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Cameron Carnes

What's So Hot About Heated Cocktails?

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Cameron Carnes

Why heat a cocktail? Heating booze can caramelize sugars and burn off some of the alcohol vapor. Hot cocktails are also one of the most delicious ways to heat up on a cold winter’s day. With National Hot Toddy Day coming up on January 11, we wanted to focus on the science behind this drink—and other classic hot cocktails—to keep you warm.

Old Flames

Toddies have been around since the early 17th century. Back then, alcohol was used as a preservative for many medicinal tinctures, as well as being considered a medicine in and of itself. Every part of the toddy served a purpose: citrus for vitamin C, sweetener for taste, spices for perceived holistic reasons, and booze to numb painful symptoms.

Back then, it was concocted from whatever was locally available, which has left a large number of traditional recipes behind. But to ignore the flip, another traditional hot tipple, would be to leave wide gaps in cocktail history. (For today, we’re leaving out hot punches, Tom and Jerrys, and Irish Coffee for the sake of length.)

Back in colonial days, a flip was made with beer or cider, sugar, and liquor. To warm it, a fire-heated poker was plunged into the drink, triggering the Leidenfrost effect (when a protective vapor shields a liquid from boiling after the immersion of a heat source). At first, the drink doesn’t bubble, but after a few seconds, it begins to do so violently. Heat from the poker caramelizes the sugar in the drink, leaving a rich, caramel, toasty flavor profile.

Heat Sources

If your kitchen (or favorite neighborhood tavern) is ill-equipped to heat pokers, there are other ways to heat your beverage. The two most common are to add hot liquid (usually water) or to heat the mixture in a saucepan. Each of these has unique advantages and disadvantages.

With water, you don’t get any of the caramelization effects, and much less of the alcohol vapor is burned off. Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water (173° Fahrenheit vs. 212° Fahrenheit), a small percentage of the alcohol will evaporate. Heat intensifies the smell of alcohol, so adding hot water may make it smell boozier than it actually is.

If you’re willing to play with fire a little, you can mimic the effects of a hot poker with a saucepan. First, caramelize the sugar in the pan. Add the base liquor for the drink, and set it on fire. To make sure that it’s kept in check, quickly add the nonalcoholic ingredients and remove the pan from the heat source. The first two steps will create the same type of taste profile as the poker drinks. The third and fourth will ensure that it’s not too burnt to drink.

It’s Hot, Sticky Sweet

Heat messes with our perception of sugars. The hotter the drink, the more intense sucrose becomes, meaning that table sugar seems a whole lot sweeter. Fructose, on the other hand, is less noticeable when it’s heated. So, if you want to use honey or agave, don’t be afraid to add a bit more.

Hit the Lab

Though the toddy’s exact origins are unknown, it’s still a great way to end a cold day. Note: if you’re using hot water or tea, consider serving the finished beverage in a wide-mouthed vessel. Using a cylindrical coffee mug funnels the alcohol vapors into your face while you’re drinking, which can intensify the smell.

Hot Toddy

1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz honey
2 oz bourbon

Combine all ingredients in a wide-mouthed cup or mug. Add hot water to taste and garnish with a lemon wheel or cinnamon stick.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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