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Hot cocktails a winter attraction at Murray Avenue Grill

It's the spiked hot-chocolate drinks that really stand out

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The weather this winter might be less bracing than the past few years, but even without a Snowmageddon forcing you indoors, hot cocktails are still a great way to warm your bones while waiting for summer. After all, spring is still nearly a month away.

Hot spiked drinks are a traditional way to fight off the winter chill. In the United States, recipes for warming, boozy drinks date back to the colonial period, and they remained popular through the 19th century. Nearly 40 recipes for hot drinks are listed in The Bartenders Guide, which was published in 1862 and is considered to be the first drink-making handbook.

There are numerous ways to construct a hot drink, though mulled wines, ciders and grogs are the most traditional. The hot toddy (water, sweetener, whiskey or sometimes rum or brandy) is a classic that originated in 17th-century Scotland. But these days, most hot cocktails are of the coffee variety; generally, they consist of a drip coffee spiked with liquor and slapped with an "ethnic" name. Add whiskey and it's Irish; add Kahlua and it's Mexican.

Squirrel Hill's Murray Avenue Grill has the traditional coffee drinks, but has expanded into more adventurous beverages. The grill has, for example, recently introduced a hot apple grog ($7): cider mixed with Captain Morgan spiced rum and a cinnamon stick.

But it's the spiked hot-chocolate drinks that really stand out.

The chocolate drinks were created to provide a warm refresher for those who aren't coffee drinkers. "Everybody loves chocolate," says bartender Emmy Sullivan. And it adds a bit of distinction, she adds: "The more traditional stuff is the Irish coffee. That kind of stuff you can get anywhere."

There are currently two hot chocolates on the Grill's "Winter Warmers" menu: Chocolate Berry ($6), which is hot chocolate with raspberry schnapps, and Chocolate Ginger Snap ($7), a mix of Godiva chocolate, Stoli Vanilla and gingerbread syrup.

Sound a bit sweet? Sullivan says their blends are "like drinking a cup of candy."

Murray Avenue Grill. 1720 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-521-1272 or www.murrayavenuegrill.com

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