By Renee Lorenz Special to Published Dec 02, 2011 at 5:33 AM

Brew City Bar Tab takes a patron's-eye look at the Milwaukee area's diverse selection of bars, clubs, pubs, taverns, lounges and more. Stay tuned each week for themed bar reports, bar reviews and bartender profiles to help you explore and discover the city's bar scene.

Like it or not, winter is coming. And while this chilly season brings snow, cold and ice, it also ushers in plenty of opportunities to cozy up indoors and indulge in the rich, decadent flavors so often associated with the colder months.

For many Milwaukee area bars, wintry flavors like peppermint, chocolate and cinnamon serve not only as classic cocktail standbys, but even more so as jumping-off points for some incredibly imaginative and delicious seasonal creations. With everything from smooth spiked cocoas to spicy toddies, there are plenty of reasons to brave the cold for a night out.

Probably the longest-running holiday bar tradition, Bryant's Cocktail Lounge's annual holiday punch has been a popular seasonal favorite for at least 50 years. The punch, which is still made from the original recipe, rolls out just after Thanksgiving and is available until New Year's Eve.

Its ingredients are all house-made, but – like the rest of the historic lounge's drink repertoire – the creation's details are kept under wraps.

"It's a really amazing mix," said the bar's owner, John Dye. "It's a little bit fruity, but not overly fruity. It's very punchy. It has enough sweetness to go down easily, but there's a lot of booze in it. It's very deceiving."

At Firefly Bar + Grill, the brand-new drink menu has tapped into a few different holiday flavors. Guests can choose from the Peppermint Lane, which features Rumple Minze, vodka, cream and sugar served in a crushed candy cane-rimmed glass; the Cranberry-Basil Smash, a colorful cocktail of fresh muddled lime, basil and cranberries topped with soda and cranberry juice; and the Cloud Nine – a combination of Yellow Chartreuse, Triple Sec, orange juice and cream served on the rocks with an orange twist.

"They are just too delicious not to indulge," said Firefly's bar manager, Angela Verberne. "We will also be changing up our infusions frequently to cater to the season."

Those still longing for a spicy fall drink can satisfy their craving at Hi-Hat Lounge. The Brady Street bar's make-your-own toddy is sticking around awhile longer.

"They're a carry-over from the fall menu," said bar manager Daniel Dufek. "We're keeping them through the winter, probably through February."

Hi-Hat also has some sweet and savory creations in store for its guests as part of the Hunger Task Force's 12 Drinks of Christmas promotion. Running through Christmas, the Lounge side will serve The First Day, made with Bulleit Rye whiskey, pumpkin butter, fresh lemon juice and cocoa nib tincture, and the Holly and Ivy, made with Tanqueray, fig jam, balsamic vinegar, fresh orange juice and a Pernod rinse.

The Garage will also serve a pair of 12 Drinks cocktails: the Serbian Troubadour, made with Captain Morgan, Kahlua, cream and Sprecher root beer, and the All Is Calm, made with Crown Royal Reserve, Bailey's, chai syrup and cinnamon.

The bartenders at Clear, located in the lobby of the InterContinental Hotel, are well versed in creating coffee and hot chocolate cocktails. Hotel guests enjoy the comforts of home, too – even if that home happens to be a hotel room at the moment.

"We're very accommodating," said bartender Alex Berns. "We have an espresso maker behind the bar and some very creative bartenders that can make up pretty much anything on the fly."

In addition to their many warm, satisfying standards, Clear is also offering three specialty cocktails for the 12 Drinks of Christmas, too. The Pa-Rum Pum Pum Pum, which includes rum, Bailey's, simple syrup and bitters; the Royaltea, made with Crown Royal, simple syrup, lemon juice, egg white and chai tea; and the Let The Night Be Gin, made with Tanqueray, pomegranate syrup, egg white, lemon juice and rhubarb bitters, will be available through the holiday season.

The Little Drummer Boy is also making a stop in Bay View, where owner Ken Yandell is getting ready to officially start serving BYO Studio Lounge's winter menu this weekend. Its three featured rum drinks have already gotten a good early reception from lucky test drinkers.

"I go through an experimentation process, and when I get them to a point where I'm satisfied with them I'll try them on a few people to get some opinions," said Yandell. "Then I'll have a sort of "guinea pig" night to get more people to give some detailed feedback."

The Rum-Pumpun-pum, a hot drink made with Ron Zacapa 23-year Centenario, Rumchata, spiced chai and Aleppo pepper; the Winter Rum Runner, made with Flor de Cana seven-year rum, apricot brandy, pomegranate molasses and guava nectar; and the Black Pear, made with Cruzan black strap rum, fresh ginger root, fresh lime and pear nectar, will be available through December, but could make an extended appearance.

"It kind of depends on how popular they are," said Yandell. "If we get a good response, they'll stay on through winter."

In Walker's Point, Shaker's Cigar Bar has made a name for itself as a go-to bar for authentic Prohibition cocktails. They also offer a menu of ever-changing specialty cocktails, though, which currently features a pair of fun and festive seasonal cocktails through the Christmas holiday.

"We currently have a candy cane cocktail and the Blue Spruce, (made with blue Curaçao, gin and pineapple), which is of course named after the Christmas tree downtown," said marketing director Amanda Morden.

Much like Shaker's constant menu reinventions, The Hotel Foster serves a main menu of featured seasonal drinks. Here, however, they take their cocktail rotation one step further.

"We also have a new board in the bar with shorter-term cocktails," said Doug Williams, one of the bar's owners. "(They) might be the week, or only for that bartender's shift, et cetera."

Around Dec. 21, the bar's main menu will switch over to a new winter menu, which will be served through the winter. It's set to include a house toddy and espresso cocktail, as well as The Autumnal, a modern classic from bartender Evan Barnes made with Old Overholt Rye, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and a dash of Fee Brothers Aromatic Old Fashioned Bitters, stirred with ice and garnished with an orange twist.

The East Side's other hotel-themed bar, The Hamilton, just unveiled its own winter menu inspired by a classic bygone era.

"The menu theme is reflective of the writers, artists and musicians from the 1920s led by a quote from Dorothy Parker: 'Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves,'" said Kimberly Lloyd, owner of The Hamilton. "All in all, the cocktails are bit more 'spirit forward' (think strong) than our summer cocktails."

Its selections feature Rehorst's pumpkin spirits, gin and whiskey, in addition to Bittercube bitters and a variety of interesting liqueurs like allspice and walnut. The seasonal menu won't be available quite as long as the decade that inspired it, but it's set to last at least until March, which will give guests plenty of time to indulge well through winter.

Renee Lorenz Special to

Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."

Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.