Bar Beat: Winter is coming

Ah yes, winter. With the wind dipping between the buildings and temperatures finally getting lower and lower, it appears that after several years of mild winters Asheville is finally headed for a real, merciless, teeth-chattering beast of a dark, cold season.

Toddyin’ it up: Dustin Spagnola mixes a steaming ginger toddy at the Rankin Vault. Photo by Jonathan Welch

While opinions may vary on how great this sort of bracing weather will be, it’s still a great time to stop for a drink.

Winter drinks, like summer cocktails, have a science and history all their own. With all that aforementioned dark and cold, dropping by the neighborhood drinking den for something warm to drink and a good conversation is an excellent way to make the best of the season (or relax from the holiday stress).

A classic warm drink is the hot toddy, and almost every bar has a slightly different way of flavoring this delicious combination, usually made up of whiskey, water and spices.

Rankin Vault’s (7 Rankin Ave.) Ginger Toddy ($7) is an excellent twist on the old classic. Ginger, honey and lemon give this drink a definite kick without the spice overwhelming those imbibing it, while the warmth of the drink brings the ingredients’ flavors out in interesting ways. It has a slightly different taste when finished, resulting in a good and varied drink throughout.

Not to be outdone, the Frog Bar (1 Battery Park Ave.) has a great Hot Toddy ($6) as well. They put in a whole stick of cinnamon, causing the flavor to seep in further while you’re drinking it. The price is also right, making it the perfect hot beverage after a long day at work—or when one is saving up for holiday gifts.

Of course, brandy is a classic warm-you-to-your-toes liquor, and one sadly underused in Asheville. Carlos I, a superb Spanish brandy, is among the best. Zambra (85 W. Walnut St.) has managed to combine this rare flavor with another winter classic—warm apple cider, in the La Catalina ($10). Topped with whip cream and a dash of cinnamon, it’s a beautiful drink with several layers of distinct flavor. The best kind of winter cocktail, it uses both the warmth of the beverage and the strength of the spirit to great effect.

Gin is usually thought of as a summer liquor, but it was originally devised centuries ago in the Netherlands to treat various kidney and stomach problems. While its medical value for those original means may be questionable, various researchers have confirmed that a drink a day can be healthy.

Along comes the Yacht Club, where the Bombay Flower ($8) serves as both tasty drink and cold remedy. In an innovative move, elderberry and other herbal extracts are used to give a healthy kick and help fight off those creeping winter illnesses. Mary Poppins was slightly off: It’s a bit of gin, not a spoonful of sugar, that makes the medicine go down.

Stay warm, tip your bartender well, enjoy good company and remember: Everything in moderation, especially moderation.


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