The cold(er) season is upon us, and El Nina doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, it seems. If you’re thinking of having an alcoholic drink, and you don’t fancy a cold one, then you’d be glad to know that there are some drinks that can be served hot – and taste better that way too. They’re perfect when it’s cool and wet outside. By the way, we’re not talking about hot cocktails, we’re talking about traditional alcoholic drinks.
When it comes to sake, people tend to go for the most expensive daiginjo for its delicate flavour. However, there are many grades and types of sake out there – some are clear, some are amber-coloured, and some are milky. One thing’s for sure: not all sake are served chilled.
Atsukan is the common name for ‘hot sake’ – traditionally, it’s sake served in a small pitcher called tokkuri which is heated to about 50ºC. There are technically many different temperatures that hot sake can be served in – 30ºC (hinatakan), 40ºC (nurukan), 55ºC (tobirikan), and so on – but ‘atsukan‘ is the term most restaurants use, and places that know their sake will know the best temperature to serve them.
Warming the sake enhances its flavours – it generally increases the aroma and sweetness, since sake has a lot of amino acids. However, this doesn’t mean that all sake should be served hot, since each sake has a different flavour profile.
Another interesting concoction you can make with hot sake is Tamagozake (egg sake), which is basically made with hot sake, egg, and sugar. The egg-and-sugar mixture is stirred slowly into the hot sake to create a foamy drink – this is actually considered a folk remedy for common colds in Japan.
Shaoxing wine (Huangjiu)
This is China’s traditional wine made from rice – unlike its popular cousin baijiu which is distilled and clear, Shaoxing wine is actually a famous variety of huangjiu (yellow liquor) which is fermented like wine. Some of you may know that Shaoxing wine is often used for cooking, but the ones for drinking are aged (some up to 50 years!) to bring out the layers of fragrance and flavours, so the longer it’s aged, the better it tastes.
Shaoxing wine, which is red in colour because of the red yeast rice, is commonly consumed warm, as the richness from the flavour compounds are released better when heated. It’s warmed in one of two ways: one is to put a pot of the wine in hot water, while the other is to put it directly on the fire. Huangjiu is best consumed at 38ºC, otherwise the wine will be tasteless.
Hot Shaoxing wine can also be mixed with egg and sugar, similar to sake. Interestingly, Shaoxing wine is also used in TCM remedies.
While not as famous as Korean soju, this Japanese liquor is made from either rice, wheat, or sweet potato (the latter two are the most common). While sake is produced all over Japan, shochu is mostly produced in Kyushu, the island famous for ramen and kurobuta. Shochu’s alcohol content is similar to soju (around 20%) but unlike soju, it’s common to serve it hot.
Oyuwari is basically shochu mixed with hot water (in a 6:4 ratio) that’s heated to about 45ºC. Usually only sweet potato shochu (imo shochu) is used, since it has a naturally more robust and sweeter flavour profile that’s enhanced by the heat. The best imo shochu come from Kagoshima, the southernmost prefecture on Kyushu. Traditionally, oyuwari is served from a black teapot called kuro joka, which is heated over fire or in hot water.
To add more flavour to your oyuwari, you can drop in an umeboshi, a wrinkly, pickled plum. You then crush the umeboshi into the drink to release its delightful sweet-sour flavours.
Moju is a little similar to makgeolli, the milky white drink you can find at Korean restaurants, but rarer since it’s usually only drunk by the people of Jeonju in South Korea. Here, it’s often drunk in the morning since it’s also considered a great hangover remedy! This is because moju is very low in alcohol content (around 1.5%).
The drink may not look appetising, with its murky brown colour, but this is because it’s basically brewed like makgeolli with herbs and spices like cinnamon, ginger, jujube, ginseng, and licorice root added into the mix. While moju is enjoyed chilled, it’s also sometimes served warm – since it can be quite sweet on the palate, heating it brings more of its sour and earthy cinnamon/ginger flavours to the forefront.
Thanks to the Christmas tradition, you may know about this tasty warm alcoholic concoction, which is basically wine mixed with herbs and spices. It’s also known as spiced wine, glühwein (in German-speaking countries) or glögg (in Nordic countries).
Mulled wine contains mulling spices like orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, cardamom, and ginger, all steeped into a pot of – usually – red wine that’s high in alcohol, lots of fruit flavours, and relatively high tannins like Grenache or Merlot (this isn’t set in stone, and people usually pick cheap wines). You can also make mulled wine with white wine that’s medium-dry.
As you’re heating up the mulled wine, the alcohol content will slowly evaporate – so if you’ve got wine that’s been heating up for 10 hours, most of the alcohol would’ve evaporated. This is probably why most recipes call for an optional shot of brandy or port!
Like mulled wine, a hot toddy is another common classic hot alcoholic drink. Hot toddy is made with a shot of whisky, a teaspoon of honey, and a dash of lemon, topped up with hot water.
In some households, it’s common to serve this as a remedy for the common cold because of the lemon and honey (not the whisky). Sometimes, cinnamon and cloves are added for a deeper flavour. The spices stimulate saliva, helping a sore throat, and the lemon and honey will stimulate mucus. This drink only works when served hot.
Which will you choose?
In addition to feeling blue about the constant rain, stress and anxiety – from what we’re going through with the ‘new normal’ – will have an impact on our immune system and lower our resistance, so you can try a hot alcoholic beverage to soothe yourself. Just make sure that you’re of legal age and are allowed to take alcohol – and remember to drink in moderation.