Why you should care

Because this spicy-sweet cocktail is a nice way to combat the winter blues.

It was a brisk day in early winter — which, in Oakland, California, means a sunny, slightly breezy 65 degrees. But just as the annoyingly temperate coastal weather has never stopped me from suiting up in seasonal scarves and boots, it wasn’t going to get in the way of enjoying my favorite cold-weather cocktail: the hot toddy. Traditionally made with piping-hot water and honey, mixed with whiskey, rum or brandy, and garnished with a slice of lemon and a dash of spices (typically cloves and cinnamon), the hot toddy has become a favorite for mixologists to tinker with. What I wanted to know: Who does it best? So, despite the mild weather conditions, I, with the help of a couple of taste-testing associates, set out on a scavenger hunt in the Grand Lake district’s burgeoning craft drink scene to find the ultimate signature take on this cold-weather classic. Here’s how they measured up:

  • Boot and Shoe Service

Our quest began on Boot and Shoe Service’s airy, sunlit patio, where we tasted bartender Ben Horgan’s toddy: bourbon and Benedictine, lemon juice and house-made lavender honey, seasoned with cloves. Poured into a teacup, this warm pale-yellow brew has the medicinal citrusy sweetness of a Ricola lozenge, though the bourbon leaves a satisfying burn in the throat. Still, a little too sweet for my taste. Sip this if you feel sniffly but want something with a bit more kick than tea.

  • Grand Tavern

Owner Temoor Noor mixes his toddy in a tall, heated glass, showcasing a festive medley of cinnamon sticks and clove-studded lemon swirling in a dark amber blend of Torres 10 Brandy, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and organic brown sugar. The glass’ narrow mouth concentrates the autumnal aromas and robust flavor. The piquant bite of brandy complemented by a spicy sweetness makes for a bold, festive pre-party swill.

  • The Libertine

Giddy and slightly woozy, we ambled down the block to the Libertine just as it opened its doors for the night. Owner Matt Winger walked us through his floral gin toddy, drizzling honey at the bottom of a glass teacup before adding whiskey, gin, a splash of lemon juice and a sprinkling of hibiscus flowers. A tropical vacay in a glass, this deep crimson potion has a sweet, heady fragrance, and the hibiscus imparts a tanginess that balances the honey, leaving a luscious berry flavor.

The winner? Loved the toddies, don’t get me wrong. But I think the winner is actually Grand Tavern’s hot buttered rum — a tall, steamy glass of house-made rum infused with chai, cardamom, allspice and nutmeg that is stirred into steaming water, butter and brown sugar. The rich, buttery aroma accentuates the melted caramel flavor for an eye-rollingly decadent experience. If that can’t cure the wintertime blues, I don’t know what will.

Stay tuned and join me on my search for the perfect springtime Campari cocktail.

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