Ever since I can remember, I've had a strong love for tea. Fresh, energizing green teas tend to be my favorites, but I've truly enjoyed most varieties I've tried and always look forward to expanding my tea knowledge. Without doubt, I have my father to thank for this appreciation. He's been teaching me about tea since my youth and continues to share new ones that he's discovered. Perhaps you can say that each of our food and beverage loves is a mix of genuine flavor perception and nostalgic or emotional value.
Given my feelings toward tea, I take hot toddies very seriously. The traditional hot toddy is a cocktail made with tea or warm water, liquor, lemon, honey, and optional spices. In my opinion, if all you can get at a bar is a Lipton tea bag with a packet of sugar, a piece of lemon, and a hearty pour of rail whiskey, perhaps grab a beer instead. Hot toddies are a drink to be treasured and appreciated because they allow so much room for experimentation. You can dream up countless combinations by swapping teas and playing with herbal and spirit components. Even the variety of honey you choose plays a pivotal role in the flavor profile of the finished cocktail.
I wanted to take the hot toddy inspiration to a more imaginative level with an unexpected tea, surprising botanicals, a quality spirit, and the use of my favorite type of honey. If all of these ingredients seem daunting, feel free to play around while sticking with the basic rations. Consider starting with a tea and honey you have in your pantry, then work your way to acquiring these specific ingredients if you're hooked on the hot toddy concept.
I started with a base of hot osmathus oolong tea and added Copper and Kings American Craft Brandy, buckwheat honey, fresh lemon and 11th Orchard Birch Bark Bitters. The tea has a buttery sweetness with floral and fruity notes from the osmanthus. It's wonderful enjoyed on its own and really makes this drink shine by creating a smooth and complex foundation. I took special care selecting a smooth spirit to add to the cocktail as serving a drink warm can amp up the bite of sharper varieties. Copper and Kings American Craft Brandy gave me exactly what I wanted - oak-aged smoothness with a hint of fruity spice.
If you've never tried buckwheat honey, I highly recommend you get your hands on it. It's on the dark end of the honey spectrum, almost like a molasses, with a distinctive scent and a rich, nutty, slightly bitter flavor. It's not for everyone but it'll be a game changer in your drinks if you enjoy the taste. I grab mine at a local honey farm in Southern Wisconsin which offers the added bonus of helping with seasonal allergies (eating local honey can help with pollen sensitivity). The honey added smoothness and aroma to this cocktail, blending beautifully with the oolong and brandy.
I finished off the drink with some fresh lemon for balance and a dropper of birch bark bitters for brightness. The bitters are from a new Chicago-based company called 11th Orchard who specialize in locally foraged ingredients that are indigenous to the area. All of their products are fantastic but the birch bark variety really surprised me with its minty sweetness. You won't be able to find these bitters in stores outside of Chicago, but they're available for purchase online.
The resulting cocktail is warming, unbelievable smooth and uplifting with its rich bouquet of fruity, nutty and floral aromatics. If you have a tea set at home, it'll make the presentation even more lovely and special for your guests.
- 5 oz freshly brewed osmanthus oolong tea
- 1 oz aged brandy
- 1 tsp buckwheat honey
- 0.25 oz fresh lemon juice
- 15 drops (roughly 1 dropper) birch bark bitters
To make cocktail, brew and strain tea and allow to cool to drinking temperature. Stir in buckwheat honey until dissolved, then add brandy, lemon juice and bitters. Serve in a tea cup and garnish with a fresh or dehydrated lemon slice. Enjoy while savoring the last few weeks of winter and calming your eager anticipation for springtime.