’Tis the season for frightful weather, and nothing warms the soul after a slog through the snow to buy those last minute gifts like a hot, spicy drink. For some, the perfect antidote is a cup of coffee, or tea, or even hot chocolate. But this is a Booze Nerd post, so you know where I’m headed on those frosty days!
Your first line of defense against winter’s chill is the hot toddy. There are many types of toddies, but the basic definition is “any mixed drink served hot that includes alcohol.” Sounds like my kind of drink. The exact origin of the toddy is, like those of a lot of drinks, made cloudy by that great muddler, time. The tradition seems to have emerged from Scotland, where whisky was the common ingredient. Of course, its primary use was “medicinal,” as a remedy against the chill and colds that came with it. Heavy use of spices was thought to help clear the head, though I suspect after a few of these, the head was anything but clear.
You probably felt a lot better, though!
As for the name, it may have originated in India, where wine made from date palms is known as “palm toddy.” (Incidentally, this weak palm wine can be distilled to make the powerful arrack, a popular spirit in the first days of sail.)
While mulled wines and ciders fall into the toddy category, I thought I’d include a recipe for one of my particular favorites — Hot Buttered Rum. Yes, there is actual butter in this.
Hot Buttered Rum
- ½ oz Unsalted Butter
- ½ oz Honey
- 1 oz Hot Water
- 2 oz Your Favorite Spiced Rum (I prefer Cruzan Blackstrap or Kraken)
Add the butter and honey to your glass and stir together; you may need a little hot water to soften them. Add the rum, then the hot water. Grate nutmeg over the top and serve.
The proportions above are really just suggestions. Add as much of any of the ingredients as suits your tastes, though I advise against using margarine or other replacement butter products as you just won’t get the same silky texture or buttery flavor.
You can also mix the butter ahead of time with brown sugar, cinnamon and other favorite spices. If you add more sugar during this step, omit the honey. You can even skip the rum and use brandy, cognac, or bourbon but be advised, the latter can be very sweet.
This drink with the funny sounding name (also spelled hippocras, ypocras) is actually just spiced wine, but rather than mulling the wine and spices over heat, you mix all the ingredients ahead of time and let it sit for a day or two (or longer). The resulting drink is mellower than most mulled wine, and I think a little sweeter.
Though spiced wine has been known since at least Roman times, hypocras was brought to Europe following the Crusades. It was exceedingly popular in France, and it derived its name from the conical funnel used to strain out the spices. There are many variations on the hypocras theme of course, but all involve some amount of wine, sugar (or honey), fruits, and spices — especially
cinnamon. While hypocras fell out of favor in the 18th Century, there are a few producers still around. It’s even said to have inspired the Spanish sangria.
If you’re looking for a something a little different to sip during the holidays, hypocras definitely fits the bill. For something with a more eastern European flavor, I suggest krupnikas —vodka honey wine— and you can find a good recipe for that here. (Shameless plug: I can vouch for the recipe, Hungry Passport is my wife!) You can drink it hot or cold.
Ypocras (recipe courtesy La Varenne/Anne Willen)
Makes 3 cups/750ml
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp ground mace
- 1½ tsp ground cloves
- 1½ tsp ground grains of paradise
- 1 bottle (750ml) fruity red wine such as merlot
1. In a medium, non-metallic bowl, stir together the sugar, cinnamon, mace, cloves, and grains of paradise. Add the wine and stir well. Leave for 10 minutes, then stir again to dissolve the sugar fully. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for 1-2 days.
2. Strain the wine mixture through a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth into a bowl. A brown deposit will be left on the cheesecloth. Rinse it off and strain the wine at least once more through the cheesecloth to clarify it as well as possible.
3. Store the wine in an airtight container (or, use the original wine bottle) at room temperature. It will keep up to one month.
This little-known drink is sometimes served at EVERY FREAKIN’ HOLIDAY PARTY IN THE WORLD, so you may actually have heard of it.
Eggnog most likely originated in England, where it was often mixed with brandy and assorted spices like nutmeg and the ubiquitous cinnamon. When it was ported over to the colonies, the cheaper and more commonly available rum was a ready substitute, and it remains a pretty popular choice to this day.
The grandmama of all holiday drinks, eggnog is also sadly, probably the least good for you. Here’s something you may not have known about eggnog. I suspect it is the reason it’s so popular, quite frankly. If you thought Hot Buttered Rum was rich, it’s got nothing on eggnog:
Essentially you’re drinking ice cream.
You heard me right.
Creme Anglais, the foundation of the ice cream we all so dearly love is also the foundation of eggnog. It’s no wonder when you dump some holiday spices and booze into it that it becomes even more irresistible.
Drink responsibly. Your doctor is watching.
Eggnog (recipe courtesy Carol Penn-Romine)
Makes about 12 half-cup servings
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 7 large, fresh eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- nutmeg, to garnish
(Repurpose any leftover eggnog by pouring it into your ice cream maker and making some vanilla ice cream. Remember that if it has alcohol in it, though, it won’t freeze.)