You know those people who drink iced coffee all year round, no matter the temperature? Well, that’s how I feel about hot chocolate. I don’t need to wait for leaves to start falling—or for snow to to top the roofs of New York—before I begin melting squares of Portugal’s Vinte Vinte chocolate in the morning. (Or whenever I damn well please.)
And I’m fairly flexible when it comes to garnishes: mini marshmallows, cinnamon sticks, star anise—I like it all. But not as much as I love to spike what’s in my my mug. I’m not even particularly stringent about how to top off my hot chocolate. Rum, bourbon, mezcal? Works for me. Because the thing is, nearly every spirit works quite well with a rich, well-made hot cocoa—with each lending the drink different notes and characteristics.
When I’m looking to make a heat-forward blend I almost always use an agave-based liquor like mezcal, which tends to highlight the presence of chile. When it’s robust sweetness I’m in the mood for, I reach for OM chocolate liqueur or Cointreau or a cream liqueur such as Marigot Bay chocolate coffee rum cream or Five Farms Irish cream. And for added complexity in a dark hot chocolate, I typically add toasted baking spices—plus a small splash of spiced rum or Cognac.
But there’s really no right (or wrong) way to do it. In my experience, bold and frequent experimentation is the key to finding your ideal hot chocolate recipe. So here are nine tried-and-true concoctions from a number of highly regarded spirits pros, from Widow Jane head distiller Sienna Jevremov to Canerock master blender Alexandre Gabriel to Diplomatico maestro roñero Nelson Hernandez—and more. Whether you follow the recipes to the T or alter them to you liking as you see fit, you’re guaranteed to have one helluva cup—or three.
Best Spiked Hot Chocolate Recipes, According To Spirits Professionals
WIDOW OF THE BLACK FOREST
“I really appreciate a drink that builds on the flavors already inherent in the spirit. When blending Widow Jane 10-Year-Old Bourbon, I strive for bright cherry on the nose, followed by spiced maple on the palate that flows into a lovely, creamy, dark chocolate finish—all of which you can see mirrored in this cocktail.” —Sienna Jevremov, head distiller at Widow Jane Distillery
Ingredients (6 servings)
3 oz. Widow Jane 10-Year-Old Bourbon
5 oz. cherry hot chocolate*
1 quart water
⅔ cup cherry purée (Boiron Morello or homemade from a sour-and-sweet mix, blended until smooth)
2 bars high-quality 92–100% chocolate
4 strips orange peel
2 tsp. sumac
2 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. black peppercorns
4 cinnamon stick (lightly charred with torch or on gas stove)
1 pinch salt
2 oz. red wine and cherry syrup**
½ cup red wine (full bodied and rich)
½ cup cherry purée (Boiron or homemade from fresh or frozen, pitted)
¾ dark maple syrup
3 oz. salted whipped cream ***
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 pinches smoked flaky salt
2 drops Widow Jane 10-Year-Old Bourbon
Method: Mix all ingredients in a cup and top with whipped cream. Finish with a dust of unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, and flaky salt.
*Cherry Drinking Chocolate: Bring water with spices and peel to a boil and reduce by a third (approximately 10–15 minutes). Add broken bars and whisk until dissolved. Add cherry purée mixing until all ingredients are dissolved. Fine strain.
**Red Wine and Cherry Syrup: At room temperature, dissolve the maple syrupe into the red wine with a whisk. Add cherry purée and mix. Strain all ingredients.
***Salted Whipped Cream: Combine and whip until soft with fine air bubbles (approximately 2 minutes).
“As maestro roñero, I’ve come to appreciate the harmony between aged rum and cocktails. In this case with the Holy Mole, the warmth of hot chocolate and the notes of orange highlight the rich qualities and complexity of Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva. This drink takes me back to my home of Venezuela, land of great cacao, sweet oranges, and the best rum—and time with my family coming together from different countries to celebrate life.” —Nelson Hernandez, maestro roñero at Diplomatico
1.5 oz. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva
0.5 oz. Amaro Lucano
0.5 oz. Agavero orange liqueur
0.5 oz. Doña María mole syrup*
4 oz. Doña María mole sauce
6 oz. simple syrup
1 tbsp. Cacao Barry cocoa powder
3 oz. steamed oat milk
Pirouette cookie, garnish
Method: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Pour contents into mug and stir. Top with steamed oat milk and cocoa powder. Garnish with a Pirouette cookie.
