Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Ideal Cold Weather Drink

As is my wont, I was inclined to open with a quip about the temperature. I could have remarked in passing that a positive number on the thermometer was balmy for a Wisconsin January. Maybe a timely and relevant reference to Mortal Kombat was in order; between Sub-Zero and the "Toasty!" guy, that would be the stuff of comedy legend. But as I arrived home, my skin burning and head aching due to the temperature outside, I couldn't. It was just too damned cold.

I needed to warm up, and nothing does that more quickly or efficiently than the right beverage.

Like any good Madisonian, my thoughts turned immediately to beer, and on a bitterly cold day, there's no style I'd rather drink than that tsarist favorite, the Imperial stout. Regularly available choices from Wisconsin brewers are limited, but Amherst's Central Waters Brewing Co. makes a tasty iteration of the Impy in their Satin Solstice. From California, North Coast's Old Rasputin is even better. Full of roasty malts, chocolate, espresso, and a warming 9% ABV, you won't even mind the execrations of the Mad Monk emanating from your bottle. Best of all, this beer doesn't only ward off a chill, but also provides immunity to shooting, stabbing, poisoning, and drowning in the Neva.

The only problem with beer--along with perennial not-particularly-known-for-its-coziness favorite, wine--is that it's not warm. Even if you're a beer geek enjoying your stout at cellar temperatures, you'll notice that fifty-five degrees is substantially cooler than you'd like to be after having just escaped the Wendigo's icy grasp. More realistically, and almost certainly in my case, you'd be pulling the bottle out of the fridge, and unwilling to wait for it to warm up before you do. So my ideal cold weather drink would be warm to begin with.

There's that old standby in coffee. It's warm, rich, and roasted, but it's already pulling double duty as an after dinner sip and as an early morning Herbert West reagent. Besides, it's harder to lapse into a peaceful sleep in front of the fireplace when you're hopped up on caffeine like a subarctic Juan Valdez. (To be sure, a spike of whiskey will help with the fireplace problem, but only serves to highlight the drink's breakfast status.)

Spot of tea? It's warm, I guess. But c'mon. Tea? Not until we get something like St. Paul's TeaSource, at least. Even then, coffee and beer are going to be tough competition for the choicest pu-erhs. Chai, full of spicy, milky goodness comes closer, but the twisted horror of turning to a nigh equatorial South Asian beverage after stepping out of the negative twenty wind chill is too sickly ironic for even my decadent tastes.

No, as we so often do, I turned to that paragon of knowledge regarding all things comforting: Mom. Mom certainly wouldn't have been pouring us coffee or tea as we struggled out of our snow pants, and she sure as hell wouldn't have been serving up mulled wine or hot sake. No, Mom knew that winter's cruel grip was no match for that unsung St. Bernard of the beverage world, that rare breed which Quetzalcoatl called hot chocolate. While cognac dazzles on the slopes and Champagne mingles in the lodge, hot chocolate is out there every cold day, bringing marshmallowy warmth to children on leave from their snow forts.

Just be sure to make your own. This version is really easy, insanely rich, and my take on the sort of chocolate Camus, Sartre, and associates could have ordered at Les Deux Magots, if only they'd remembered their own mothers better. (That's right, Meursault, I went there.) Hopefully it will remind you of the Swiss Miss that kept you warm after those snowball fights, but taste way, way better.

The Ideal Cold Weather Drink (serves four people of average coolness, or one very cold person)
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar (consider more if you've decided to throw caution to the wind and use pure cacao)
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate or pure cacao, chopped (the more cacao the better, at least 60%)

Stirring, bring the first three ingredients to a bare boil. This isn't rocket surgery. Integrate the sugar, don't scald the milk. Then, over gentler heat (use a double broiler if you want--I won't tell) whisk in the chocolate until it's warm and fully incorporated. (That's warm. Not boiling. Don't boil it. You've been warned.)

At this point you should be able to fill four or five demitasses, preferably referred to as "tiny little coffee cups" for homeyness. Or you could fill one big cup and drink it yourself, which would be pretty great, too. Go nuts and add a sprinkle of fleur de sel or kosher salt on top. You know you want to.

Drink. Warm. Good.

In a word? Ideal.


nichole said...

Trying this tonight. With the salt.

Brian said...

I'm excited to hear what you think.

The drink is pretty rich, as you might imagine, and this version, with pure cacao and a pinch of salt, is my favorite. Another way I like to make it is by adding cinnamon, freshly ground cloves, and crystallized ginger as the chocolate begins to melt. It's a different direction in terms of taste, but a nice variation.


nichole said...

Hot damn! This was good. More here; gotta try the ginger version next.

Jeff said...

Leinie's makes an impy. Central Waters has 2 (the satin solstice and the bourbon barrel) and a barley wine. Lake Louie has the Mr. Mephisto that is now on the shelves. I think Sprecher might have one, too.

But, fair enough about the cellar temperatures still not cutting it on a day that fails to exceed 0.

By the way, love the site.

Brian said...

Glad you enjoyed the chocolate, Nichole, and thanks for the suggestions and compliment, Jeff.

The Central Waters Bourbon Barrel is really nice.I prefer it to the Solstice, honestly, but it doesn't really strike me as a classic Impy. Love that bourbon finish, though. I haven't tried the Mr. Mephisto yet, and didn't even know that Leinie's made one (apparently it was just released in November) so I couldn't comment on those. I'll need to get on that. Any personal favorites?

Jeff said...

Personal faves? I tend to go for the barley wines or porters; for some reason I've never really been a stout person. Last year Tyranena made a really nice oatmeal porter, rumor has it that they have a rye porter on the way. New Glarus' Smoke on the Porter was VERY nice. Lake Louie's Louie's Reserve (a scotch ale) is great if you can find it anywhere. But lately I've been digging a non-Wisconsin beer, the Augustiner Maximator (a German dopplebock); not as thick and syrupy as most dopplebocks.

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