There's no poetry in a hot toddy. No sex. No glamour. It sounds like "hot teddy" but has nothing in common with a negligee and everything in common with flannel pajamas. Don't go gazing into your glass expecting to find brilliant turns of phrase lurking within. You can't spin straw into gold, OK? The combination of whiskey, hot water, lemon and sugar is purely purposeful, like a hammer.
It's just as well; inspiration tends to run low this time of year. The coffers are empty, the pantry bare. The muse, always a fickle lady, took off a while back for warmer climes. Robert Frost would have some lovely words to describe the gently falling snow on the other side of our windowpane, but poet laureate we are not. Here's some profundity for you: "Great, now the car has to be scraped off."
What we can say about this drink: It's warm, it's soothing. It makes you feel better. It's like hot tea, except without the tea and with whiskey instead. (Actually, the British variation is made with tea in lieu of plain hot water.) The toddy dates back to the 17th century and can refer to just about any permutation of water, spirit and sweetener, served hot.
Esquire drinks correspondent David Wondrich claims this simple equation "is one of the clearest signs I know that there is a providential plan to the universe." He suggests making it with rye but allows that you can substitute bourbon, Scotch, Irish, applejack, brandy or Jamaican rum. Mix in a little sugar or honey, and throw in a cinnamon stick or a couple of cloves if you like.
Sandrina's (5098 Arsenal Street; 314-601-3456) hot toddy is straightforward: bourbon, water, honey, slice of lemon. They use Mark Twain bourbon, a lower-end label made by the Kentucky distillery Heaven Hill. It is a perfectly serviceable whiskey, which makes it a fitting choice for Sandrina's, a place that's all about meeting a need. This south-side bar's main claim to fame is that it's open till 3 a.m. every night, and the kitchen stays open till 2.
We've never planned to go to Sandrina's at the outset of an evening, but we've been known to end up there all the same. If you find yourself at Sandrina's in the wee hours looking for something to eat, it's safe to say your evening took a left turn somewhere along the way. Which is not to diminish the value of a hot toddy and a plate of grub before heading for home on a cold winter night.
There is an Irish proverb that goes, "What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for." The Irish obviously hold whiskey in high esteem, but there are a few things it can't cure. Cancer, for instance. Or loneliness. But when mixed in a hot toddy, it has long been used, with great success, to stave off a chill in cold or wet weather, to treat sleeplessness, the common cold and the flu.
If you're like Drink of the Week, you're looking for warmth anywhere you can find it right about now. We keep adding layers of clothes, nudging up the thermostat and running through the full tank of hot water in the shower. There are plenty of ways to warm yourself, and some of them even have a little poetry to them. You could wrap yourself in a blanket straight out of the dryer. Sit in front of a roaring fire. Show kindness to your fellow man. The simplest and most efficient route? A warm, strong drink. Poetry is lost on us, at least until spring.