Warming up your winter cocktail repertoire
By Tony Cross
Maybe it’s just me, but I think whiskey carries over better with folks during the colder months. I drink it year-round and definitely had my share of Boulevardiers over the summer, but I tend to drink whisky and whiskey straight more so during this time of year. However, at the end of the night, I usually prefer to mix myself a hot toddy of some sort. Toddies are simple drinks to make, with hardly any ingredients to grab from your kitchen. I desire them during certain late nights because they are soothing, and don’t pack the punch of imbibing it straight. I usually like to mess around with different ratios, bitters, and liqueurs to put a spin on the classics, and the toddy is no different. A good hot cocktail can put aches and pains at bay, even if it’s only for a few hours.
The first mention of a whiskey toddy is written in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book The Bar-Tenders Guide, , but it’s referred to as an Irish Whiskey Punch: “This is the genuine Irish beverage. It is generally made with one-third pure whiskey, two-thirds boiling water, in which the sugar has been dissolved. If lemon punch, the rind is rubbed on the sugar, and a small proportion of juice is added before the whiskey is poured in.” Let’s break that down. One-third of Irish whiskey can be 2 ounces, and the hot water should be 4. The “lemon punch” is nothing more than an oleo-saccharum (oil-sugar). To do this, take the peel from one lemon (avoiding the pith, as it will add bitterness) and place it into a small cup-sized container. Add half a cup of baker’s sugar on top of the peels, and seal. Let sit for at least four hours. This will extract the oils from the lemon peels into the sugar. In a small pot, add 4 ounces of water and put it on medium-high heat. Add the lemon-sugar, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. The amount of oleo-saccharum to add to your toddy is up to you; I recommend starting out with 1/2 ounce.
Renowned bartender Jim Meehan has his version of a hot whiskey in his newly published book, Meehan’s Bartender Manual. In it, he mixes Thomas’s Irish Whiskey Punch and Whiskey Skin. Thomas’s Whiskey Skin is whiskey, boiling water and a lemon peel. Meehan recalls his first hot whiskey when he visited Ireland for the first time in 1997: “I was no stranger to hot toddies, but I’d never tasted one with a clove-studded lemon wedge, which serves the same steam- and heat-mitigating function as the head on an Irish Coffee. Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, if you combine boiling hot water with alcohol, heady fumes will evaporate from the glass, repelling all but the most intrepid imbibers.” That first whiff of a hot toddy might send you into a coughing frenzy. Meehan’s recipe is also simple:
(Meehan’s Bartender Manual, 2017)
4 ounces hot water
1 1/2 ounces Powers Irish Whiskey (Jameson will work, too)
1 ounce honey syrup
Garnish with 1 lemon wedge studded with 3 cloves
(Makes 16 ounces)
8 ounces filtered water
12 ounces honey
Simmer the water and honey in a pot over medium heat (approximately 180˚ F) until the honey dissolves. Cool and bottle.
I’m sure you can see how making a traditional Whiskey Skin wouldn’t be the least bit interesting if you ordered one at the bar, or if you made one at home. I’m not saying it wouldn’t do the trick, I’m just saying. That’s why myriad barmen implement their own spin on today’s toddy. I’ll admit, I usually keep mine simple: bourbon or cognac with a rich demerara syrup, aromatic bitters and a squeeze of lemon. One week when under the weather, I did whip together something healthy and tasty. Maybe it wasn’t healthy, but I felt better afterwards.
Just as with any other classic drink, learn the basics and why it works. I chose High West’s American Prairie Bourbon. Why? Because it was the bourbon whiskey closest to my hand on the shelf. I used echinacea tea — this particular tea helped soothe my throat when I was sick the year prior — added fresh lemon for the citrus, and a local honey and ginger syrup for the sugar. For spice, I threw in a few dashes of Teapot Bitters from Adam Elmegirab (available online; flavors of vanilla, tea and baking spices). Easy to make, and really good going down. If you start with the basics, and learn why the specs work, it will become easier to play with other ingredients and make your own specialty toddy.
Hard Day’s Night
1 1/2 ounces bourbon (I used High West American Prairie)
4 ounces (boiling hot) Traditional Medicinal Throat Coat Echinacea Tea (available at Nature’s Own)
1/2 ounce honey-ginger syrup
1/4 ounces fresh lemon
3 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab Teapot Bitters
Preheat a coffee mug with hot water. Add all ingredients into heated mug and stir lightly for a few revolutions. Add a twist of lemon.
In a small pot, combine 1/2 cup honey (depending where you buy your honey, it will taste different; store bought — not local — will taste very sweet) 1/2 cup of water and 1 ounce fresh ginger juice (if you don’t have a juicer, grate organic ginger into a cheesecloth or nut milk bag and squeeze the juice into a container). Place over medium-high heat, and stir for a few minutes until all three ingredients have married. PS
Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.