Brrrr – it’s chilly out there. Must be toddy time. With the mercury plunging below zero these past few weeks, Vancouver’s bartenders have been brewing up pots and pots of toddies, mulled ciders and other steamy beverages. Open the door to just about any drinking establishment – from the pop-up Winter Terrace at Reflections (in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia) to Juniper Kitchen & Bar in Gastown – and you’ll be greeted by the seasonal aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. And this is especially true at the Cascade Room on Main Street.
“As soon as you walk in to the Cascade, all you smell is the mulling spices, because the cauldron is right by the door,” says general manager Justin Taylor.
A couple of weeks ago, Taylor added several hot drinks to his cocktail list, including a mulled wine, a whisky toddy, and hot buttered rum. “They’ve been flying [off the bar], people are so cold. I’ve never sold so many hot drinks in my life,” he says, adding that his customers consumed 40 litres of mulled wine in less than a week.
Although hot beverages haven’t exactly been cool for a while (When was the last time you had a “special coffee” after dinner?), they’ve long been a staple of drinking culture. And this winter, at least, they’ve made a huge comeback.
Historically, punches and possets were often heated by plunging a red-hot poker into a jug of spiced spirits, wine or ale mixed with juice, tea or cream. Cultures from ancient Greece to modern Scandinavia mulled wine or cider, adding spices as both a preservative and flavour enhancer. And although the name itself originated in sultry India, for centuries the hot toddy warded off the cold in the UK’s damp, chilly climes.
“I almost think of a toddy as a whisky sour that’s hot,” says Taylor. “Traditionally, it’s made with Scotch whisky, but any spirit can be used. Then lemon, honey and hot water. Then you can add spices.”
In the 17th century, American colonialists replaced the whisky in their toddies with rum. Then some genius added a pat of butter to the concoction while another added baking spices, and so they created the gloriously unctuous drink we know as hot buttered rum.
“There are a lot of different ways to do it,” says Taylor. “Mine is simple: butter, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Add hot water and rum to taste, or any spirit, but rum or bourbon is best.”
Taylor has made hot buttered rum every year since he began bartending, but this year he’s added a heart-warming twist. The Cascade Company group of restaurants (which also includes Charlie’s Little Italian, El Camino’s, the Union, and Main Street Brewing Company) is selling jars of his spicy-sweet compound butter as a fundraiser for his son’s school, Fawkes Academy, which teaches children with autism-spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities. Each jar of JT’s Hot Buttered Rum Mix sells for $12, of which $10 goes to the school. Taylor is also donating $2 from each hot buttered rum he serves at the Cascade Room. “And we’ve sold 200 hot buttered rums in a week,” he says. “It’s been insane.”
It’s just what we’re craving: something that warms both body and soul.
—by Joanne Sasvari