Chantal Tseng, bartender at The Tabard Inn at 1739 N Street NW, is fond of whipping up heated tipples to willing customers. “We’ve had hotel guests with colds as well as any patron just looking to sip on something hot and boozy while sitting at the bar or in front of the fireplace in the lounge,” she explains. “People seem to be comforted by the drink.” The Tabard’s Toddy offerings are typically “free range,” according to Tseng. Patrons are encouraged to custom order with their preferred Whisk(e)y, Brandy, Cognac or Applejack. Most are $10, depending on the spirit.
As with many boozy drinks, the details of the Toddy’s origin are up for debate — cocktail history does take place in bars, after all — but one theory is that the name is derived from an Indian drink of the same name, produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees. (Someone associated with the British East India Company could have easily introduced the Toddy to the Brits and Scots.) No matter its beginnings, the Toddy is tasty and soothing. And last year, January 11 was declared National Toddy Day. So it couldn’t be a more fitting time to reach for the kettle and the liquor cabinet.
If you’re feeling particularly adventuresome, Tseng recommends soaking dried apricots in Brandy for a day or so, bruléeing them with brown sugar and a kitchen torch (or your broiler), and dropping them into a mug filled with Brandy, hot water and a pinch of cloves. (She derives this recipe by the way, dubbed the “Apricot Flambé”, from the 1930’s cocktail book “Gentleman’s Companion” by Charles H. Baker, Jr. And if you want to order this one, be sure to stop by the Tabard on Wednesday or Thursday evenings when Tseng is behind the stick.)
If rummaging through the spice rack for cloves and allspice proves to be too taxing, opt for the simplistic Whiskey Skin, a pared down Toddy with spirit, hot water and lemon peel, with sugar or honey to taste if desired. “Skins are a way to appreciate the more complex Whiskys or spirits without too much manipulation in the colder months,” she explains.
Tseng’s got an arsenal of winter warmers, including a Spiced Irish Toddy, and a whole slew of tea-based Toddies including Chamomile, ginger and Earl Grey. If you can’t bear to tear yourself off the couch and face the wind chill, try making one at home using the recipe below. Now, breathe deeply and feel your cares and aches dissipate like the trail of rising steam. Ahhhhhh…..
Spiced Irish Toddy
Courtesy of Chantal Tseng, The Tabard Inn
1 ½ oz. Irish Whiskey (Tseng likes to use Michael Collins)
½ oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey and water, stirred to combine)
½ oz. fresh lemon juice (basically a good squeeze from a wide lemon wedge)
4-5 oz. hot water
Cinnamon stick, for garnish
Fresh grated nutmeg, for garnish
Clove of star anise, for garnish
Orange slice studded with cloves
Combine all ingredients in mug or Irish coffee glass. Garnish with spices (Tseng likes to lightly toast them beforehand to enhance their aromatics.) Garnish with orange slice at the end studded with cloves.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, and can often be found reaching for a Hot Toddy while writing from her laptop.