We believe doing the things that help us warm up are much more fun than the things that help us cool down. Since winter has arrived and there’s a chill in the air, we did a survey of a few local restaurants and bars that know how to offer some warmth in a glass.
All these drinks add a festive note to the season, and taste just great even when the holidays have passed. If you have a favorite drink to warm you up when the weather turns cold, please do share it in the comments.
We ventured forth to Alameda’s Alley & Vine to try one of their special cold weather cocktails. This one, called the Rocky Road, is “an homage” to the popular chocolate, nutty, marshmallow-studded ice cream invented by East Bay entrepreneurs William Dreyer and Joseph Edy during the Great Depression. (Not only does this ice cream have an interesting history, “Weird Al” Yankovic built his career with a song about it.)
Where were we? Oh, yes: sipping a Rocky Road cocktail made with Scrappy’s Chocolate bitters, Giffard Crème de Cacao Blanc, Basil Hayden dark rye, Nux Alpina walnut liqueur, and garnished with a toasted marshmallow on a skewer. The toasted marshmallow reminds us of campfires and s’mores but then we stop to appreciate this grown-up version of a favorite treat and take another sip. Alley & Vine, 1332 Park St., Suite D (near Alameda Avenue), Alameda
The Mexican coffee at Beer Baron, a local mini-chain with locations in Livermore, Oakland and Pleasanton, takes you on a trip south, and you don’t even have to leave the bar. This drink — either hot or cold —is made with St. George’s NOLA, a coffee liqueur made from Ethiopian coffee beans, French chicory root, Madagascar vanilla and organic cane sugar. Paired with Hornitas Reposado tequila and Ancho Rayes Verde chili liqueur, it is then blended with soft and thick vanilla bean ice cream. Coffee with a kick!
With less kick and more of a Bay Area angle, you might check out their classic Irish coffee, made with Jameson Black Irish Whisky, Peet’s Holiday Blend, cane sugar and fresh whipped cream. (According to legend, this drink was introduced to America via Limerick in 1952, thanks to longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane.)
Another option here is the Redecorate, featuring some traditional colors and flavors of the season, but served over ice: Tito’s Vodka, ginger beer, apple brandy, cranberry, lemon, and spiced bitters. Beer Baron, 5900 College Ave. (near Chabot Road), Oakland
What if cocktails are not your jam, and your jam is more like, well, things that go with jam? Like the many delicious breakfast options at Berkeley’s Homemade Café.
A longtime favorite dining spot, this popular restaurant has been around for over forty years. We stopped by the other morning and tried the Winter Warmer Latte, a no-alcohol drink made with organic fair trade espresso and flavored with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and allspice.
The addition of the spices makes for a most satisfying and heartwarming option to accompany Homemade’s excellent bread pudding, for example. Owner Collin Doran stopped by our table and brought us up to date on how the Homemade weathered the early days of the pandemic, closed for remodeling, and welcomed back customers once again for breakfast and lunch.
Make a toast, along with your toast, to a Happy New Year for the Homemade Café. Homemade Café, 2454 Sacramento St. (near Dwight Way), Berkeley
Bartenders most places can whip up a hot toddy, but the one at Italian Colors in Oakland’s Montclair Village is unique. Their lemon ginger hot toddy is a twist on the classic combination of spirit, hot water, sugar, and spices: Maker’s Mark, Domaine de Canton (a French ginger liqueur made with Vietnamese baby ginger, Tahitian vanilla beans and Provencal honey), fresh lemon and hot water garnished with a sliver of ginger.
If this sounds like an elixir extraordinaire, it definitely is. We were also treated to a sneak preview of bartender Alex Aguilar’s special wake-up libation made with ginger liqueur, ginger and lemon tea, Grand Marnier and Nonino Amaro. (While not yet on the menu, ask Alex for a Perfect Morning Tea if you want to try this one.) Italian Colors, 2220 Mountain Blvd #100 (inside the Village Square Shopping Center), Oakland
You’ll find the spiked champurrado on the dessert menu at Juanita & Maude, with good reason. This warming cup of comfort is a variation on the traditional chocolate-based atole; a warm and thick Mexican drink, made here with spiced chocolate, bourbon, amaro, house-made masa and oat milk. And if that wasn’t enough, it is topped with a melty blanket of tiny marshmallows.
This combination is creamy, dreamy, and just a little boozy. It hits the sweet spot for warmth, deep chocolate flavor and a little bit of spice: the perfect way to top off a winter evening’s meal with friends. Juanita & Maude, 825 San Pablo Ave. (near Solano Avenue), Albany