Turn Up the Temperature With This Valentine's Day Cocktail

Cooking an indulgent Valentine's Day dinner? Snuggle up with your partner and this sweet, spicy and steaming-hot cocktail for dessert.

Try this recipe from Cindy's in Chicago.

Sweet Poison Cocktail

Try this recipe from Cindy's in Chicago.

Photo by: AJ Trela

AJ Trela

I’m just going to come right out and say it: Going out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day is generally a bad idea. Reservations are hard to come by, to begin with, and nearly every place offers a lackluster (and pricy) prix-fixe menu to satisfy the hordes of couples on high-stress dates.

Instead, you should take the opportunity to cook an indulgent meal at home for your special someone: Splurge on a nice steak, some lobster tails, foraged wild mushrooms or whatever he or she most enjoys, and show your love by making dinner. (You can also spend the money you saved by not going out on a fancy couples massage, or maybe a night in a hotel penthouse suite.)

But what about the drinks? If you’re going to spend hours preparing an extravagant home-cooked Valentine’s dinner, your beverages should be just as special, right? Enter the Sweet Poison. This sweet, tart and spiced cocktail calls for homemade red currant jam, is inspired by a Russian drink with a thousand years of tradition and, appropriately for the season, is served steaming hot.

“I wanted to showcase an atypical hot drink for our guests,” says Sweet Poison creator Nandini Khaund, the beverage director for the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, including Cindy’s, the rooftop bar where the drink is currently on the menu. Khaund’s been a fixture of the Chicago bar scene for well over a decade, working in well-known cocktail spots like The Violet Hour and Big Star before moving to the hotel in 2015. (A rooftop bar in winter in Chicago might sound like a recipe for frostbite, but Khaund protests: “We are enclosed in glass, and it’s actually quite cozy! It feels like a snow globe.”)

The Sweet Poison is inspired by sbiten, a mix of honey, jam and spices with hot water or wine that’s been a winter-warmer favorite in Russia since the Middle Ages. Khaund’s recipe amps up the spice (and alcohol) level by using aquavit, a Scandinavian distilled spirit infused with caraway seed — along with an herb-infused fortified wine from Italy called Cocchi Rosa, licorice-y Peychaud’s Bitters and a syrup made from red currant jam, honey and the pepper-and-anise punch of Chinese five-spice powder.

“The spices in the aquavit and the Cocchi Rosa combine in a way that’s pretty exciting, and the Peychaud’s Bitters also echo the five-spice flavor. I think it’s fun to refer to it as a pink Hot Toddy,” Khaund says. If you want to pair the Sweet Poison with a rich dessert, she suggests a vanilla creme brulée, but the drink can also finish the meal in and of itself: “It’s an elegant dessert, a little bit drier but with implications of spice and flavor.”

Maybe a lighter, warming dessert drink is a good choice to end a home-cooked Valentine’s meal: You can always carry your mugs directly to the bedroom should the need arise.

Sweet Poison

By Nandini Khaund | Cindy's | Chicago, Illinois

Try this recipe from Cindy's in Chicago.

Sweet Poison Cocktail

Try this recipe from Cindy's in Chicago.

Photo by: AJ Trela

AJ Trela


Makes 1 drink

  • 1 oz. Krogstad Aquavit
  • 1 oz. Cocchi Rosa Aperitivo Americano
  • .75 oz. "Red Scare" Syrup*
  • 1 dash Peychaud's Bitters
  • hot water
  • dehydrated orange wheel studded with cloves or orange twist.


Add all the ingredients except the water in a mug. Fill with hot water and garnish with a dehydrated orange wheel studded with cloves or an orange twist.

*Red Scare Syrup


Makes enough for about 10 drinks

  • 120 g. red currant jam (use store-bought or make your own with the recipe below)
  • 80 g. honey
  • 25 g. hot water
  • 1/2 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder


Stir together all the ingredients thoroughly. Cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

**Red Currant Jam


Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 lb. red currants (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp. apple pectin
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice


Puree the currants in a blender and add to a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from the heat and strain the mixture through cheesecloth back into the saucepan. (Let the cheesecloth bundle drain into the pan for an hour or so to capture as much liquid as possible.) Stir together the apple pectin and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and whisk into the strained currant mixture. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat, stirring frequently and measuring the temperature with a candy thermometer until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and let stand until cool. Store in the refrigerator.

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