Take me to the river… as David Byrne croons in the speaker across the room. Just the very thought of a river, splashing over the rocks in the middle of the winter-the ice cold water stinging my face, well it brings me back. My thirst quickens and the day becomes much less astringent to my body. I’m propelled to the springtime where the days grow longer, yet the nights still remind me of the winter without the threat of snow. All that becomes difficult to surmise in mere words because today is very, very cold- not even ten degrees and my body calls out for warmth, not cold.
But humor me for a moment and I’ll share with you a very easy to make cocktail that nearly anyone can make. The “To Mr. W. E. Henley” is such a cocktail. It is slow across your palate because it is served quite hot. You must not drink it too quickly or you shall burn your tongue- and where would you be then? The base of this deeply warming concoction will probably be on your pantry shelf in the form of spicy Mexican or bittersweet chocolate. You may have one of those fancy espresso machines on your counter, you know the one that spits and steams in all the right ways. Heat that thing up and get ready to expand your mind and your body towards deep healing. Preheat a ceramic mug with boiling water and while that is happening, you can prepare the hot chocolate. No, you must not open a freeze-dried packet of “hot cocoa” it is just not the same as doing it yourself, from scratch. Listen to me.
That thing over there is your stove, turn it on and heat up a double boiler. What’s a double boiler? Well, it’s a reason to use those fancy pots that are in the cabinet. You take one 4-quart pot and fill it 3⁄4 with water, set it over the stove burner and turn it up to high. Cover the pot and let it come to boil. See? You can boil water! That was really easy! Now, in a flourish of brilliance, turn the heat down to a simmer. Yes! Take a metal dish, preferably made of stainless steel, like a mixing bowl and place it on top of the simmering water. You may want to put on a hot mitt for this process.
So you have your hot mug, pour out the boiling hot water and add 2 oz. of espresso coffee to the mug. Add 2 oz. of bourbon whiskey and then top with the hot chocolate, 2-3 oz….
Finish with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Take some heavy cream and mix it with a whisk until just before the soft peaks show. It will lazily float over the chocolate/coffee and bourbon. You can scrape a bit of nutmeg or cinnamon over the top. Even some cocktail bitters will work.
Whatever you do, please remember, do not use instant hot chocolate, it lacks the velvety depth of the real thing. Think about the first time you had real hot chocolate in Europe? How delicious it was… Now remember that again.
Draw a hot bath and lay back, relax and sip. You may want to make another one so you have one in reserve. They are quite sublime when the light is just right.
The Best Homemade Hot Chocolate
- Mix 1⁄2 cup (100g) of the best-quality bittersweet chocolate (ideally, seventy-five percent cocoa) with 1-cup (235 ml) whole milk and 1⁄2 cup (115 g) heavy cream.
- Over low heat, slowly whisk the mixture until it reaches a smooth consistency.
- Sweeten to taste with a basic 1:1 Simple Syrup (That is 1 cup of boiling water to 1 cup Demerara or Moscovado sugar)
- Finish with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg if desired.
click below to listen to ‘TAKE ME TO THE RIVER” while you make this drink!
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. Bobrow is a freelance mixologist specializing in Craft Spirits. He has developed bar programs and implemented their cocktail and ice programs. Warren served as master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition. Warren is the author of several books including Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today, Whiskey Cocktails: Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks, Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails: Restorative Vintage Cocktails, Mocktails & Elixirs, Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks & Buzz-Worthy Libations and The Craft Cocktail Compendium: Contemporary Interpretations and Inspired Twists on Time-Honored Classics