Tea party: Hot toddies to the rescue in Asheville’s cold and flu season

MUG SHOTS: For the house hot toddy at Vivian restaurant, co-owner Shannon McGaughey amps up the alcohol with cognac and amaro and includes medicinal herbal tea. “I like the addition of tea for a more herbal-spice flavor,” she says. Photo by Brendan Hunt

Winter has arrived in full force, and unfortunately, so has the cold and flu season. Nothing knocks out a cold, or at least the suffering victim of that cold, quite like a hot toddy.

We asked a couple of Asheville cocktail mavens to give us their favorite recipes for this classic cold-weather tipple, plus I threw in one of my own.  And it just so happens that all involve tea.

Keep it simple

Lexie Harvey, one half of craft cocktail catering company Cordial & Craft, suggests a boozy, bourbon-based drink she calls (in a tip of the hat to the Talking Heads) Lady Don’t Care. “The thing I like about hot toddies is that they are so flexible and unassuming,” she says. “They can fill any space in the cocktail spectrum — warming, comforting and cozy, medicinal and soothing, boozy or not-so-boozy — and be as few as three ingredients or as many as your kitchen and creativity provide.” She adds a dash of cayenne pepper to this one for clearing up that stuffy nose.

“I like unfussy cocktails — simple cocktails that are as good as the ingredients in them, which is exactly what this drink is,” she says, adding that a hot toddy is perfect for when you’re feeling under the weather but still want to imbibe with your friends.

Lady Don’t Care

1.5  ounces midrange bourbon (Bulleit or Larceny work well. Brandy can also be substituted with less honey.)
6 ounces hot water
Tea bag of choice (Harvey uses green tea)
1 tablespoon good dark honey
Juice of half a lemon
Two dashes of cayenne
Dash of ground cinnamon

Combine in your favorite mug and enjoy.

Harvey warns, “Any more honey, and the drink is too sweet, which may be what you want if you have an itchy throat.” And any less water, she adds, and the whiskey will taste too hot when combined with the warm water as liquor tends to amplify heat.

Herbs and spice

At Vivian in the River Arts District, co-owner and bar guru Shannon McGaughey adds some herbal healing power to her restaurant’s house toddy. “Essentially, I am taking a classic hot toddy recipe, amping up the booze amount and adding tea,” she explains. “The cognac adds more body, and the Amaro Montenegro adds some orange and clove flavor to the cocktail. Most classic toddy recipes just call for hot water as the base with lemon, honey and spirits, but I like the addition of tea for more herbal-spice flavor.”

Although she has experimented with several types of tea in this recipe, the one she likes best is Traditional Medicinals’ organic Stress Ease Cinnamon, which is full of skullcap, licorice and cinnamon. “The overall flavor is a big burst of cinnamon, which works perfectly for a toddy,” she says. “I also love the fact that the whole point of a winter-warming toddy is to make you feel calm, relaxed and cozy, and we’re using a tea that is a legit homeopathic medicine to relieve stress and tension.”

Vivian’s Winter Toddy

1.5 ounces Old Forester whiskey
0.5 ounce Amaro Montenegro
0.5 ounce Salignac cognac
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon honey
One bag Traditional Medicinals Stress Ease Cinnamon
Two dashes of cinnamon bitters

Fill a mug three-quarters full with hot water, stir in the honey, add the tea bag and let it steep for three to five minutes. Add the whiskey, cognac, amaro and bitters. Stir in the juice of half a lemon and enjoy.

Shannon says that if you can’t find cinnamon bitters, Angostura or Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters will do the trick.  If you want to get creative, you can make your own cinnamon bitters: Fill a Mason jar with cinnamon sticks or pieces and cover with a strong grain liquor (Mr. Boston is my favorite, but Everclear works too). Let it sit for three to four days or until the flavor is what you want. Strain before using.

Anise and oolong

I’ve been a sucker for oolong teas lately and have been making my own anisette. I recently realized the two go well together — there is great compatibility between the licorice flavors in the liqueur and the citrus notes of the oolong. During a recent bout with a cold, I whipped up this concoction as a late-night remedy, drawing the name from the Irving Berlin tune sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

Making your own anisette couldn’t be easier. Just take a bottle of brandy and add a little over a teaspoon of crushed whole coriander, about a teaspoon of fennel seeds and five to seven whole star anise seeds. Let the bottle sit for two weeks, then strain and add 8-10 ounces of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and hot water).

I use the finished product sparingly, as many are put off by the heavy anise flavor. But when added with a light hand, it really complements the flavor of the tea and accentuates the subtleties of the cognac. If you’re not feeling crafty, don’t worry — Pernod works perfectly well in this cocktail, too.

This drink is meant to be a kick in the pants, so I tend to like it without added sugar since the anisette has a decent amount of sweetness. If it’s too strong for your liking, feel free to add honey or top it off with a little more tea. The cognac has the added benefit of being a natural decongestant and expectorate.

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan

1.75 ounces cognac
0.25 ounce anisette
4-6 ounces hot oolong tea
Dash of orange bitters
Honey to taste (optional

Combine in a glass and enjoy.

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com Follow me @jonathanammons

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