Cold and flu season is upon us. But fear not! Ireland boasts a traditional cure for notorious winter viruses. Of course, the Irish answer to chills and fevers is none other than a hot whiskey.
Whiskey’s medicinal properties are probably why it got its name “uisce beatha”, or water of life?
In Scotland the preferred name for this winter drink is a hot toddy, but whether you use Irish whiskey or Scotch whisky, this steaming, lemon and clove infused hot beverage not only warms the cockles of the heart, but helps ward off the sniffles.
Even if you’re not coming down with a dose of the sneezes, this comforting concoction can warm you up nicely on a cold evening.
In years gone by hot whiskey was called whiskey punch. The early temperance movements were none too pleased with this favorite Irish beverage, and the phrase “punch drunk” was born. I had thought this term was a stereotypical reference to drunken, fighting Irish men, not their libation of choice. The use of the term whiskey punch died away long ago, but the drink itself has survived the ages.
But be warned. Not all hot whiskeys are created equal. There are many ways to mix this drink, but if the ingredients are not prepared correctly and in the right proportions this aromatic drink can be far from comforting.
When made correctly a hot whiskey can be a work of delicious art.
Here are my tips and tricks for hot whiskey making success.
1. Choose Your Glass:
I like to use a thick glass with a handle. Irish coffee glasses are just perfect.
Drinking hot whiskey in a glass tumbler is risky business. The steaming beverage scalds the glass in no time at all and the only way to hold it is to wrap it in paper towels or a napkin.
So be safe! Use a glass with a handle. (I’m sounding more like my own mother each and every day.)
2. Stud Your Lemon With Cloves:
I use a nice thick slice of lemon and cut it into two semi-circles. I’ve seen hot whiskeys made with tiny slivers of lemon and all I can do is shake my head. Sorry for sounding bossy, but I fancy myself as a bit of a hot whiskey expert. It’s my God given right – I’m Irish.
Before you slice the lemon, it’s best to wash it well with very hot water to remove any wax covering. Or better again, use an organic lemon that doesn’t have a wax coating.
Cut a slice of the lemon and halve it. Remove any pips from the lemon. I don’t like pips floating in my hot whiskey.
Some people like to squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into their hot whiskey. For me a few drops will pass, but if you over do the lemon juice you’re simply creating an alcoholic lemon Theraflu or Lemsip, which is the Irish or British equivalent.
Stud each piece of lemon with 3 or 4 cloves. Don’t overdo the cloves unless you love the strong flavor of these little spice devils.
3. Pre-heat Your Glass:
This is my granny’s golden rule of hot whiskey making. It’s as important as pre-scalding your teapot when making tea.
I quarter fill the glass with boiling water and swish it around the glass, before tipping it out.
I’ve seen friends heat the glass by holding it over the spout of a steaming kettle, but that’s too risky for me. My fingers can never escape the steam, so I recommend the water swishing method.
4. Place A Metal Spoon In The Glass:
A spoon should be placed in the glass before adding whiskey and boiling water.
I was always told this little trick prevented the glass from cracking when hit by the boiling water. The poor glass could get such a fright when scalded it might split in two. Now this theory has probably been scientifically debunked long ago, but I still don’t wish to work with frightened glasses.
Another rational for this step is that the metal spoon absorbs heat from the boiling liquid, thereby cooling it down a bit, bringing the hot toddy to drinking temperature a little quicker.
5. Measure Your Whiskey:
For an Irish coffee glass you really need to add a good measure of whiskey. So I suppose I am recommending one full measure plus a wee drop.
To tell you the truth I just add a good dollop of liquid gold at the bottom of my glass. Since I’m trying to sound like an official hot whiskey expert I thought I had better check out the exact volume in a measure of whiskey.
Here’s what I discovered.
A single measure in Ireland is 35.5 mls.
A regular American single measure is 44 mls or 1.5 fluid ounces. Everything really is bigger in America.
But a small American measure is 30 mls or 1 fluid ounce.
So here’s my advice …..
In Ireland add a measure and a wee drop of whiskey, and in America add a full regular single measure of 1.5 fluid ounces.
Remember too much boiling water and too little whiskey yields a watery hot whiskey lacking its famous kick. More whiskey equates to more pizazz, or oomph, or whatever you like to call it.
Pour the whiskey into the glass at this stage. It won’t be alone for long.
6. Add Brown Sugar And/Or Honey:
Now I always insist on using brown sugar rather than white sugar. The more intense caramel flavors of brown sugar are prerequisite for my hot whiskeys.
Add two teaspoons of brown sugar to the whiskey in the glass.
A little honey is fine, especially if you are making your hot whiskey for medicinal purposes, but don’t over do it. Honey will mask the subtle flavors brown sugar brings to the drink.
7. Pop-In The Lemons:
Now it’s time to pop those prepared lemons into the glass to await their boiling water bath.
Some hot whiskey preparers hold off on adding the lemons until after the boiling water is poured over the whiskey, but I like how the lemon and clove flavors infuse the hot liquid when they feel the full force of the boiling water.
8. Top Up With Boiling Water:
No tepid, luke warm water allowed for making hot whiskey.
The scalding hot temperature of boiling water is required to ensure the lemon, cloves and brown sugar release their flavors and blend together mellowing the whiskey.
My glass takes an additional 5 fluid ounces of hot water to top it off, but some glasses will take more. The choice is yours. Pour in hot water, but leave some room for extra if needed. Should you find your whiskey too strong for your liking, you can always add a little more hot water after you take the first sip.
9. Stir And Enjoy:
Gentle stirring only is allowed. The only purpose of stirring is to help dissolve the sugar.
Too much stirring knocks tiny segments off the lemon slices which detract from the smooth quality of a good hot whiskey.
This drink is definitely stirred not shaken.
Serve hot whiskey immediately. Sip, don’t gulp. This hot, aromatic drink is designed to be savored slowly, allowing the whiskey time to coat your throat and attack all those sore throat inducing bugs.
10. Some Variations To Consider:
I can’t even believe I typed this heading. My poor granny is turning in her grave at the very thought of destroying a pure hot whiskey with strange and unusual ingredients.
But I just can’t resist mentioning a few additions, just perfect for hot whiskey experimentation:
A sliver of fresh ginger may kick it up a peg or two, adding a medicinal zing.
If you like a sweeter, more mellow drink why not stir it with a cinnamon stick. Whatever you do, don’t add a spoon of dry cinnamon. It won’t blend with the hot whiskey. A cinnamon stick, however, infuses the blend with an extra layer of flavor.
You can also make your hot whiskey with freshly made tea instead of hot boiling water. A lemon infused tea might be delicious. I haven’t personally tried this one, but I like the idea.
And so, there you have it – my Irish hot whiskey making tips and techniques.
Wishing you all sniffle free days over the coming weeks of winter.
But if you can’t escape the winter time chills, a good hot whiskey may be all you need to dampen those flu-like symptoms.
And so I raise my glass and drink to your health.
Here’s the printable recipe:
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
Here are some more recipes and Irish cooking you might enjoy.