Well, the sleet finally hit the fan and brought in the bone-chilling winter that we all knew was coming. Like you, I'm gonna go ahead and complain about the inevitable cold weather anyway. Because I'm not a quitter, I'll whine about the exact same crap again next year. In the meantime, I could use a drink.

Well, the sleet finally hit the fan and brought in the bone-chilling winter that we all knew was coming. Like you, I'm gonna go ahead and complain about the inevitable cold weather anyway. Because I'm not a quitter, I'll whine about the exact same crap again next year. In the meantime, I could use a drink.

If that drink were obliging enough to offer something designed to heat me up a little - hot liquids, chili pepper, a buncha booze or an accommodating combination of these - I'm all in. I believe that's called a win-win. Through subsequent and rigorous research around our frozen town, that's exactly what I found - adult beverages that can help thaw smiles out of icy sneers. Say "Cheers!" to my new, winter-warming friends.

Toasted Coconut Hot Buttered Rum


When life gives you winter, make a tropical island getaway … to Downtown Columbus. With its color-crazy, wall-to-wacky-wall, glowing Polynesian funhouse interior, Grass Skirt is like an ADHD-sufferer's dream destination. Yes, giggles are rampant in here - but so are carefully concocted tiki drinks. The menu reports that the Toasted Coconut Hot Buttered Rum will warm you "inside & out," and it's not lying about this served-hot, sweet, comforting and deceptively potent cocktail that arrives literally on fire in a skull-shaped mug. The libation preparation starts with two scoops of a should-be-illegal paste made with butter, brown sugar and possibly intoxicants unregulated by the FDA. I think it's bound together with voodoo. Anyway, this fragrant paste gets the hot water treatment and then a rum onslaught: Cruzan plus a house-infused rum flavored by toasted coconut flakes and, because moderation has no place in this drink, 151 for emphasis and pyrotechnics. Before being presented, a speared orange segment is rubbed with sugar and straddled across the mug. Upon serving, it's lit on fire and the bartender madly sprinkles on cinnamon, causing the cocktail to sputter up blue sparks. These aspects of the beverage are obviously flamboyant, but drinking the rich and smooth, vanilla and butterscotch candy-tasting liquid is like woozily melting into a big, warm hug.

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Punch A La Taylor


Curio - a venerable-yet-fun, tiny charmer with a retro-mod speakeasy ambience - seemingly offers a great libation for every mood. Because I walked in CANGRY (yes, cold and angry), I opted for Curio's soothing version of the magnetically complex, tea-based Punch a la Taylor made famous at NYC's Dead Rabbit. But instead of being served on ice as in the Big Apple, Curio's quaff arrives hot and in a vintage, floral-patterned tea cup and saucer. Prior to that, the pre-mixed beverage (no long wait!) is stored in swing-top bottles bathed in a temperature-controlled, sous-vide bath. Sipping the citrusy, bewitchingly aromatic and pleasantly tannic elixir - fancy Henry McKenna "extra-aged" single-barrel bourbon, Assam tea, Suze bitters (woodsy and citrusy French aperitif), clementine orange, lemon, honey plus cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkles - quickly signals that this ain't your granny's cup of tea. As I finished the soothing brew, its warming magic entwined with the room's flickering candles and beautiful music (Yo La Tengo's dreamy "Green Arrow," replete with bent guitar notes and chirping crickets, was playing) loosened memories of languorous summer nights in my mind, making the Ohio winter suddenly seem less glum.

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Cedar Row


Here's a guaranteed path to warmth and happiness: a superior "spirituous" cocktail (spirituous is bartender-ese for strong drinks composed completely of hooch) that is assembled with grain alcohol and 101-proof Wild Turkey, but is incredibly more smooth, accessible and delicious than that description sounds. It's the Cedar Row, a brawny-yet-elegant, thinking person's cure for the winter doldrums. Fashioned in fashionable Giuseppe's, a Bexley bastion of masterful drink-making and Italian food (and where the Rolling Stones dined last summer), the cocktail begins as a boulevardier - basically a negroni with bourbon replacing gin - barrel-aged in-house for about six months. Upon construction, this gets extra depth and nuance from Watershed Nocino - the thick and bittersweet walnut liqueur that was the runaway must-have spirit of the past Christmas season. Freshness and aroma arrive via a bit of fiery theater in which the oil from an orange peel slice is expressed and ignited. But it's the piece de resistance that makes the beverage super-special and supplies its name: the literally golden "cedar finish," i.e. briny, sweet and ethereal drops of grain alcohol infused with cedar wood strips. Sipping this sturdy, "What winter?" cocktail reminded me of reading a terrific poem - each time I returned to it, I was presented with something different yet wonderful.

