On the first day of December, my true love gave to me… a sinus infection and a deeply-congested head and chest. No partridge. No pear trees. It appears everyone around me is hacking and wiping and blowing their noses through the beginning of December, as the Derby City’s weather tends to be radically different from day to day this time of year. Or, always, rather. Folks suffering from ailments often reach for the remedies that make us feel warm, soothed and perhaps a bit buzzed. Lemon. Honey. Bourbon. A tea bag for some. Hot water only for others. The hot toddy is a remedy almost as old as our favorite boozy elixir itself, but does it really have healing properties? Where did that notion come from, and are there other riffs on the classic to carry us through this wretched cold?
Doctor Barkeep is here, reporting for duty.
If you visit the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Main Street, you’ll take a trip through bourbon history and go back to a time when doctors wrote prescriptions for medicinal whiskey. You can even visit a mock post office where folks would pick up their “prescription” in their mailbox for their various maladies and ailments. According to Tove Danovich’s NPR article, “From Medicine to Modern Revival: A History of American Whiskey, in Labels,” Old Forester was the first to put its product in a bottle with a label, instead of the original method of saloons procuring barrels of whiskey and serving the potion directly from barrel to glass. This shift was because doctors needed to know exactly what they were getting so that they could properly prescribe it.
Alcohol has been used medicinally for centuries, long before Bourbon Country was thriving, but folks suddenly were “sicker” than ever during Prohibition, and medicinal whiskey surged through the blood of many. However, all good things must come to an end, and, in 1917, the American Medical Association issued a statement stating alcohol was of zero medicinal value.
“Mother fucker,” said everyone in a collective sigh.
The AMA didn’t stop folks from drinking it for medicinal reasons, though, and while alcohol may not be a magical healer (I guess it’s a toxin or something… whatever), perhaps it’s the ingredients we marry along with it that bring us relief.
For a new riff on a classic hot toddy to ease a sore throat, achy body or any other attributes of that wretched winter-onset cold, add to your mug a few easy ingredients for soothing properties. Angostura bitters will add herbal accents such as clove, cinnamon and allspice and provide an aromatic waft that even you can smell through your barricaded, congested nose. Combine a few generous dashes with your favorite Bottled in Bond or a high-proof bourbon, hot water, local honey and lemon (fresh lemon, or I sometimes use my Lemon DoTerra Essential Oil, which is lovely)… and enjoy.
You can also make your own soothing shrub. No, I’m not talking about the bushes that need trimming outside your apartment. I’m talking about a drinkable vinegar syrup that bartenders are using all over the world to add flavor and complexity to libations — and you can make your own! Add a 1/2 cup of raw apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup of local honey, freshly grated ginger and about a 1/2 cup of water. Blend it and pour into a mason jar for fridge storage for a few days — aka, let those bacteria and live enzymes make sweet love to one another so that they can work on what ails you. Taste it and add to your toddy to your delight — it’ll be strong, but delicious. Like a boozy version of that amazing Hot Shot at LIFEBar.
The AMA may have determined that spirits won’t cure you of that pesky seasonal illness, but there’s no arguing that a glass of bourbon or toddy is soothing on the throat and can help you get better rest (anyone else lose sleep last night hacking?). And some researchers even argue that bourbon is a heart healthy alcohol (apparently it contains ellagic acid, an antioxidant). As you brace yourself for Kentucky’s roller coaster winter weather, don’t forget to arm yourself with the goods to get through it, ill or otherwise. Cheers!