A virus they said, which seems to be medical speak for, ‘we haven’t a clue, please go away before you infect us as well,’ but anyway it was a nasty cough/chest bug that laid low the Family Broom for the festive season. (The only relief was a trip to the Harry Potter Studio Tour where I looked in vain for a bottle of fire whisky. The butter beer by the way was non-alcoholic, tooth-meltingly sweet and nothing like the 17th century recipe I turned up in Robert May’s 1685 book The Accomplisht Cook, but I digress).
Although the family succumbed, I managed to fight it off, which isn’t, I hasten to add, some sort of macho statement as I am as prone as any of my sex to fall victim to the effects of Man Flu. No, my recovery was entirely down to the copious quantities of a cocktail of hot water, Lemsip, honey and whisky. I started with Balvenie Double Wood and ended up on AnCnoc. In other words, I was Saved By Toddy.
Funny how even the most puritanical of whisky drinker reaches for a similar mix when illness looms. It could be the Hot Toddy, or the equally efficacious Whisky Mac. I remember when as, heavy with Man Flu and drinking the latter concoction, a caring friend appeared with another glass of green liquid which I added to the already brimming glass. “But that’s Green Chartreuse!” he cried. I drank it, slept like an innocent and awoke cured, but I digress (again).
The Toddy was not always the refuge of the sickly. In Ireland, an order of a Hot Whiskey is perfectly normal. One of the finest drinks I had last year was one made with Power’s, caramelised orange peel, cinnamon and honey in the Temperance Bar of Malone’s Galtee Inn in Cahir, Co. Tipperary which is the smallest whiskey bar in Ireland, if not the world. I wasn’t ill but I sure felt a hell of a lot better after this marvellous creation.
"In other words, Toddy was the way whisky was consumed across all strata of society"
It wasn’t always so. Toddies, sugar, spirit, and often juice, were the normal way of consuming whiskey right up to the end of the 19th century, normally with hot water but sometimes with cold; one of the first definitions of a ‘cocktail’ in the US was a cold whiskey Toddy with bitters.
In his account of Scotland in 1726, Captain Edmund Burt noted that: “...some of the Highland gentlemen are immoderate drinkers of usky - even three or four quarts at a sitting...when they choose to qualify it for punch they sometimes mix it with water and honey, or with milk and honey.”
Some 140 years later, Charles Tovey in his British and Foreign Spirits, wrote: “You may find [the Toddy] at the after dinner table of the aristocracy, mingling its fumes with the odours of Lafitte or Romanee Conti and many a nobleman will leave the choicest wine to indulge in his glass of Toddy. The middle classes and tradesmen mostly prefer it to any other spirit or wine; it is customary after dinner to bring in the Whisky, hot water and sugar which each person brews according to his taste...”
In other words, Toddy was the way whisky was consumed across all strata of society. No-one baulked at it, neither was it a dram exclusively for the poorly. It was only consumed this way because the whisky tasted horrible, you say? No. It was drunk as Toddy because it made it taste even better!
Whisky has long been sweetened, warmed, added to. Its role in Britain as a base for long drinks is longer than the Calvinist view of unadulterated drams which currently, and inexplicably, holds sway in this country - and further afield. This idea that whisky should only be drunk neat is a modern concept. Whisky’s history is that of a drink which has always bent itself to suit the mixing requirements of the drinker. By restricting whisky to a role solely as a neat spirit has, I believe, done irreparable damage to its home market and further afield.
By liberating the Toddy, by embracing the hot drink, you liberate not just the spirit, but its image and your own mind. If there is one resolution for this year then this should be it.