winter nights

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How do you make the perfect hot whiskey? Well, my first job was in an Irish bar, and I’ve tried a great many variations since then, so let me share the secrets.

Hot Whiskey attribution Saucy Salad on Flickr

I’d put the slice of lemon in the drink, but whatever floats your boat.
Photo by Saucy Salad on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I love a good hot whiskey (and who doesn’t?). One of its many virtues is you have to be a fairly big eejit to mess it up. Even the laziest barman throwing a spoonful of sugar into a glass with a stingy measure of whiskey, a bit of dry lemon that’s been sitting in a dish all day and some recently hot water can be assured the resulting drink will be reasonably pleasant. However, with a little effort the hot whiskey can be a work of delicious art.

Some notes on terminology: a hot whiskey is often called a hot toddy, but the toddy is a name for the drink used mainly in Scotland, and as I understand it, is a fairly purist whisky, sugar, lemon & water concoction. In Ireland, we spell it whiskey — and if you can’t taste the difference between whiskey and whisky, you’re wasting your money. (A few other countries claim to make whiskey/whisky; how nice for them.)  A hot toddy is also often used as a generic name for a hot alcoholic drink (thus a mulled wine or a hot apple cider are sometimes referred to as a hot toddy). So I call just call this a hot whiskey to prevent confusion. A hot whiskey used to be known as whiskey punch. The early temperance movements vilified it (hence the phrase “punch drunk”) and the name fell out of use. The drink, however, never really went away.

First ingredient, and possibly the least important, is the whiskey (never whisky — don’t waste good Scotch by watering it down. Enjoy it neat.). Generally, use the cheapest whiskey you can find. Living in the US, I usually use cheap Canadian rubbish that I’d never drink neat. If you make a hot whiskey with expensive, smooth sipping whiskey, not only are you wasting your money, but the resulting drink usually has much less of a whiskey taste. The smoothness of aged Scotch or Bushmills is intended for a neat nip or a pair of ice cubes, and needs nothing more. When in Ireland I use Powers or Paddy, and save the Jameson for drinking over ice.

The Glass

Start with the glass. You can use a svelte, small pub glass if you don’t want more than a single measure. This is the standard glass in Irish pubs. I prefer a half-pint glass tankard (a simple cylinder with a handle) for the simple reason that I’ve had too many thin glasses shatter after adding the boiling water. However, this size is perfect for a double shot of whiskey, and means you need to leave the conversation to refill everyone’s glasses less often. (You can also use a highball, although drinkers will probably need to wrap it with a napkin because of the heat.)

Fill the glass with boiling or near-boiling water to warm it. Empty it out after a minute. This helps the hot whiskey stay warmer longer. Wet the top eighth of an inch of the tankard and dip it in white sugar to encrust the rim. Now, pour a measure or two (Ah! go on now…) of whiskey into the glass.

Sweetener

Add a spoonful of sugar (brown adds a distinctive and slightly different taste compared to white, but the choice is yours). A thick spoonful of honey is great if you’re legitimately fighting a cold/sore throat and not just pretending to.


Lemon

Wash an organic lemon well in warm water to get the wax coating off (don’t be messing with a regular lemon — do you want to drink the chemicals they spray on them?) and cut it in half. Cut a thick slice from what was the middle. Now, cut that slice in half and remove any pips. If you’ve already added a single measure of whiskey, just squeeze the other half of your slice into the glass. If a double, squeeze some of the remaining end of the lemon into it as well. The whole half a lemon would be a bit much, but it’s all dependent on your own taste.

Take four cloves and stud the half-slice of lemon with them. Push them in fully so they won’t float out.

Fill the glass almost to the brim with boiling water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. (For years I left the metal spoon in the glass, in the belief that it would absorb the heat and prevent the glass shattering, but an engineer friend recently explained that this has no effect on the fate of a too-thin glass.) Now drop the clove-studded lemon in — taking care not to splash and lose any;-) — and away you go.

Variations

Add a cinnamon stick to give a slightly different flavor to the drink. Don’t add ground cinnamon, the taste of that tends to be gone before you’re halfway through your drink and it doesn’t dissolve, it adheres to bits of the lemon instead, so you end up with this nasty looking brown sludge swirling through your drink!

One or two of these on a cold night will take all your cares away, and lubricate good conversation.

Sláinte!