*Dona Maria Mole Syrup: Combine ingredients in a blender or whip vigorously by hand. Shake well before use. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for 3–4 weeks.
GINGERBREAD HOT CHOCOLATE
“The creamy and smooth taste of this drink is pure indulgence. My favorite recipe is one with a hint of gingerbread. It’s a sweet reward for adults with which I treat myself, my family, and friends on cold winter evenings. There’s nothing better than a hot chocolate in winter, when the days are getting shorter and you cozy up at home, the scent of chocolate, vanilla, and gingerbread filling the room.” —Dietmar Fadinger, master distiller and chocolatier at Mozart Chocolate Liqueur
5 cl. Mozart Chocolate Cream Liqueur
10 cl. whole milk
3 cl. gingerbread syrup (or 1.5 tsp. gingerbread spice)
Whipped cream, garnish
Gingerbread cookie, garnish
Method: Heat the milk and gingerbread syrup. Pour into a double-walled glass and add Mozart Chocolate Cream Liqueur. Stir well. Top with whipped cream and cinnamon. Garnish with a gingerbread cookie.
CHAIRMAN’S COCOA TEA
“Spiced rum, or ‘spice’ as we call it, is heavily intertwined in the cultural fabric of my homeland, Saint Lucia. Every family has their own recipe and all of them will have different proportions of bois bandé (a local aphrodisiacal bark), fruit peels, star anise, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, and other herbs and spices steeped in DenRos Strong Rum. On holidays, we often share a Saint Lucian tradition of Cocoa Tea, with or without spice. I am sharing my grandmother Marie’s celebratory recipe for our family’s rich and creamy, non-dairy Saint Lucian-style Hot Cocoa Tea spiked with Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum. It is one that was passed down to her from her mother, Mama Hilda.” —Kigan Jo, Saint Lucia native and brand ambassador at Spiribam
2 cups water
½ cup ground St. Lucian Cocoa Stick (or a premium powdered cocoa)
3 star anise
½ grated nutmeg
2 whole cinnamon sticks
½ oz. almond milk
2 bay leaf
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cornstarch (optional)
2 oz. Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum
Method: Grate the cocoa stick and add cocoa powder and spices into 3 cups of water. (If you can get a St. Lucian cocoa stick, use it.) Add cornstarch if you prefer your cocoa tea on the thicker side. Boil and reduce to half. Add milk and let it simmer an additional 2 minutes. I prefer mine with almond milk or oat for non-dairy purposes. Sweeten to taste and strain into a 12 oz. mug. Add 1.5 to 2 ounces of Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum, but do not let me stop you!
SALTED DARK CHOCOLATE BOURBON COCOA
“I love how the dark chocolate in this warm cocoa drink highlights the spice and sweet aromatic flavors in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. This reminds me of the chocolate tasting guide that I created to showcase pairings that accentuate specific attributes in this bourbon, which includes sea salt dark chocolate as one of them! This definitely puts me in the holiday mood, bringing to mind memories of sipping hot chocolate while watching movies with my family.” —Elizabeth McCall, master distiller at Woodford Reserve
2 oz. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
1 cup half-and-half (or heavy whipping cream)
3 cups milk of choice
6 oz. dark chocolate chips
⅓ cup sweetener of choice
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Whipped cream, garnish
Chocolate drizzle, garnish
Method: In a small pot, heat your heavy whipping cream and milk until warm, then stir in your chocolate chips, whisking until melted. Stir in sweetener, cinnamon, and salt to taste. Stir until dissolved. Allow to warm until just below boiling. Remove from heat, then stir in your bourbon and vanilla extract. Pour into mugs, top with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle and salt and enjoy!