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Sweeney Clause


As I waddled into Strongwater - a rambling, brilliantly repurposed, eye-candy warren of artsy cool - I heard David Byrne singing "What is happening to my skin/Where is that protection that I needed?/Air can hurt you too/Air can hurt you too." Considering I'd just come from a skin-stinging wintry street, that old Talking Heads tune seemed like the perfect song for my evening so far. I hoped to alter that at Strongwater's bar by ordering the Sweeney Clause - a delightfully oddball, Jim Beam-fortified hot chocolate with an extra dimension of heat from cayenne pepper plus powerful herbaceous and minty notes from Fernet Branca (a provocative Italian amaro I love and sometimes describe as Jagermeister's brainy, sophisticated cousin). While enjoying this pleasantly bittersweet and alcoholic hot chocolate, I noticed that the grisly-funny, cannibal-riffing "Night of the Living Dead" was silently playing on Strongwater's movie screen. This made me think the Sweeney Clause might've been named for Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim's grisly-funny, cannibal-riffing musical theater masterpiece. Nope. It's named for a local developer/Strongwater regular. In any event, if "skin" was the unspoken theme of my evening, after drinking that Sweeney Clause, mine felt warmer and better.

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Denmark is the kind of insidery place often called a "find." Situated on the second floor of an easily passed-by doorway across from the convention center, it's a refined yet radically casual operation that attracts people from all over the world and serves them worldly cocktails. The Calabaza - it means pumpkin in Spanish - takes its name from the toasted pumpkin seeds that, along with Tabasco, the bar uses to powerfully infuse (via sous-vide mechanics) smoky Vidal mezcal. This, and the drink's other components - Barenjager (honey-flavored German liqueur), Ancho Reyes (Mexican chili liqueur - and a "hot" item in every sense of that word), honey syrup and Bittermen's mole bitters - are skillfully integrated, poured over one of those super-sized ice cubes, then garnished with a dried Thai chili harpooned by a swizzle stick. The result is a sweet and smoky cocktail with a thick body that coated my throat even as it singed it. After a few sips, the heat from the delicious liquid - which only tingles the tongue - radiated between my throat and forehead, causing a warm and intoxicating glow that made me take off my jacket and laugh out, "Ole!"

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Hot Shot and Great Balls of Fire


Brothers Drake is a Short North hotspot where locally sourced honey wine is fashioned in the back of a handsome, smartly streamlined space resembling a mod and artsy garage with repurposed wood and an eye-catching, ergonomically designed bar. But if straight-up mead isn't calling on a chilly evening, this hotspot makes something crazy called a Hot Shot (actually served as a shot) that will warm the cockles of your heart, brain, throat, you name it. Seriously, this stuff ain't fooling around. It's made by infusing Drake's Wildflower Mead with raw habanero chili juice that's extracted for Drake by CaJohn, aka the nationally renowned Columbus king of all things spicy. The shot, which starts off a little sweet, delivers a full-body-warming jolt of searing heat. Not for sissies. For a less incendiary, but still thermally shocking experience, try Drake's Great Balls of Fire. It's a cocktail-like Hot Shot variation with less chili bite but more alcohol-derived burn. Made with chilled-and-shaken Hot Shot, OYO Whiskey and Drake's Apple Pie Mead, its flavor wavers from apple to whiskey to … fire in the hole!

