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Holiday Guide Feature

Some Like It Hot

Here’s How Explains How to Fire up Hot Holiday Drinks

Photos by Christopher Myers
African Hot Punch
Potsdam Punch
Blue Blazer
African Hot Punch
Hot Toddy
Thomas And Jeremiah
Scotch Punch

By Van Smith | Posted 11/17/2004

Several years ago, when my grandmother took up roost at a retirement community, she unloaded a few items on me. Much of it was drinking related. She didn’t see herself throwing any more holiday parties, so she gave me a slew of booze and bar accouterments. The item that’s had the most use in the years since is a wood-bound drink-making guide from the 1940s, called Here’s How, filled with recipes accompanied by bacchanalian sketches.

In the back pages of Here’s How are a handful of recipes—some of them outrageously alcoholic—for hot drinks and punches. On occasion, I have humored friends and guests by reading the instructions aloud, but I never attempted the more ambitious drinks. That changed on Halloween night, when a small gathering of observers watched the old-school guide’s hot-drink recipes get a pre-winter workout by an open fire, making them ready to face the holidays with some heat in their cups.

The Blue Blazer

This is a simple hot drink that becomes, with pyrotechnics, a fiery sideshow. Here’s How recommends having “a fire extinguisher handy,” and so do I. The essential tools are two metal mugs. Two ounces of whiskey are set on fire in one of the mugs; two ounces of boiling water go into the other. Pour the flaming whiskey into the hot water, then decant the mixture back and forth five or six times before blowing it out (or it goes out on its own, whichever comes first). Into another mug, already containing a twist of lemon and a bit of sugar, pour the extinguished contents. According to Here’s How, “Jerry Thomas, most famous of bartenders, invented this drink.” Based on my hair-singeing experience, I’m guessing Jerry was also famous for his smooth forearms.

The Hot Whiskey toddy

Nothing, in my estimation, beats the hot toddy recipe from David Bradley’s historical novel about fugitive slaves in Maryland, The Chaneysville Incident. It contains an almost spiritual description that goes on for page after loving page, elevating the drink to mythological proportions. Its ultimate lesson is that while the precise method of mixing a toddy is not important, care and personalized ritual are as necessary as liquor, sweetening, spices, and water.

Here’s How gives this prescription: Take one lump of sugar; dissolve it in a little hot water in a mug; add a piece of cinnamon, a lemon twist, four cloves, and an ounce of whiskey; and then fill the mug with hot water. You can use molasses or honey instead of sugar, rum or brandy can substitute for whiskey, and allspice and nutmeg are other possible flavors to put in the mix, but I can’t argue with the methodology. A fireside toddy production line, with a steamy-breathed throng in waiting, is a time-tested holiday revelry. (Note to abstainers: This drink is alcohol-free if you just use hot water.)

African Hot Punch

Anything that calls for four pounds of sugar, four bottles of brandy, two bottles of rum, and a gallon of coffee has to be over the top. I cut Here’s How’s ingredients in half (and used double-proof rum), and still had way too much of a good time.

After putting all of the above ingredients (except the coffee) in a large ceramic bowl and putting a match to them, stir the mixture with a long metal spoon as the fire heats it up. Keep stirring as you pour the coffee in, and yellow tips dance off the tops of the blue flames, giving a dramatic light show. Once it’s good and hot, ladle the extinguished liquid into a samovar, or similar such urn, to dispense the drink easily into small cups. Into each cup, first place a small spoon containing a dollop of Devon cream, then fill with the hot punch. Sip or gulp it all at once; either way, warmth will spread to the tips of your limbs.

Thomas and Jeremiah

Here’s How recommends using tall glasses for this toddy-esque libation, but I opted for mugs. Put an ounce of rum, two dashes of lime juice, and a little bit of brown sugar in each, then top off with hot apple cider. (Note to abstainers: This drink is alcohol-free if you just use hot cider.)

Potsdam Punch

Like the African Hot Punch, this large-batch, flame-involved punch is oversized, so I cut Here’s How’s recipe in half. Start off by heating a quart of water in a large kettle over an open fire, adding two pounds of sugar (or less, I’d advise) when it gets to the boiling point, then add two bottles of Riesling white wine and a half-bottle of rum. When the mixture again reaches the boiling point, take the kettle off the fire and set the liquid aflame for a few moments—again, keep a fire extinguisher handy. Strain the juice of one lemon through a clean cloth into a large bowl, then empty the hot batch into the bowl. Ladle into small cups, or an urn for easy dispensing. A dusting of nutmeg on top doesn’t hurt.

Scotch Punch

This drink is for the obsessive home mixologist who has the foresight to prepare for the holidays six weeks in advance. Get a stone jug with a cork and pour into it two quarts of Scotch whisky and one quart of “best brandy” (not blackberry brandy or similar high-test confections, but cognac or the like). Then brew a cup of medium-strength green tea to add, along with the rinds of six lemons, a teaspoon of cloves, a tablespoon of Allspice, and 30 lumps of sugar. “Seal the jug and allow to stand at least six weeks in a cool place,” Here’s How explains, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Sometime in mid- to late-December, I’ll take the rest of the book’s Scotch Punch advice: “Serve either hot or cold.”

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Holiday Guide Feature archives

More Stories

Stuffed (11/18/2009)
The 2009 City Paper Holiday Guide

The Gifts That Count (11/18/2009)
The presents that have stayed in our writers' thoughts

The Wish List (11/18/2009)
Gifts we wish we could afford

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The Big Hurt (8/4/2010)
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Not a Snitch (7/22/2010)
Court filing mistakenly called murdered activist an informant, police say

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Tags: booze

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