Friday, February 7th, 2014
Here’s a fun little game you can play. Go ask someone – preferably someone not wearing arm garters or quoting Jerry Thomas – and ask them what’s in a Hot Toddy. The more people you try this game with, the better, because you’re going to get a lot of varied answers. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’re gonna hear a few of the following ingredients: Lemon… ginger… honey… cinnamon sticks… cloves… cayenne pepper.
The funny thing is that if you look at the earliest Hot Toddy recipe as it appears in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 Bar-Tender’s Guide, it contains none of these things. Here’s the recipe:
1 tea-spoonful of fine white sugar
1 wine-glass of brandy
Dissolve the sugar in a little boiling water, add the brandy, and pour boiling water into the glass until it is two-thirds full Grate a little nutmeg on top.
Water, sugar, brandy, nutmeg. Not even a lousy lemon peel. If you can’t think of anything less interesting or appetizing to drink, take a look at the recipe for the Hot Gin Toddy sometime. Anyway, as I was trying to standardize our Hot Toddy recipe for the bar a few years ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to stay true to the historical recipes while still offering a drink I felt our guests would enjoy. In the end, I decided to tell Jerry Thomas to take a flying leap and came up with something much more reflective of the style of cocktail we serve.
So, sure. We came up with a nice recipe that uses ginger and lemon, big deal. But during recipe testing something consistently came up that I felt was a common problem with Hot Toddies offered in many bars these days: they’re never hot enough. So I devised a solution: enter the Bartender’s Bain-Marie.
The technique is simple: fill a shaker tin halfway with very hot water, and build the drink sans water in a second tin nestled in the bottom shaker. Stirring the ingredients for a minute will raise the temperature to the point where we’re no longer serving cold or room temperature ingredients mixed with hot water. The now-warm drink is added to a preheated glass and finished with piping hot water.
Easy to do, and a hell of a lot safer to do at home than heating alcohol on the stovetop (note: do not heat alcohol on your stovetop). Here’s the recipe I landed on for those who want it:
1½ oz bourbon
1 oz ginger syrup*
¾ oz lemon juice
1 tsp allspice or pimento dram
3 oz boiling water
Stir bourbon, ginger syrup*, lemon juice and allspice or pimento liqueur in Bartender’s Bain-Marie until warmed through. Transfer to preheated mug and top with boiling water. Garnish with orange peel.
I always refer to this as the “San Francisco Ginger Syrup” method, as I stole it from Jon Santer, who I believe learned it from Thad Vogler, who probably didn’t steal it from anyone because Thad is a genius. At any rate I’ve rarely heard of bartenders in other cities doing it this way and when I have, it’s because they’ve learned it from someone from San Francisco. It’s easy to make, and delicious to use.
Simply combine cleaned (no need to peel the ginger) and roughly-chopped ginger (each piece should be about the size of your pinkie-tip) in a blender with equal volumes of sugar and boiling water. For this I’ve used 8 ounces of chopped ginger, 8 ounces of sugar, and 8 ounces boiling water. Blend on high until mixture is smooth, and then fine-strain through a sieve.
That’s it. Enjoy, and stay warm.