On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy is joined by Pip Hanson of Minneapolis’s O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. to discuss the Hot Toddy. The two discuss Toddies as a historic category of drinks and explore the three components that, according to Hanson, make the cocktail special: something sweet, something strong, and something hot. Tune in for more.
Pip Hanson’s Hot Toddy Recipe
- Boiling water
- 1 ⅓ ounces whiskey, such as Keeper’s Heart 110 proof
- ½ ounce piloncillo (unrefined raw cane) sugar syrup
- Lemon peel
- Shock (heat) a handled Hot Toddy glass with boiling water.
- Add sugar, lemon peel, and whiskey.
- Mix well.
- Top with 8 to 10 ounces boiling water.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: We’re back in the Studio. It’s Cocktail College. I’m your host, Tim McKirdy, as always, and we’re joined today by Pip Hanson. Pip, thanks for joining us, first of all, and secondly, where do we find you today?
Pip Hanson: Thanks. I’m excited to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this one in particular. I’m at a distillery in Minneapolis, goes by the name of O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company and we make a whiskey called Keeper’s Heart. I’m the beverage director there. I do the bars and the cocktail program, and then I also do brand outreach for specifically the restaurant and bar community, but then also, I do all things cocktail-related for the brand.
T: Very nice. I like that you’re in the natural habitat for this show, which is surrounded by booze.
P: Yes. There’s a lot of it around me right now.
T: I should say as well, that I do have a view here, but in the distance, out onto Fifth Avenue here in New York. I got to say, it’s a gray day. It’s raining. It’s damp. It’s disgusting, but I’ll tell you what it is. It’s also perfect weather for a Hot Toddy.
P: Isn’t it, though? We got something like half of our winter snow just in the first 10 days of January. We’ve been having an incredible amount of snow. I think this is a timely subject.
T: Dude, I don’t mean to try and really fit into the British stereotype here of people just making small talk about weather. I know Oscar Wilde wasn’t a big fan of that one, I believe, but the thing is, it’s crazy at the moment right now, right? I think I saw something in wine country over in California. Some vineyards have hit 90 percent of their annual rainfall that they would expect for the year already here in January, which just blows my mind.
P: Yes. That’s heartbreaking. It doesn’t sound like that is all going to be all that good for the harvest time.
T: No. Wow. I’m definitely not making light of something and not of another, but that is one of the great things about spirits and cocktails that we’re getting into here, because generally speaking, okay, we do overlook the fact that these are ultimately agricultural products in some form. I think we can reach some more consistency even with adverse weather conditions. Those, as I said before, being perfect for the Hot Toddy. I want to get off the bat here with a question for you because I said, before we started recording, I was like, “Everyone knows what this drink is, so maybe we don’t need to go too much into the components,” but you were like, “Maybe they don’t.” Tell me about that thinking there.
P: Well, firstly, I’m generally sort of a reductionist. I tend to take the simplest possible definition of anything. Also, I think the toddy is one of those drinks that if you had looked at what they called a toddy say, 200 years ago versus now, it would almost be unrecognizable, I think, to your general drinking public. My main criteria for what would make a Hot Toddy would be, I think, first and foremost, that it be hot. Secondly, I think it needs to contain a little bit of alcohol in it. Otherwise, maybe it’s some kind of exotic tea, a fancy tea of some kind. I would say my two criteria would be, is it hot, and is there alcohol in it?
T: I think that’s a great point. It reminds me actually, I was texting with someone yesterday and they were talking about how they’re doing Dry January. I’m like, “How’s that going for you? What are you drinking? Anything interesting?” They say, “I need some inspiration here. I’m just drinking hot water, ginger, and lemon.” I said, “Did you just invent the soft toddy?” I’m claiming that name right here.
P: That is a good one. You could print some money with that, I bet.
T: In this day of hard seltzers and hard everything, it’s wild. Yes. We refer to those in a previous episode with ET on the Bloody Mary. I like to think of it as non-negotiables. These are the things that this drink needs to contain to be a bonafide Hot Toddy. You said it needs to be hot, needs to have some booze in it. Otherwise, like we said, what are we even talking about here? A cup of tea or something.
P: I think that’s my very, very reductionist definition. Then, of course, if you’ve done much of the history, you’re going to start arguing about whether — well, what about tea? Does tea have any place in a Hot Toddy? Does lemon have any place in a Hot Toddy? These are questions that I don’t think anyone’s necessarily all going to agree on, but they’re worth exploring.
T: Definitely. Definitely, that’s the thing that we’d like to get into in this show. Especially too, because I’m reminded of the Irish Coffee, which is another episode we did recently. I like looking at these drinks and treating them as cocktails. Yes, you can talk about maybe you’d argue what’s used and what’s not, but the great thing about this is, it allows us to explore each of them and talk about, yes, how can we apply all of the methods and techniques that we use when we look at cold drinks, stirred drinks, shaken drinks? Of course, they’re not going to be the same, but how can we apply those to something that’s — just seems to be just a very, very general or no one really has a definition for? I’m looking forward to maybe coming up with some more concrete guidelines there and also doing that exploration.
