Some Like it Hot

When the winter chill sets in, crafty bartenders mix some hot toddies to warm their customers from the inside out.

According to cocktail lore, the original drink, dubbed a “taddy,” dates back to the 1700s when Hindi mixologists combined alcohol with hot water, sugar and spices. British pub masters adopted the concoction as a remedy to England’s cold, damp air by pouring hot water into scotch whisky.

When the toddy arrived in the US, bartenders swapped out whisky for their two most available spirits – rye and brandy. By the late 17th century, the hot toddy had secured its position as a get-well drink – with good reason.

In its simplest form, a hot toddy is a shot of whiskey, a teaspoon of honey, a squeeze of lemon and enough boiling water to fill the glass. Add some baking spices – cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg – and your hot toddy boasts cold-busting properties that rival any over-the-counter cold medicine.

Lemon stimulates saliva, heat and spices loosen mucus, honey delivers a dose of antioxidants and alcohol numbs a sore throat. Add warm liquid to the mix, and the drink can ease myriad cold and flu symptoms.

But you don’t have to be ill to enjoy the comforting warmth of a hot toddy, particularly since today’s mixologists are getting crafty with eclectic, even bizarre ingredients ranging from chamomile and apple cider to cranberry and pear.

While bartenders design warm weather drinks to quench thirst (a cold mojito goes down fast!), they craft winter sippers to be savored. These cocktails warm the body with potent spirits, but according to Robin Christenson of Orange County, California’s Blinking Owl Distillery, the base recipe is just a jumping off point for playing with different flavor profiles. In fact, the drink’s simplicity makes it ripe for experimentation. Some barkeeps use tea as the spice (or in addition to spice). Others switch up the booze, playing with darker spirits such as rum and tequila.

At Blinking Owl, Christenson serves a toddy using Aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit. “It’s so herbaceous that it holds up well in a cocktail while also imparting unique characteristics to the drink,” says Christenson, who adds 10 botanicals, ranging from caraway and cardamom to hibiscus and fennel, to the Aquavit. “We thought it would pair well with winter – a fun spin for a warm drink.” Christenson sometimes adds sweet baking spices, such as a teaspoon of St. Elizabeth’s allspice dram and freshly shaved nutmeg. “We’re always looking for ways to highlight the spirit, not hide it, so we use lemon to brighten the herbaceous flavor of the liquor, a bit of local honey to balance the acid and bitter notes, allspice and nutmeg for pop,” she says.

Creative mixologists love to take a traditional drink and twist up the base ingredients. You might see a toddy made with tequila or rum, or molasses or maple syrup instead of honey. And nearly any fruit you can spice is fair game for toddies. Think cranberry, orange, apple and pear. Even vegetables on the sweeter side like pumpkin, winter squash and sweet potato may find their way into today’s toddies.

Then, there’s the spice. Hot toddy classics are clove, cinnamon and nutmeg; the key is selecting quality ingredients. Fresh grated nutmeg is much more flavorful than dried nutmeg that’s been sitting in a cabinet for a year. And experiment with garnishes: try star anise, charred rosemary or an orange rind studded with cloves. For a festive touch, play with garnishes such as pine, cinnamon sticks and peppermint.

Be creative! The next time the weather gets frightful, brew up some apple cider, drop in some whiskey and you’ve started a party in your glass. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

Blinking Owl’s AQUATODDY

1-1/2 oz Blinking Owl Aquavit

1 tsp allspice dram

1 TBS honey

1/2 cup hot water

1/2 oz lemon juice

Garnish: shaved nutmeg and lemon slice

Add the hot water to your hot toddy glass and stir in the honey until diluted. Stir in the Aquavit, allspice dram, and lemon juice. Grate fresh nutmeg over the top and garnish with a lemon wheel. 

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