Harvesting a Liquid Dessert

 

 

A review of the Hafner Gruner Veltliner Icewine 2002 and the story of the “Hot Toddy,” a classic curative cocktail.

 

By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon

 

Washington Jewish Week  August 31, 2011

 

Hafner IcewineThere are times when you need to have something sweet. Cookies, cake, ice cream and even fruit usually quench that craving. But for a less caloric and often more interesting alternative, consider a late-harvest wine. More commonly known as “dessert wines,” late-harvest wines are among the world’s most desirable and expensive, with many bottles costing hundreds of dollars. Dessert wines are created in a number of fashions but most include harvesting the grapes after a prolonged growing season. Over time, the sugar levels increase and the flavors become more concentrated- and the results can be ephemeral.

 

A delicious kosher example is the Hafner Gruener Veltliner Icewine 2002 ($32) made from the most popular white wine varietal grown in Austria. The grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine, crushed while frozen and, once the ice is skimmed off, the remaining juice is made into wine. Orange, vanilla and honey aromas open into honeyed apples apricots, peaches and a balanced acidity accented with minerals and spice.

 

Established in 1971, the Hafner Family Estate is located in the country’s oldest wine-producing region. Their kosher releases include sparkling wines, dessert wines, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot.

 

Spirits-wise, following the Hurricane Irene non-event, we contemplated having some fun with cocktails like the Hurricane or the Dark and Stormy, but really, that seemed too easy. Besides, with Labor Day on the horizon, we’re reminded that in D.C., the transition from summer to fall is often an uneasy affair – a cycle that includes pleasant sunshine, followed by a dismal rain, and back again. The District of Columbia seems especially prone to this atmospheric indecision, and neither of these sweeter concoctions seems wholly appropriate. Add the fact that some DC buildings are still air-conditioned for equatorial climes – while others have stoked their radiators in apparent expectation of ice-storms and blizzards – the result is often enough a brief warm-weather cold. It’s unfortunate and annoying, but expected.

 

When this happens, one can turn to the Hot Toddy, a classic curative cocktail.

 

The Hot Toddy is most directly associated with Scotland, and refers to a mixed alcoholic drink that is served hot. While there are many great variations; the essential elements of the Hot Toddy are as follows: (1) a spirit base such as Scotch or other whisky, brandy, or dark rum; (2) hot water or some other hot liquid such as tea, coffee, or milk; and (3) some kind of sweetening agent like honey, sugar or syrup.

 

This basic formula, however, can be augmented – often to great effect – with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. While it doesn’t work in every combo, traditionally one also adds a citrus element, such as lemon or orange, sometimes in juice form or sometimes as a garnish.

 

Generally enjoyed in cold weather, and often sipped late in the evening to facilitate sleep, the Hot Toddy is actually a fairly versatile potion, one that can be enjoyed in much the same fashion as an evening tea or after-dinner coffee. Or, for that matter, you can suck down some with breakfast, if you are so inclined, but we suspect this won’t escape the attention of coworkers or supervisors and, therefore, don’t recommend it.

 

The precise history of the Hot Toddy is unknown. One popular yet highly unlikely etymologically grounded theory states that the hot toddy was introduced into Scotland by a British East India Company man from “tari tadi,” a Hindu term that refers to a distillation of sap from several varieties of palm tree (the jaggery, wild date, Palmyra, cocoa nut palm, etc.).

 

Far more likely is the explanation offered by the poet Allan Ramsay.

 

In his 1721 poem, “The Morning Interview,” Ramsay depicts a rather grand tea party in which he describes various items by their national identity: tea from China, sugar from the West Indies, and “Scotia does no such costly tribute bring/Only some kettles full of Todian spring.” Ramsay elucidates this in a footnote: “The Todian spring, i.e. Tod’s Well, which supplies Edinburgh with water.” In Scottish folklore this is readily understood as a reference to whisky, which is derived from the Scottish Gaelic term “uisge beatha,” or “water of life.” Sure enough, the 1786 publication of the poem “Holy Fair” by Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous bard, employs toddy as slang for whisky – and the now mostly unread, and largely unreadable, Robbie Burns is most assuredly the final word on Scottish authenticity.

 

Despite its Scottish roots, well over 200 years ago the Hot Toddy was already being made with other brown spirits, such as Irish whiskey, dark rum, American whiskey, and brandy. All of these are fine, just avoid using white spirits, such as gin, silver rum, vodka or tequila, as these will result in a decidedly nasty beverage.

 

Furthermore, using tea instead of hot water offers a plethora of flavors to toy with, and a chef’s pantry of herbs and spices offers another fertile pasture for invention and variation. As in all things, be guided by your senses.

 

Here then is a traditional Hot Toddy for you to slip into:

 

Hot Toddy

 

2 ounces single malt Scotch whisky (we recommend the Dalmore 12-year-old)

 

3 ounces boiling water
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey (or brown sugar)
3 drops Angostura bitters
1 slice lemon, studded with cloves
A sprinkle of ground nutmeg

 

Into a heatproof glass or large coffee mug put the sugar, bitters, lemon juice, and clove-studded lemon slice. Add the whisky, pour in the boiling water, and stir gently until the honey or sugar dissolves. Dust lightly with nutmeg, and sip lovingly. L’chaim.

 

 

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