That we are in the season of hot drinks--toddies, liquor combined with butter, libations laced with spices--is understood. Though this season could arguably be said to begin in, say, July, it is most fully embraced during the holiday season, when a warm drink feels like the requisite partner to nut-encrusted cheese balls.
Should you choose to partake, here's the low-down, delivered in a straightforward manner that even a shopping and holiday party addled mind should be able to absorb.
The Coffee Drinks:
Whether Irish, Spanish or Bohemian, these drinks share a caffeinated foundation. Though it has been said before, there really is no place like Buena Vista Cafe for a quintessential Irish coffee, not necessarily because they're the only outfit it town that can whip up this combination of coffee and Irish whiskey, crowned with a cloud of whipped cream, but because we're suckers for history and this joint has it in spades. That, and tourists. Don't believe the hype, or don't like tourists? Perhaps you'd better head to North Beach's Vesuvio Cafe, where the old bartender can whip you up a Bohemian coffee, a potent blend of coffee, amaretto and brandy, with a lemon twist. You need a drink like this when you are planning to stay up for 48 hours straight, writing about road trips and drug benders. Absinthe has a Spanish coffee, which we liked so much we got the recipe, and at Lafitte, with 24 hours of notice, you and your friends can order a round of Baptiste's, a hair-on-your-chest combination of coffee and brandy that gets lit on fire.
The Hot Buttered Drinks
Let's be honest here: sometimes you don't want to mix your uppers and your downers. Sometimes you want to mix your downers with butter. Smuggler's Cove has a hot buttered rum on their menu that could strip the paint from any seafaring vessel--Private Reserve rum, combined with spiced butter. What could go wrong? Word on the street is that the bartenders at 15 Romolo have just introduced a new addition, the hot pumpkin buttered scotch. At press time I was light on details, but here's what I do know. Hot. Butter. Scotch. Isn't that enough information for you? Not to be outdone, Clock Bar also has a drink they're calling the Smashing Pumpkin, combining Hennessey VS with a housemade pumpkin spice syrup.
Storied as curealls for sore throats and other winter ailments (such as general malaise), the toddy usually combines bourbon, sugar and lemon. It's the kind of drink that burns your nosehairs if you dare to inhale too closely. Nopa and Zuni Cafe will make you a toddy, if you ask, though they are not on the menu, but really any bar worth it's salt should be able to pull this one off. At the Alembic they've been known to make toddies with both cognac and bourbon (not together, mind you). You may have seen the star turn that Rye's "Rock and Rye" toddy took in the New York Times recently: if not, let me summerize by saying that any drink recipe that begins with 1 liter of rye is fine by me, with additional health benefits undoubtedly being conferred by the use of horehound candies (often used as throat lozenges) in the mix.
I'm sorry to reveal that my hunt for a reliable mulled wine came up a bit short. A call to Toronado, one time purveyor of hot mead, revealed that it's no longer on the menu, though the bartender told me that he himself was championing its return, so I might check back in a few to see if his one-man campaign was successful. However, I did discover via Twitter that one of my favorite Mission joints, Shotwell's, is ladling out mulled wine.
Knowing that this list is in no way exhaustive or comprehensive, I now ask for your help. Just as at the airport on on the BART platform, if you see something, say something. Got a favorite drink to help ward off the winter chill, or help you limp through another lame holiday event? I'd love to hear about it.