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18 Jan 2019

On Cocktails: It's Cold (for the Desert, at Least), so That Means People Are Craving a Good Hot Toddy

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“Dr.” Eli Perkins was arrested by a California sheriff and a platoon of deputized vigilantes in 1882 and summarily sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead” for a number of crimes, the least of which was “quackery.”

This is a partial transcript of his last medicine show, taken by a surreptitious stenographer wearing a false mustache. Whether the sentence was carried out or not is unknown. Needless to say, all medical advice below should be eschewed.

Ladies and gentlemen, gather ’round. I, the one and only Dr. Eli Perkins, offer you the latest in cutting-edge medicine from Paris and New York City, as well as folk remedies from the Cherokee medicine men and from the Ascended Masters of K’un-Lun.

Now … don’t be shy! Step up, and tell me what ails you.

Stenographer’s note: Obvious plant approaches the stage with exaggerated limp.

“Esteemed doctor, I suffer from fatigue, and injuries from the war. Is there any hope to restore my condition?”

Why, my good man, you just need some of this imported Vin Mariani! Chock full of the wonder medicine of the Andes, coca leaf! Here, let me mix in some gall of the Western diamondback rattler, known for its quick strike, and some monkey adrenal gland, and there you go!

The “doctor” muddles a mixture together and hands it to the “patient,” who immediately begins performing calisthenics for the bemused audience.

Now then, for the harshest cases such as my friend here, this mixture is available for purchase in the bottle. Now … is anyone here suffering from the common cold, the grippe, influenza or consumption?

A few hands reluctantly rise.

Excellent, excellent—I mean not for your unfortunate conditions, of course, but because I have simple cures from the science of Mixology ready to give you a fast cure! I have here a selection of the finest Smashers, Franklin Peculiars, Radiator Punches, Vetos and Timberdoodles ready to mix and fix!

You, sir—the one with the cacophonous cough! Step right up for my famous hot toddy! This combination of spirits, sugar and water is just the thing for your sad state. Science has proven that with the addition of sugar, the harsh spirits have a foil on which to act, sparing your constitution from its deleterious effects and bolstering your strength! Beware of doctors pitching false toddies without sugar, merely trying to save a penny at your expense.

Perkins throws a lump of sugar into a mug with some hot water. He beats it with a “toddy stick,” which resembles a small baton. Then he adds a goodly slug of Scotch whisky. The consumptive man takes a sip, and although scalding his mouth, he seems somewhat contented.

You see! The toddy is the remedy of kings! Now, you ma’am, you seem a little down in the countenance. A “Whisky Skin” for you!

Perkins takes a paring knife and removes the zest from an entire lemon. He puts it into a flagon with more of the same whisky and the water at a boil. The seemingly healthy woman also scalds her mouth, but also seems to perk up after a few sips.

No sugar needed for that one; she’s as healthy as a filly! Now, for the apple of my eye …

Perkins points to a pretty young lady in the crowd.

… an apple toddy!

He begins again with a lump of sugar and boiling water, beaten with a toddy stick, and after adding some apple brandy, places a baked apple in as well, and beats the whole thing in the mug until well smashed. The young lady sips with delight after carefully waiting a moment.

Now, gather ’round, people, for the greatest heights of mixological science, the great Professor Jerry Thomas’ Blue Blazer!

Perkins mixes Scotch and boiling water in a silver mug with a handle and lights it with a match; as the blue flame rises in the fading twilight, he pours it into a second mug. As he pours back and forth—leaving, it seems, a little in each mug at all times—he becomes more courageous in the descent of the flaming liquor.

Right before he can serve it into the dainty tea cups with lemon peel and sugar applied, he is tripped by the man doing calisthenics nearby (still apparently under the influence of coca leaf). The flaming liquid spills and lights the trailer ablaze. The crowd disperses as gunpowder and liquor ignite. Perkins, his shirt engulfed in blue flames, makes a run for another man’s horse to escape. Deputies are in pursuit.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled cocktail column.

For the previous recipes, while all in the public domain, I owe a great debt to David Wondrich for his masterful presentation of them in his opus Imbibe! All fancies aside, the toddy is not approved by any medical doctor for curing any ill.

If you would still seek comfort in any of the hot drinks mentioned, the recipes in their ancient form will certainly work as listed. I prefer to marry the toddy and Whisky Skin together. My preferred method at home is using a pot-still whisky, preferably from Scotland or Ireland if possible, with some raw sugar and a lemon peel. American whisky, cognac and even rums work well, too; actual apple brandy is a real treat if you can find it. I grew up—in my bar career, I mean—using honey as the sweetener and a squeeze of lemon dropped in with the hot water, basically like you would with tea. Maybe it’s a New England thing.

As the desert has gotten this outrageous amount of rain, welcome as it is from locals, I have been getting plenty of calls for hot drinks, and specifically toddies. This truly is a drink that you can make any way you like. Want to add star anise, or a cinnamon stick? Who would object? Honey, agave, sugar? Just no stevia, please, for chrissakes! Most craft bars these days have a house recipe, and nearly every bartender has an opinion on the matter. Feel free to choose your own adventure.

Please, however, do not make the Blue Blazer, or risk the fate of Eli Perkins … fair warning. Oh, and as much of a “restorative” as Vin Mariani might have been, it’s been illegal for some time, but you can still buy its nearest relative—in red-and-white cans and glass bottles—pretty much anywhere.

Stay dry people! Just not too dry.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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