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Hot Toddy


Mouton is a dark and inviting, sleek and chic Short North lounge with a spare aesthetic accented by High Street windows and hanging farmhouse implements. Its reputation as a place that makes hip cocktails and attracts a stylish crowd is well deserved. If you don't think a classic hot toddy sounds hip (I didn't either), sip Mouton's version on a cold and dreary evening, and I bet you'll amend your definition of hip. The drink's foundation is that combination of hot water, honey and lemon familiar to anyone who's ever sought to soothe a sore throat. To that, Mouton adds a robust slug of Old Forester Signature 100 Proof Bourbon - now you've got something that can also soothe a sore a chilly soul. A final flourish of sprinkled nutmeg plays off the whiskey's vanilla notes for a whiff of Christmas flavors. Prefer something more dramatic? Mouton offers a toddy variation made with scotch that's kicked up several notches in the "heating you up" and "hip" departments. Called the Blue Blazer, it's set aflame and elaborately mixed by alternately sloshing the fiery liquid into and out of two special metal "Blazer mugs."

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Coffee & Creme

SALT & PINE, $10

Most people already know that cool and beautiful Salt & Pine is the best new restaurant to open Downtown in a long time. Less publicized is the eatery's terrific bar, and the fact that it's completely detached from the main dining room. So if you just want a beverage like the mood-improving Coffee & Creme, one of S&P's featured after dinner drinks, you needn't make a restaurant reservation at this frequently busy establishment. The Coffee & Creme - a cuppa joe jazzed up with so many delicious ingredients that you should probably refer to it as a Cup of Joseph - starts off with gold and luscious Alvear Cream Sherry (part oloroso sherry, part Pedro Ximenez wine) splashed into a reassuringly hefty mug. Distinguished hooch No. 2 is Watershed Bourbon. Then comes a lotta hot, house-blended coffee brewed with beans from Brioso. Of course there's fresh cream on top, and of course it's from Snowville; it's also lightly whipped so it sits in place without being overly foamy. Next is a drizzle of salted honey, followed by a touch of chocolate nibs and/or shaved chocolate. This brings us to the final two things: oohing and aahing.

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Spicy Jalapeno Margarita

MAD MEX, $12

Mad Mex, a longtime campus favorite, can change personalities at the drop of a sombrero. Head there during its terrific happy hour, and it's liable to be rowdy and crowded. Belly up to the undulating bar to watch a game later in the evening, and the place might well be almost serene. What doesn't change at this pioneer of kitschy Day of the Dead decor and Mexican-ish cuisine is its margaritas - they're the best in the area. The excellent Spicy Jalapeno Margarita manages to be simultaneously refreshing and hot. It's served in an artsy glass with a blue swirl that might remind you that the Patron Silver tequila in that glass is made with 100% blue agave. Also in the glass: a mix of fresh lime, lemon and orange juices; Combier, the fanciest triple sec out there (and allegedly the original); and about a half-dozen, just-sliced discs of fresh jalapeno. How's it taste? An invigorating rush of deliciously tart citrus tempered by the sweet Combier is quickly followed by a serious thrust of botanical heat. As you get deeper into the glass, the leeched-out fire and fruitiness of the chili and its seeds might even transport you to a balmy, Mexican beach - albeit one with convenient parking in a nearby garage and the Cavs on TV.

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Flaming Mary


If you wake up on the morning after a night of excess and the fog in your head mixes with an obnoxious wintry chill to create an intolerable weather system, Milestone's Flaming Mary can help burn off your misery - and fire up a new good mood. I'm speaking from experience. This is a generous-sized bloody mary starring Buckeye Vodka (a spirit made in the Dayton area and distilled 10 times) infused with rehydrated, dried chipotle peppers. Because chipotle is an ingredient so nice you should use it twice - wait, make that three times - chipotle puree is added and the glass gets a chipotle powder-dusted rim. The finished beverage, which arrived with a jalapeno garnish (chipotles are smoked jalapenos) played smoky and roasted pepper notes off of refreshing pickled accents and celery salt. The light-bodied beverage was also imbued with an underlying, fruity sweetness and a creeper heat that tickled before smacking. Drinking this on a recent blustery day, I reveled in the warmth of its accumulating sting as I soaked in the dynamic views afforded by Milestone's swooping contours and striking Scioto Mile setting. This generated a smile that effectively said the stupid old cold weather could go ahead and screw itself.

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Where to get your winter sippin' on


491 S. Fourth St., German Village




463 N. High St., Short North




2268 E. Main St., Bexley




105 N. Grant St., Discovery District



26 E. Fifth Ave., Short North




401 W. Town St., Franklinton





954 N. High St., Short North



250 S. High St., Downtown




1542 N High St., Campus




229 Civic Center Dr., Downtown