For Bon Appetit, by Maggie Lange.
I wouldn’t dare to presume about you. For me though, this is the time of year that I’m overbooked, underdressed, I’m on the verge of a thrilling cold-flu combo, I’ve often eaten too much and yet I still stand directly next to snacks table, and I very much would like a drink. If one drink could solve all of my needs, it would be strong, medicinal, hot and easy.
It’s a hot whiskey. It’s just whiskey, boiling water, lemon juice, and honey, stirred around. You can add in a bag of tea, if the spirit moves you. Other warmed-over alcohols may be offered to you — a mulled wine, a fermented apple juice — by the ladleful. Resist. Hot whiskey is for you.
A hot whiskey doesn’t suffer fools. Each component has a purpose. Booze to relax, Vitamin C to cure, honey to sooth, heat to nuzzle your soul via your esophagus. It’s efficient, it’s powerful, it’s good at its job. They’re also called hot toddies, but that sounds too derpy to describe their sturdy citric vibe. Tell me that you wouldn’t bet on a racehorse named Hot Whiskey, without even hearing the other horse’s names.
Hot whiskeys are seasonal but not festive. You have enough of the festive in your life right now, trust me. You could use contact with something direct and slightly astringent and dietetic.
The labor and allspice berry quantity that go into preparing a hot apple cider or mulled wine necessitates a large product. You don’t need to wash another pot. You make hot whiskeys right in the mug. It doesn’t have to boil for an ambiguous amount of time. It doesn’t fill the kitchen with a warm humid fog of boiling fermented fruits. Also, let’s not drink things from vats anymore. We are not quadrupeds. We can do better than a trough.
With hot whiskeys, you free yourself from a tide of tiny floating drink detritus. Why must the other seasonal warm beverage offers have so many floating and inedible pieces? Cloves and cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods and orange peels. We can’t rely on cheesecloths to catch everything, and this is not the time of year that we should fishing out an errant star anise from our drinks with our grimy flu-hands.
Beware the hot alcohol that serves as an excuse for masking B-list boozes. Hot sake is usually reserved for lower quality or older sake, because flavors and aroma are lost in the heat. Because we are comfort-seeking creatures, heat can fool us that something is better than it is. I once rented an apartment that was too expensive because it was winter and the landlord turned up the heat to show the place, which is a common trick. We are all older and smarter now. Don’t use temperature to distract yourself from a bad thing. Just don’t have the bad thing.
Hot whiskeys are worthy of good whiskey because it’s the main event. I’m into Larceny bourbon right now, if you’d like a rec. The heat in a hot whiskey is also necessary. You need it to melt the honey. It’s an alchemical process that turns desperation ingredients into a liquid gold tincture.
One of the best parts of an apple cider is its specific crisp effervescence. The heat drives this right out. Where did you go lovely tiny bubbles? Did an indiscriminate application of heat scare the life right out of you?
Most emphatically, you did nothing to deserve mulled wine. With apologies to Marissa Ross, who has recommended what I am sure is the only delicious mulled wine recipe on this continent, but also wrote that mulled wine is usually “an easy way to get rid of wine otherwise deemed undrinkable.”
Any person who has read one gentle Wine Spectator article that shamed them about storing their wine on top of their fridge will tell you that heat is wine’s sworn enemy. People buy well-lit little fridges solely to prevent their wine from “cooking.” The translations for mulled wine in other languages shine a bright light on the truth of this beverage: “boiled wine” in Czech, in Italy, “burnt wine.”
What’s more, I just learned that mulled wine’s greatest fan and advocate was a “notorious baron” from the 15th century named Gilles de Rais. He drank several bottles of mulled wine every day and he insisted that his many victims drink it prior to assaulting them. It all sounds very archaic and sloppy. Mulled wine was at its most popular in the medieval era, where it should remain, along with all the notorious barons.
From the moment it was translated into written culture, mulled wine was described as a crap deal. An original written recipe for mulled wine, from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, dated to 1869, undercuts its very premise: “It is very difficult to give the exact proportions of ingredients like sugar and spice, as what quantity might suit one person would be to another quite distasteful.” Perhaps, if we cannot recommend a concrete recipe for a tasteful version of mulled wine, it’s all quite distasteful? Just a modern thought.
Another common hot booze staple was also built to fail — the Irish coffee, which I believe is the PSL of hot alcohol. A chef on board a Pan Am Flying Boat invented Irish coffees to distract a group of miserable, cold Americans. Of course, Irish coffee was invented on a flying boat. Like a Pan Am’s seaworthy airplane, Irish coffee is trying to do two things at once (buzz you up, turn you down) and really makes some sacrifices in order to accomplish both. It was a good idea, but it just didn’t work out, not like the perfect hot whiskey, the most golden of the drinks, therapeutic and celebratory, the natural multitasker, your winter ally of the first order.
More from Bon Appetit:
32 Fall-Spiced Recipes You’ll Be Making All Season
When Life Hands You Lemons, Make These Lemon Desserts
No-Cook Pasta Sauces You Should Have Up Your Sleeve at All Times
35 Make-Ahead Breakfasts so You Can Sleep in and Eat Well All Week
Our 50 Favorite Weeknight Dinners
24 Recipes Everyone Should Know How to Cook