“It’s a rite of fall that goes on all winter long,” says Mike Kelly, as he touches a lit match to the Grand Marnier in the bottom of a deep wine glass, just before the liquor ignites into a torch of yellow and blue flame.
The owner of the 70-year-old restaurant that bears his uncle’s name is making a Café Diablo, a specialty drink so special it’s not even on the holly-bordered sheet of “Winter Warm-Ups” now being distributed to diners, along with the regular menu of steaks, chops, fish and fowl so familiar to the legion of regulars that it hardly merits a glance. Regulars already know about Café Diablo, a coffee drink that a French chef living in Chicago taught Kelly to make. He started mixing them up in the bar at Jimmy Kelly’s, and has watched patrons’ appreciation of the elixir increase with time. “All you have to do is make one, and other customers see it, and then they want one too,” Kelly says. “Before you know it, you’ve made half-a-dozen. It’s definitely a winter drink. People like to sit by the fireplace with their Café Diablo. You’ll get warmed up inside and out.”
For everything, there is a season, and that includes our drinking habits. As the weather turns a little nippy, our tastes turn from light, fruity cocktails to heavier, more warmth-producing beverages. It’s time, says Paul Patel, owner of Midtown Wine & Spirits, to put away the gins and sauvignon blanc, and pull out the bourbon, the brandy and the port.
Patel is as ready for the holidays as he’s ever been, standing in the cavernous, brand-new store just completed, stocked, and now open next door to the original location at 1610 Church Street. Custom-made wooden wine racks, which stand virtually floor to ceiling flush against the wall, hold 240 different types of red wine alone. More are stocked on floor shelving, and in boxes, along with white and sparkling wines. On the other side of the store, shelves are stocked with dozens of brands of whiskey, bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, Scotch, brandy and other adult beverages.
So, if Patel were stocking a mountain chalet for a winter weekend of entertaining, what would he put in the bar?
“I would want a cognac for sure, a bourbon, a bottle of Scotch, maybe a dark rum and, of course, a bottle of vodka,” he says. Patel says that vodka has become a year-round liquor, because it mixes with so many things. Meanwhile, he says, “You would probably want a couple of types of cordial, depending on your taste: Bailey’s is very popular, Kahlua, Amaretto, Frangelica.
As far as wine’s concerned, Patel says it goes without saying that you definitely want more red than white. Then there’s the port. “Port is most definitely a winter drink. You can get a 20-year-old bottle of port for about $50, which I think is an excellent price-value ratio, considering you don’t drink much of it at a time. But if that’s a little steep, then ask for a Late Bottled Vintage. They are quite good.”
Jay Frein, co-owner of Margo in East Nashville, says his bar pours more port in the winter, and the wine listwhich changes frequentlybegins to include more warm wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, two robust, dry, full-bodied red wines. “We also started serving a mulled wine last winter, and it was very popular, and we also have a nonalcoholic hot cider, though we like it with a shot of vanilla-flavored vodka. Champagne punch is great for holiday entertaining.”
Hot coffee drinks are perfect to soothe harried holiday shopping nerves, says Deer Park Grille GM Steve Lapiska, who has just concocted the new menu of seasonal warm-ups for the cozy restaurant and bar in the heart of the Bandywood retail hub. “We drop all the summer Funtini’s except two and replace them with hot drinks. We kept two from last yearthe Hot Monkey’s Nut and the Hot Italian TaTasand added three new onesCafé Bandywood, Coffee Crème Brûlée and the Chip Shot. I’m sure I haven’t invented anything new, but I try to create some drinks to reflect our personality and our customers’ personalities.”
Following are some winter drink recipes for the amateur bartenders who want to keep the home fires burning:
Mike Kelly’s Café Diablo
Rim a large wine glass with a lime, then dip in sugar to coat. Pour Grand Marnier to about 1 inch. Light with a match to burn off the alcohol and crystallize the sugar. While still burning, add a splash of Kahlua, then fill with robust coffee. Top with fresh whipped cream.
Jimmy Kelly’s Irish Coffee
In a coffee mug, mix half-a-teaspoon of sugar with a shot of good Irish whiskey. Fill the cup with strong coffee, top with fresh whipped cream, flavored with a touch of Amaretto.
Deer Park Grille Hot Monkey’s Nut
In a brandy snifter, combine:
1 oz. crème de banana
1 oz. Frangelica
1/2 oz. Kahlua
Add coffee to mix, top with fresh whipped cream, flavored with rum and coconut.
Margot’s Mulled Wine
1.5 liters full-bodied red wine
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
nutmeg to taste
2 oranges, sliced
1/2 cup brandy
Boil water. Add sugar, spices and oranges. Simmer 10 minutes, then reduce to low heat. Add wine and brandy. Do not allow to boil. Keep warm in Crock-Pot or on the stove.
Margot’s Champagne Punch
1 bottle champagne
1/2 cup triple sec
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup orange juice
1/2 quart 7-Up
Mix all in a punch bowl, then serve in flutes.
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