Ask the bartender: Warming to hot toddies and Irish coffee

Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions. This round is on Jace B.:

Q. During the winter months, especially during snowstorms, I trudge out to a local bar and order hot drinks -- mainly hot toddies and Irish coffee depending on my mood. I have consumed many versions of both. Can you give me definitive recipes for both drinks?

A. Once the snow starts to fall (and in Denver, that could mean as early as October or as late as January), my preference, too, is for hot cocktails. But it's infuriating to order a proper toddy or Irish coffee and get a poor imitation or a bartender's "best guess."

I'll begin with the most senior of the two, the toddy. A toddy is one of America's oldest drinks, and was listed in Samuel Stearns's 1801 book The American Herbal as a Salutary (favorable to or promoting health) Beverage. The recipe offered therein included water (hot or cold), sugar, nutmeg and rum or brandy. The toddy was so popular then that Charles Dickens even made note of the drink in The Pickwick Papers. The toddy evolved throughout the 1800s, eventually adding lemon peel or lemon juice and occasionally replacing the sugar with honey.

So in answer to Jace B.'s question, there is no definitive recipe for the toddy -- only a base formula. In my utopian world, bartenders would take great care in developing their own house hot toddy; in reality, we often get the bartender's "best guess." So here's a base recipe for a hot toddy:

2 oz. brandy or aged rum .75 oz. honey .75 oz. fresh lemon juice 3 oz. (more or less to taste) boiling water

Combine all ingredients in a toddy or Irish coffee mug. Stir to blend. (One of my favorite variations on the toddy replaces the brandy with Laird's Bonded Applejack or Calvados. I also add a cinnamon stick.)

Irish coffee is a bit easier to define. It was created in the '40s by Joe Sheridan, a bartender at Foynes "Flying Boat Terminal," the airport in Shannon, Ireland. An American travel writer named Stanton Delaplane (has to be a pen name, a travel writer named Delaplane? I'm changing my name to Sean Delabar) who had consumed an Irish coffee at Foynes brought the concept back to America and introduced it to the owners of the Buena Vista in San Francisco. Delaplane, who wrote about the beverage often, and Buena Vista are responsible for making Irish coffee famous. Since there's a point of genesis, it's easier to find a true recipe:

1.5 oz. Irish whiskey 1 oz. brown sugar syrup (1:1 ratio sugar to water) 4 oz. coffee hand-whipped cream (heavy cream whipped just short of stiff, no sugar)

Add the whiskey, brown sugar syrup and coffee to a glass, footed mug. Layer 1 inch of cream on top. (I like to whip a few dashes of Angostura bitters into my whipped cream. It's by no means traditional, but it is delicious.)

I hope you enjoy these winter warmers. The basic recipes should at least provide a point of reference for your own take on these hot classics; feel free to post your own variations below. I'd love to see some more great cold-weather drinks...

Cheers. Ask the [email protected]

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Sean Kenyon
Contact: Sean Kenyon