Cold Bodies Need Hot Toddies

I don’t get sick very often, and I visit doctors even less. Because whether or not I’m sick, chances are I’m already doing what any doctor would advise: resting and drinking plenty of fluids. Call it self-medication or preventative care—I call it effective. Anyone who spends enough time around me knows that I always offer a fitting prescription for whatever ails them. Sore throat? Gulp some sencha tea with a squeeze of lemon. Tummy ache? Drink bitters and soda. Nerves shot after working a double shift? A couple shots of Fernet, of course.

When I actually do get sick, though, I cure myself with a two-pronged attack: hot tea to make me get better, and liquor to make me feel better. For efficiency’s sake, I usually combine the two to form the ultimate wintertime medicine: the hot toddy.

Although a toddy can technically comprise only liquor and hot water, the most common version is a combination of some type of whiskey, some type of hot black tea, lemon juice, and honey—typically served in a footed glass mug and garnished with a stick of cinnamon. This version is OK, but since I have dozens of teas and drink ingredients at my disposal at the Rose Establishment, I knew I could do better. I waited until after closing time on a recent day off to experiment with some preventative care recipes at The Rose.

When I arrived at the café (on a frigid winter night) our assistant manager Brian Lord was still there, just finishing closing. He said he had dinner plans around the corner in an hour and was going to hang around until then. I told him he was in luck: I’d make him a hot toddy to fortify him on his daunting, half-block walk to dinner.

(Photos: Michael Kunde.)
(Photos: Michael Kunde.)

I thought I’d use the typical whiskey-and-black-tea model for my first attempt, but improve upon it a little. Into a preheated glass I poured one-and-a-half ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon, a half-ounce of lemon juice, a quarter-ounce of Fernet Branca (Brian’s a sucker for Fernet), two teaspoons maple syrup, topped it off with six ounces of the Art of Tea’s Turkish Apple black tea, and garnished it with a lemon twist. I slid the drink across the espresso bar to Brian and he sipped it. “Damn. Now that’s a hot toddy,” he said.

I couldn’t let Brian drink alone, so I set about making my own beverage and I looked for inspiration on our tea shelves. I felt like a lighter toddy, so I brewed some of Art of Tea’s Green Earl Grey with a bit of rose petals. I preheated a glass and poured in one-and-a-half-ounces of Beehive Jack Rabbit gin, a half-ounce of lemon juice, a quarter-ounce of simple syrup, a dash of Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters, a dash of Bitters Lab apricot and vanilla bitters, topped it off with six ounces of the brewed tea, and garnished it with a pinch of rose petals. We both agreed that if the Rose were a bar, this hot toddy would be the first drink on the cocktail menu. There is no harm in pretending, so we dimmed the lights in the seating area, turned up the Dave Brubeck, and toasted to “what ifs.”

As we became sufficiently warmed in body and spirit, my phone started buzzing. It was my girlfriend, Cori. She was walking home from a bar, was near the Rose, and was freezing. I told her to stop by on her way home—I had just the thing to thaw her out. She needed a drink to make her forget about the brutal Wasatch winter. She needed a Tiki Toddy.

I brewed some of Metropolitan Tea’s smoky lapsang souchong and added an equal quantity of turbinado sugar to make a syrup. I got some Art of Tea Brulèe Mint Rooibos brewing and, like always, I preheated a glass. Into that glass flowed three-quarters ounce Appleton Signature Blend rum, three-quarters ounce Smith & Cross Navy-strength rum, three-quarters ounce lime juice, two teaspoons lapsang souchong simple syrup, and two dashes Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters. I topped the mixture off with six ounces of the hot Brulèe Mint Rooibos and garnished it with freshly ground nutmeg and a lime wheel just as Cori arrived. She normally dislikes hot toddies—she says they just taste like tea and alcohol. This drink was something different entirely, and she delighted in its layers until the last drop.

It was too delicious of a drink to have just a taste of Cori’s, so I put some Martin Denny on the stereo and made another round of Tiki Toddies for the three of us. We mused about the tropics, and wondered why we don’t warm up this way more often. The awaiting chill was the last thing on our minds—as was the boring, stereotypical hot toddy that we’ll never settle for again.

Cody Kirkland is the manager of the Rose Establishment in Salt Lake City.