ILEGAL HOT CHOCOLATE
“If it grows together, it goes together. Blending mezcal, chocolate, and chiles capture the essence of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage. Oaxacan mole weaves together intricate layers of spice and chocolate, and Ilegal Mezcal adds a touch of earthy warmth that elevates this decadent combination to new heights.” —John Rexer, founder of Ilegal Mezcal
2 oz. hot chocolate*
3 cups water
1 cup milk or alternative milk
1 bar Ibarra chocolate
1.5 oz. Ilegal Mezcal joven or reposado
0.5 oz. Ancho Reyes chile liqueur
0.5 oz agave nectar
1 dash Angostura Bitters
*Hot Chocolate: Add ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil. Let boil until chocolate dissolves and let cool.
Method: In a coffee mug, add Ilegal Mezcal, agave nectar, chile liqueur, and bitters. Fill with hot chocolate and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
NOW YOU AÇAI ME, NOW YOU DON’T
“We’re a team with homes on two continents—Brazil and the U.S—and we like to stay in close touch, even though we don’t see each other every day. We actually like to emulate the way our other half is living. For example, in my home office in Seattle I am growing a mini banana plantation. It’s amazing to see these plants grow and make babies on their own! Now You Açai Me, Now You Don’t was created by Sierra Dawson from our North American team, as she was pondering the arrival of summer for our South American family, while up here we’re looking for hot chocolate. We really believe the ‘what grows together, goes together’ concept and this cocktail proves it.” —Dragos Axinte, founder and CEO of Novo Fogo Cachaça
4 oz. Novo Fogo barrel-aged cachaça
2 tbsp. organic Navitas açai powder, plus more for garnish
1 can (13.66 oz.) full-fat coconut milk
2 tbsp. Natierra organic cacao powder
1 tbsp. organic sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon, plus more for garnish
Whipped cream, garnish
Directions: Add all ingredients except cachaça to a small saucepan. Whisk together over medium heat. Once simmering, reduce heat to low and continue until it is evenly heated. Divide evenly between two mugs, add 2 oz. of Novo Fogo barrel-aged cachaça to each mug. Garnish with whipped cream and sprinkle half with açai powder and half with cinnamon.
CANEROCK S’MORES HOT CHOCOLATE
“This delicious cocktail perfectly combines flavors and spices: beautiful chocolate with a rich Jamaican rum, where the former is complemented by delicious coconut and vanilla notes, as well as the ‘rumminess’ of the Jamaican rum. This sparks in my mind memories of childhood, where we drank French chocolat au lait, and then later on as adults, when we would add a little spoon of delicious rum or Cognac.” —Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender at Canerock Spiced Rum
50 ml. Canerock Spiced Rum
150 ml. whole milk (or dairy-free alternative)
50 grams Jamaican chocolate bar (roughly chopped)
Sprinkle of Caribbean sea salt
Method: Heat milk over medium heat. Stir in chopped chocolate bar and salt until chocolate has melted. In a heat-proof glass, add Canerock Spiced Rum, followed by hot chocolate. Garnish with marshmallows, then char with kitchen torch.
“Some of my favorite flavors growing up in Mexico City were chocolate and coconut. Years ago, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and I started working for Bacardí, where I developed cocktails for menus in bars, restaurants, events, and PR opportunities across the United States. When working with winter cocktails for ski resorts, I found the amazing opportunity to revive those memories of the Mexican flavors I fondly loved since childhood. With Bacardí Spiced Rum, almond liqueur, chocolate, and coconut, this cocktail became a hit, featured in many ski resort cocktail menus.” —Manny Hinojosa, global brand ambassador at Tequila Cazadores
1.5 oz. Bacardí Spiced Rum
0.75 oz. Disaronno
1 oz. Perfect Purée coconut purée, thawed
4 oz. hot chocolate (prepared any way you like)
Whipped cream, garnish
Cocoa powder, garnish
Method: Combine ingredients in a mug. Top with whipped cream and cocoa powder. Serve hot.