Always Pre-Warm the Cup

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
Feb. 28 2012 1:40 PM

Irish Coffee, Blue Blazers, and Hot Toddies

Advice on hot drinks from the experts, like Samuel Beckett, the NIH, and Kingsley Amis.

(Continued from Page 1)

6. If the mood strikes, treat a hot-drinks occasion as an opportunity to explore the spurned liqueurs at the back of the cabinet—the mouth-puckering chocolates and dolorous hazelnuts and persistently regifted crèmes de menthe. Follow your fancy with those, in combination with a decent base spirit, as you please, using the likes of the almond tea toddy as a model. And if you’re headed to a high-end liquor store, then lemme give you 40 bucks for allspice dram and a bottle of Nocino so that I might do the same.

7. Samuel Beckett once said that “making love without being in love is like taking coffee without brandy.” I respectfully disagree. A nonbrandied double latte has never left me feeling raw with postcoital despair. Well, once.

But what did the writer mean? According to his biographers, Beckett directed the sentence to Peggy Guggenheim, his main girl at the time, when trying to cool her out after she’d caught him cheating. What he meant was, “Peggy, baby, them other girls don’t mean nothing to me.”

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8. I recently visited a restaurant that claimed, very plausibly, to serve the best Irish coffee on the East Coast. Its bottom layer was a compound of espresso, simple syrup, and Powers Irish Whiskey. Atop this lay a broad band of heavy cream that had been brought to a quasi-solid state in a cold cocktail shaker; it was fluffy magic and offered invigorating contrast with the steaming drink.

Indeed, that Irish coffee was so handsomely composed that it forced me to comprehend the distance between, on the one hand, a true coffee-based drink and, on the other hand, a cup of coffee with a little something-something in it. Nevertheless, these are both legitimate beverages: Go ahead and put anything you want in your after-dinner coffee. Old Italian guys do it every night. Is it redundant to add Kahlúa or Allen’s or Tia Maria to your after-dinner coffee? Don’t ask silly questions.

If Powers isn’t to your taste, try Jameson, which has a minty tilt, or Bushmill’s Original, which is presently hep. I see that there’s also a brand called Writers Tears, but I refuse to try it until the distillers guarantee they raise their writers cage-free and without hormones.

9. Hot buttered rum boasts a decadent texture, but the sharpest cocktailians dislike it intensely. In The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury wrote, “I believe that the drinking of Hot Buttered Rum should be permitted only in the Northwest Passage and, even then, only by highly imaginative and over-enthusiastic novelists.” A recent “cocktail moment” found charming Ms. Rachel Maddow denigrated the drink with a disgust she might hesitate to unleash on a simmering pot of Santorum.

These experts are correct, of course. Served in anything larger than a demitasse cup, a hot buttered rum will congeal before you know it. And before it’s even gotten glommy, the butter will have infiltrated your face and your pores and perhaps left a thin film of grease on the panes of your horn rims. Pardon me, but if God had meant us to enjoy our drinks transdermally, I would be writing this article inside a hot tub filled with sake.

10. Near as Gramps can tell, the brandy Alexander—brandy, crème de cacao, and cream, traditionally served cold to bouncy old ladies—does not owe its name to Alexander Woollcott. Nonetheless, Woollcott—the drama critic and famous sweet tooth—put away a record number of them. This feat of imbition is all the more impressive given that it cut into Woollcott’s superhuman caffeine program—30 cups of coffee a day.

Think of the hot brandy Alexander as the inverse of 30 cups of coffee—condensed into one mug. Prepared with steamed organic half-and-half, it is a hall-of-fame soporific—silky and mirthful and with none of the spooky side effects of Ambien. Grate some nutmeg on top for a first-class seat on the Nog Express. Next stop: the land of nod.

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