I recently returned from a trip to the Northern California coast, where the leaves had already started to turn and a late afternoon rainstorm and the fall winds turned our horseback-riding adventure on the Mendicino Coast in to a full body-soaking that left us looking for a roaring fireplace and a Cognac (which we did find on recommendation from a local. We had to crash a wedding, but we were gracious).
Warming up next to the fire with an Armagnac in hand, I was reminded how lovely it is to drink in-season and how brandies, Cognacs, whiskies and toddies can usher our cooler evenings and rainy nights in to an occasion, and act as the kindling for our insides and imaginations.
True, it takes longer for Lost Maples State Park to throw color here in Texas, and these days you don’t need a jacket until Halloween or even Thanksgiving, but ski trips are already on our minds for the holidays and fall menus are reflecting heavier foods and seasonal ingredients.
Some of the key fall flavors, apple and pear especially, make a great base for toddies, duos and trios. (See the L Style Imbibe section for definitions and recipes on duos and trios.) This fall and winter, try substituting apple or pear brandy, Calvados or Armagnac in recipes calling for brandy or Cognac, and you’ll be feeling warm and fuzzy in no time.
Historically, toddies could be cold or hot, and were made with a base spirit, citrus fruit, spices, sugar and water. The toddy derives its name from tari tadi, a Hindu phrase alluding to the fermented sap from a type of tree in Asia, where the drinks first appeared.
Toddies are now thought of as cocktails with a whiskey or brandy base finished with hot water, lemon and sugar. The idea provides a drink-making erector set for adult before-and-after drinks. If these are the typical building blocks, imagine all the substitutions that can be made with your favorite spirits, liqueurs (which take the place of the sugar and add flavor), fruits, spices and candies.
There is also the toddy category of hot coffee drinks that are perfect for an after-dinner delight or a dessert pairing, and are just as tasty solo when you’re in the mood for a slow, intoxicating buzz. And not to be forgotten – one of my favorite winter warmers – hot buttered rum.
▪ Dark spirits work best. Use whiskies (scotch or rye is a great substitution), brandies (apple, pear, Armagnac, etc.) or dark rums. If you prefer to go off the beaten path, try apple- or pear- brewed ciders – yum!
▪ Substitute flavored or spiced teas for the water.
▪ Instead of sugar, use infused simple syrups or agave nectar, even honey or orgeat.
• Think about a Chinese five-spice mixture and pumpkin pie when spicing your toddy: cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, star of anise and vanilla.
Famous Last Toddies
Use boiling water to heat your glass of choice (think snifter or coffee glass), add spices and sweeteners to the glass. Pour in 4 ounces of boiling water then stir to dissolve the sugar and spices. Add 2 ounces of cider or the spirit of your choice. Stir again and garnish. (I love orange peel or star of anise.)
THE FULL-TILT TODDY
Use the same order of ingredients and amounts as The Standard, but opt for brandied Italian cherries, orange peel, pomegranates and de-seeded vanilla bean for the spices. Use an orgeat syrup (a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange- flower water) for the sweetener. (You can use pomegranate molasses or Chambord if you prefer, but almond is said to be a male aphrodisiac, so why not opt for an ingredient that will put you and your companion in the mood?) Add 4 ounces of boiling water and stir. Add 2 ounces of Applejack and stir again. Then garnish with orange peel.
THE HOT COFFEE TODDY:
Use 4 to 6 ounces of hot coffee, depending on your caffeine quotient. Add 2 ounces of your chosen spirit: whiskey, brandy, bourbon, rum, pastis, sherry. Then add half an ounce of your favorite liqueur, or skip the spirit and add 1 ounce of liqueur. Dollop some hand- whipped cream on top if you choose – don’t over whip it; it is best when integrated into the cocktail and dabbed on top as a thin layer.
TALK OF THE TOWN:
Pour 4 to 6 ounces of Kohana Coffee into a mug. Add 2 ounces of cherry brandy or dark rum and half an ounce of Amaretto. Hand- whip some cream and lightly spoon on top.
CYRUS’ HOT BUTTERED BRONZE:
Combine together a quart of vanilla bean ice cream, a pound of unsalted butter, one-fourth cup of brown sugar, one-fourth cup of granulated sugar, two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, two tea- spoons of ground nutmeg, two teaspoons of ground allspice and one cup of manufacturing cream or half-and-half. Heat ingredients together until the butter and ice cream are melted and the mixture comes to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring with a whisk. To serve, combine 5 tablespoons of heated mixture, 5 tablespoons of hot water and 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of Charbay Vanilla Rum. Sprinkle the top with ground nutmeg. The mixture can be frozen for later use. Just add water and heat it with an espresso wand or in the microwave, then add the rum.
(Special thanks to Scott Beattie at Healdsburg, Calif.-based Cyrus Restaurant for this recipe.)