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Margaritas are the signature cocktail of the Kelly household. As hot days turn to warm evenings from April until Halloween or so, we often sit with friends on the deck, slurping down the slushy, limey drinks. Patrick sometimes puts his collection of traditional rancheras on the stereo before we hit the green plastic chaise lounges, just to heighten the experience. But the icy drink is just a bit chilly to serve our friends at our parties during these winter months. Not that we haven't tried. When he walked around the living room with a tray full of margaritas during our tree-trimming party last month, the response from our sweater-clad guests was pretty wintry. "More for me," Patrick gamely cracked at each raised hand of refusal, but I could see the poor man was hurt and confused. A wife just knows these things. I decided that Patrick was too good a man to suffer such humiliation again, and I resolved to come up with our signature Kelly wintertime cocktail.

The first call went out to Beverages & More in La Mesa. "People tend to come in looking for mulling spices to use with wine at this time of year," explained assistant manager Mark Milutin. "Mix the spices with your wine, like a Burgundy, and simmer. Then serve it warm. The four-ounce tin of spices costs $3.99.

"If you want some ideas other than cocktails," Milutin continued, "almost all of your microbreweries will make a seasonal beer for Christmas time. They tend to be darker, heavier styles of beer. They try to give them a little chocolaty or hazelnutty flavor. Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale [$7.49 for a six-pack at Beverages & More] is one of the more popular beers."

Beer is not my thing, though Patrick will slug one down now and then. And I wanted to find a drink that would warm the heart, something we both could enjoy during cozy winter evenings by the fire. My search continued, leading me to Erica Jessup, bartender at Laurel in Banker's Hill who offered a few ideas. "The drinks we serve here to warm people up are White Monks. That is Frangelico [$17.99 for 750 ml at Beverages & More] in a brandy snifter with steamed milk. That's really yummy. Or you can do an eggnog latte with brandy: steam the eggnog, put an ounce and a half of brandy in it, and sprinkle a little nutmeg on the top."

When I was a kid, Dad would whip up a "hot toddy" to cure any number of our sicknesses. "It's good for what ails you," he'd smirk. I'm not sure it really helped the sickness, but it certainly helped knock us kids out for the evening. I asked Jessup if she serves them at Laurel. "Nobody ever really asks us for a hot toddy," she answered. "I make them for myself, with the lemon and the honey in it. It cures you right up. There is another one that I do that is a lemonade. I use fresh lemon, water, honey, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, and your choice of alcohol. I use brandy."

The next cold patient in the Kelly household was going to get the Jessup Toddy, I thought. In the meantime I still needed another wintertime party drink. I'd feel a bit odd serving Depression-era cold remedies to my guests.

The following day, I popped into Mona Lisa Italian Grocery Store and Deli in Little Italy to pick up a mortadella and salami sub. As I waited to check out, my eyes wandered to the liquors and liqueurs on a shelf near the checkstand, and they fixed on the handsome bottles of clear grappa. "What's grappa?" I asked the salesman.

"It's a distilled grape liquor, like brandy," he answered. "Very strong, but smooth. They make it up in Northern Italy where it's cold. It'll really warm you up."

I snatched up a bottle of Alexander Grappa [$24.99 for 750 ml] and headed home for a taste. Patrick loved it. "It's clearing my sinus passages and there is a warmth spreading down my throat, radiating into my chest cavity. I can imagine drinking this on a cold winter's night in the Italian alps and then charging out into the snow to make snow angels," he laughed.

While Patrick was pleased, the drink was too strong for me. I shelved the bottle for the man and continued looking. Chris Bates, bartender at Mister A's in Banker's Hill, came through with a few home run ideas. "A lot of people like a Hot Apple Pie this time of year," he offered. "It is a hot cider, with some Tuaca [$12.99 for 375 ml at Beverages & More] and a cinnamon stick. Tuaca is an Italian liqueur, which is citrusy with a hint of vanilla in it. Another drink people often ask for this time of year are the hot toddies." (I knew it!) "But most people go for the typical coffee drinks. A regular Irish Coffee with either Jameson's Irish Whiskey [$18.99 for 750 ml at Beverages & More] or Bushmills Irish Whiskey [$30.99 for 1.75 liters at Beverages & More], with coffee added to it.

"Some people want a Nutty Irishman." This could be the signature Kelly winter drink, I thought. The name certainly fit. "That is a coffee drink with Bailey's [$14.99 for 750 ml at Beverages & More] and Frangelico in it," Bates explained. "Some people will add a cube of sugar to that; it depends on a person's preference."

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