As a general rule, my grandmother doesn’t drink. She’ll have a Champagne cocktail on New Year’s Eve or an Irish coffee on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve also heard tales of the parties she threw in the ’60s when they made pitchers of Grasshoppers and danced in the garage, but for the most part, she “just doesn’t care much for it.” With one very important exception: the hot toddy.
The hot toddy, you see, is not a cocktail in my grandmother’s mind. In fact, it’s not really even alcohol. It’s medicine. She will have one when she feels even the slightest onset of a tickle in her throat, or when the winds change, or when she just can’t get warm enough in the evening. If I’m on the phone with her and mention that I’m not feeling great, she urges me to rush to the kitchen to make a hot toddy. Not take an aspirin or call the doctor, mind you.
When the weather turns cold, I take my grandmother’s advice to heart. Having a real cocktail after dinner during the week often feels extravagant to me (well, at least not usually the best idea), but I can always be talked into a hot toddy—especially around the holidays, when the smell of cloves just can’t be enjoyed enough.
Unlike mulled wine, my other wintertime standby, it’s easy to make just one hot toddy at a time (which means I’m more likely to drink just one after dinner and call it a night). But like mulled wine, there are endless ways to make a hot toddy — some people brew lemon tea and then add a splash of whiskey to it. Others add honey or sugar and cinnamon sticks. And I’m sure there’s a healthy debate raging somewhere over what kind of whiskey to use, whether it’s bourbon or rye or scotch or something else entirely, like brandy or rum.
But I like to make mine the way my grandmother does, with Irish whiskey and a slice of lemon studded with cloves. We don’t add sugar because this is a medicinal tonic, after all.
So here’s to my grandma and to all of you this Christmas. On behalf of everyone at A Sharp Knife & Salt and Sur La Table, we hope you’re celebrating the holiday well, with loved ones and in good health.