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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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A History of Hot Drinks

By Ashley Hardaway

For those days when it actually feels like winter, there’s an entire historical vault of drinks and concoctions that were tailor made to take the monotony out of the season. Hot Toddies! Hot Chocolate! Mulled Wine! Read ahead for the historical lowdown and local takes on these fantastic favorites.

Hot Toddy
My host mother had just pulled my head out of a hot bucket—“the steam will help you breathe!”—when my host dad came in. The village doctor here was the man who would cure me of my cold. Expecting medicine—like the Ukrainian version of NyQuil—I put my hand out. A shot glass was placed in it that was filled with warmed vodka, melted honey and topped with black pepper. Drinking it, I was told, would help me sleep. The pepper would open up the sinuses and the honey would soothe the throat. The vodka was just an added bonus—a sleep aid at the very least. Having been subjected to odder medicinal remedies, I shot it back. And thus was my first introduction to a hot toddy.

Traditionally, hot toddies are made with whisky or scotch, honey and spices and date back to 18th century Scotland where they were thought to be created to make scotch taste more appealing to women. As Great Britain had a lot of trade going on with India at the time, it is believed the origins of the drink’s name comes from the Indian drink “toddy”—a drink made with fermented pine sap.

Controversy still arises whenever the drink is examined for its medicinal qualities, but the comfort it provides to take the chill of a winter is undeniable. Nowadays the term “hot toddy” is being applied to unorthodox concoctions and some have started many a brawl in the pubs of Scotland—tequila toddy anyone?

Coffee
Unlike most hot drinks, coffee isn’t banished once the sun comes out again. While Americans may not have developed an undying love affair with tea, we do love our coffee.

You’ve probably heard the legend of how coffee was discovered: in the 9th century, Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, discovered his goats acting erratic and downright energetic after eating berries from a certain tree and coffee was born!

While this story is likely fictitious, coffee did originate in Ethiopia and from there spread to Egypt and Yemen. The first credible evidence of coffee production dates back to a 15th century Yemen monastery. By the 17th century it had made its way to Europe, but not without some opposition. A clergyman in Venice condemned the drink, calling it the “bitter invention of Satan,” which might be the greatest criticism of all time.

If you like your “bitter” coffee with a bit of sweet, then there’s really no better place to shuffle off the winter blues than The Leisure Club. Co-Owner Denise Berry walked me through their winter drink menu, crafted with seasonal favorites in mind.

“Our winter signature latte is the creation of one of our long-time baristas, Philip Switzer.” she explains. “We make the special batch of orange spice-syrup from scratch every week using organic orange oil, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, allspice and simple syrup. We blend the orange spice syrup in with a double-shot of our Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso and your choice of steamed milk for the perfect toasty seasonal treat.”

Most likely the Venetian clergyman would still condemn this concoction, but I also like to think they’d secretly sequester themselves a cup and drink away when no one was watching.

Mulled Wine
Mulled wine is something Americans haven’t seemed to have accepted with as much gusto as our transatlantic neighbors. But I assure you, once you try a cup of this warm and spiced concoction of a winter’s night a new tradition will be born.

Called Glühwein in German, or vin chaud in French, the drink is usually prepared by warming red wine and spicing it with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar. In some regions it’s not uncommon for a flavored wine—blueberry for instance—to be used or for it to be served with a shot of rum liqueur.

In Germany, the oldest documented production of the drink dates back to 1420. In Great Britain the drink was a favorite during the Victorian Era and was found at every holiday ball and party. A variation of the drink, called “Negus,” was even commonly served to children and is referenced in “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” (one day this question will come up at a trivia game, just watch).

Locally, it’s a favorite of Bill Manning and Kiley Bolster, owners of Magnolia. Kiley makes hers “with a mix of red wine, sliced oranges and lots of warming spices like cinnamon, clove, allspice, and ginger.” Perfect for warming the soul whilst feeling classy.

Hot Chocolate
One doesn’t have to imbibe to enjoy a drink so ancient and so beloved it was once considered to be the “drink of the gods.” Remnants of a chocolate drink have been found in the burial chambers of the Mayans dating back to 480 A.D. Theirs was served cold and prepared by grinding the cocoa seeds into a paste and then mixing it with water, cornmeal, chili powder and other spices (sugar hadn’t been introduced to the Americas yet, so this drink was bitter as opposed to sweet). It was then poured back and forth between cups until it developed a thick foam.

Later, the Spaniards would refer to this drink’s cousin as “chocolatl”—a drink that, supposedly, Montezuma indulged in 50 times a day. When Cortes returned to Spain in 1528, they brought cocoa with them and by the 17th century, hot chocolate had become de rigueur among Spanish nobility with the first chocolate house—akin to today’s coffee houses—opening in 1657.

If you like your drink of the gods with an extra kick, then take Patrick Bolster’s—bartender extraordinaire at 5 1/2—advice and try yours laced with a shot of Green Chartreuse. Made by Carthusian Monks since the 1740s, Green Chartreuse is a naturally green liqueur that’s been flavored with 132 different herbal extracts and when combined with hot chocolate makes up Patrick’s “new, all-time favorite hot drink.” Mix yours up at home, or if you don’t feel like outfitting your bar quite yet with a full bottle of Chartreuse (there’s a Yellow one too), go visit him and let him mix you up one.

For the teetotalers there’s still ways to get a little crazy. Head to Maximilian Coffee where Lee Kafeety mixes up killer Mexican Hot Chocolate that’s just the right combination of spicy and sweet. Montezuma would be sad he missed out on this divine creation.

Other Hot Drinks:

Punch
Rum punch is best known as a cold punch, but can be used in a hot variation as well (brandy can, too). Rum or brandy is combined with lemon zest, fresh ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and boiling water.

Glogg
A Scandinavian version of mulled wine that is sweeter and stronger. They generally add brandy or vodka to it and throw in some raisins and almonds for a “health boost.”

Possets
Unless you’re a time traveler it’s unlikely you’ve tried this drink that dates back to Medieval Scotland, but it’s likely you’ve heard it referenced in books. The “classic” possets are a mix of milk, oatmeal, salt, honey, nutmeg, and a large shot of whiskey. This milky, alcoholic brew allowed one to drink and eat at the same time. Genius?