Some Like It Hot:
There's nothing like a warm cocktail to help spread some holiday cheer
New Orleans Times-Picayune
December 18, 2009
Everyone in Washington these days seems concerned about our well-being. Let me offer my own modest proposal for how to maintain good health. Head down to Cure and let Rhiannon Enlil make you an apple brandy toddy.
For less than the cost of a co-pay, you get a warm mug of apple brandy, honey syrup and fragrant allspice dram. A few weeks ago, when the temperature in New Orleans flirted with freezing, a few sips of this toddy made me feel rosy and robust.
'Tis the season for all manner of steaming drinks. Even though a winter day in New Orleans is as likely to be tropical as frigid, the sight of mistletoe and fake snow still puts us in the mood for something warm to sip.
The regulars at Molly's at the Market are switching from frozen Irish coffee to hot Irish coffee. At Café Degas, a cup of mulled wine has been added to the cocktail menu. And at Loa in the CBD, bartender Star Hodgson is getting creative with a pear Cognac cider and her own take on mulled wine with Grand Marnier, pomegranate juice, apples, satsumas and Meyer lemons.
Once upon a time, hot drinks were as common as cold ones. At colonial taverns, drinkers preferred beverages that once had been boiling. In the mid-19th century, commercial ice harvesting made a cold drink more than just a luxury of the upper crust. Hot drinks, though, remained a common order and reached their peak of popularity in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, not long after Prohibition ended, they fell out of fashion.
What happened to hot drinks?
"Central heating, for one," said David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of "Imbibe." "Also the hot drink culture was part of a 'drinking is good for you,' 19th-century conception. That really did start falling by the wayside in the 20th century."
In the 21st century, it can be hard to find a bar that can heat water. Outside of restaurant bars, few even have a microwave or a coffeepot.
Despite the difficulties, an increasing number of modern mixologists who seek inspiration in early cocktail history have begun to experiment with warm drinks.
"People are looking at the old recipes and thinking, whoa, there were a lot of warm drinks back then," said Wayne Curtis, drinks correspondent for Atlantic magazine.
Marvin Allen at the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar believes the proliferation of coffee shops has created a renewed demand for warm drinks.
"They have syrups at these places that will mimic all the great liqueurs," he said. "I think that's making people think about coffee and hot drinks again."
At his bar, Allen likes to spike a steaming mug of coffee with combinations of sweet liqueurs, such as Frangelico and Baileys Irish Cream.
"Baileys has got the creaminess," he said, "and you have the real nuttiness from the Frangelico."
Chris Hannah at Arnaud's French 75 keeps it classic. When the wooden columns behind his bar are trimmed with greenery, he breaks out favorites such as hot buttered rum and the Tom and Jerry. At home, Hannah toasts and grinds the pecans for the butter mixture in his hot buttered rum, which smells like a slice of freshly baked pie. He also hand beats the eggs for the thick mixture that tops off his Tom and Jerry.
"I do it everyday," Hannah said. "It's really kind of torture."
It's worth the effort. The creamy mixture, as rich as a dessert, first heats up your mouth and then, after it melts, the bourbon leaves a smoldering glow. The complicated drink seems so archaic. It makes you think of another era or a perfect Christmas Eve that never was.
In Hannah's Tom and Jerry, as in many warm drinks, the secret ingredient is nostalgia.
Lu Brow of the Swizzle Stick Bar understood this truth about winter cocktails when she created her Tootsie's Toddy, which includes rye whiskey, cloves, raisins and nutmeg.
"This recipe was based on one of my mother's favorite cakes to bake for Thanksgiving and Christmas," Brow said. "The ones we now bake are never quite the same as hers."
Café brűlot is one old-fashioned drink that is almost impossible to find outside of New Orleans, where lost traditions always have found a sanctuary. At Galatoire's in the winter, it is served at least a dozen times a day. A waiter, who has likely performed the ritual for decades, brings out a steaming bowl of spiced brandy and Grand Marnier. He ignites the liquor, holds up an orange peel and pours cascades of blue flames down its curling length. Finally, a pot of coffee is poured into the bowl to extinguish the fire.
"It seems to be one more instance where a dish or drink originating in France survives in New Orleans while virtually having disappeared in its country of origin," said Gene Bourg, former restaurant critic for The Times-Picayune.
Bourg traced the festive punch to the Armagnac region of France, where it was served to celebrate the end of brandy distillation. Galatoire's founder Jean Galatoire was born nearby in Pardies and might have brought café brűlot to New Orleans.
Many warm drinks, such as café brűlot, are wasted on a solo diner. They require batters, herbed butters or big vessels. They demand a crowd.
Even if you doubt the medical efficacy of these mixed drinks, no one can deny that they promote good cheer.
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