Change Up Your Hot Toddy With Amaro

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Toddies can be more than just whiskey and hot water. Elana Lepkowski

Today I turned on the fireplace in my living room. My living room in Southern California. Because it was a nippy sixty-five degrees and I wanted to "take the chill" out of the room.

Okay, I admit that, at this time of year, my East Coast roots render me helplessly nostalgic for the accoutrements of the winter weather season (if not the weather itself). It's a time for sweaters and earmuffs, roaring fires and heavy blankets. After all, wherever you live, it's the holiday season. And it is also, finally and officially, hot cocktail season.

I feel pretty strongly that hot toddies should not be an excuse to just take whatever brown spirit you have around the house and pour some hot water on it. That's akin to throwing a shot of bourbon into your beer and calling it a "beer cocktail." You can do better.

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Speaking of whiskey, that old brown spirit has been hogging the toddy print for too long. For this winter sipper, I've turned to Averna, a bittersweet amaro that's a perfect entry point for beginners in the world of Italian bitter liqueurs. It's not actually that bitter at all, and its sweetness isn't overpowering either. It's rich and friendly, with flavors of spice, citrus, and caramel that echo the gingerbread you're baking. To punch up the flavor even more, I add in a syrup made with brown sugar and spicy black peppercorns, plus fresh lemon juice for balance and an inviting aroma.

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Since Averna isn't as boozy, as, say, bourbon, this is the ideal warming drink to pour before your holiday gathering really goes into full swing, so that everyone can still partake in bottles of bubbly that inevitably get opened as the evening unfurls.

Packed with seasonal spice and bright citrusy scents, the subtle bittersweetness of the amaro, and the comforting but gentle heat from the black pepper and cinnamon, this is a contender for my new go-to winter drink. It's best served up fireside... even if snow's unlikely to fall.