks in at just over 9 percent alcohol, so it’s the perfect holiday cheer to help you through any hectic family holiday gathering this season.
CONTACT MICHAEL SCHIAPARELLI: [email protected]