T: The thing about the Hot Toddy — I was looking this up as a great guide, “The Oxford Companion.” The most recent edition published — I think it was last year. They’ve done great work there — a ton of amazing contributors to that. There’s a decent section in there on the Hot Toddy, but also toddies, in general. This is something that we do see when we look back in history as something of an unofficial or official category of drinks. I’m wondering if you can start by leading us on that exploration of the history of Hot Toddies and everything we’re really going to talk about in today’s episode.
The History of the Hot Toddy
P: Absolutely. The earliest I’ve heard of anyone recording a toddy in print is in 1750. That predates the cocktail by about 50 years, I would say, just to put that in perspective. There is a thing that happens to some of these very old drinks, where they get very confused and confusing. What I mean by that is, there’s another drink called the Sling that was very, very similar in style. At this point, it’s probably worth defining what that style is. When we’re talking about a toddy, or a Sling, or a very wide range of drinks that are very similar, the recipe was a spirit of some kind, hot water or a hot liquid of some kind, and then a sweetener. It was basically, whatever they had on hand. In a day when white table sugar can be found for free in a diner, it might not seem like much, but molasses or honey would be, I think, a stopgap if you didn’t have access to that kind of sugar back in the 18th century.
T: It’s an incredible point. It’s one that we’re reminded of a lot here, too, and we think about all those things we take for granted. Ice, other components like that, where we’re just like, “Yes. What’s the big deal?” Or fresh herbs, or fruits and nuts. Maybe not as garnishes, but dried fruits, nuts, some that take infusions of those luxuries at the time that these drinks were invented.
P: Or just new ways of thinking about it. Not to get too far off the drink at hand, but the first person to put vermouth in a cocktail — I wish we remembered their name because they were a genius.
T: Yes, absolutely. Especially if you’re talking about a dry vermouth mixed with gin. That tends to be my lane.
P: Me too. Very much.
T: You said, dating back a couple of hundred years there, what do we know? What are these writings about when we’re seeing this term first mentioned?
P: The term tends to refer to a small, very potent hot drink of some kind. It was generally hot water — really not often anything much more advanced than that, initially. It was a sweetener of some kind. If you were well off, you were probably getting cane sugar, and if you were not, you were maybe using molasses or maybe honey. Then the spirit, I think is really where this old recipe — When it’s just these three things, very similar to an Old Fashioned, that spirit is a real key choice. Probably, again, if you were well off, you were probably using Cognac. There was something of a Scotch boom in the late 1800s due to Americans discovering how good pot still whiskey was in toddies. Really, the choice of spirit is going to do a lot in these early versions of the drink to basically carry the predominant flavor. In some ways, this is a delicious drink. It’s not necessarily what somebody would look at. The apocryphal grandmother making you a lemon and brandy when you have a cold may not recognize this recipe as a toddy, but it is a good drink nevertheless. Some people would say it’s the real toddy.
T: It’s so funny that you bring that example up, because we have an article here on VinePair that was published years ago. I believe it’s, “Your drunk aunt was right. The Hot Toddy is the cure to the common cold.” This one continues to see visits all the time. Whether it’s your aunt or your grandmother — but it’s a great point there. There is that modern-day connotation of maybe looking to get over, not a flu or something, but a slight cold. Maybe the Hot Toddy can help you out there. Do you subscribe to that?
P: Oh, I certainly do. I like hot drinks in all forms, and I’ve definitely had my share of honey, ginger, lemon, and Islay malt on a cold night. Yes, I would say things change. Nobody’s going to hold to a 1750 definition of a drink.
P: It’s obvious that we think about it differently nowadays.
T: A couple of other points that you brought up there that we should just touch upon before we move on. First of all, hot water being an ingredient in this. Well, clean water, 1700s we’re talking about, is probably a bit of a luxury, too. Maybe that’s the reason why we’re heating it up, right? I’m sure folks have discovered by that point that if you heat up the water, chances are, you’re killing any bacteria that might be in there.
P: Yes. I’ve been wondering about that a lot as I’ve been doing some research in preparation for this. You’re right, there was a time, and it was in this time period we were describing, the 1700s, where water was considered poisonous, because sewage was so bad because it literally was poisonous and they didn’t realize you could boil it. The story of tea and coffee is discovering basically that if you boil water, it’s potable. I wonder if there is any lineage in this discovery of boiling water. Is that anything to do with the toddy’s origins? I have read as much David Wondrich as I can, and I haven’t seen that he’s cracked that code yet. Some of these things are just lost to history, but it’s intriguing to consider.
T: You add upon that the fact that we’re also including a distilled spirit, which we know as well at that time would’ve been commonly prescribed, even much later than that, but commonly prescribed for ailments and whatnot. Even if the science doesn’t back up that this is going to cure your cold, we can see that these, probably, connections run very deep.
P: I think of this sort of primordial ancestral drink from which everything came because across cultures, there are these similarities of using local botanicals to make medicine, or using spirits to cure ailments. There’s really these very, very strong cultural histories across cultures of using alcohol in these ways. This folk medicine may be smarter than we realize.
T: Yes. I think it’s fascinating to think about a period where we know something that works, even if we don’t understand exactly why, and especially those maybe bitter botanicals and things helping settle the stomach and things like that. The other thing, though, that I thought about here, too, before we move on. You said this is a sibling of the Sling or maybe some folks were using the terms interchangeably. Can you tell us about the differences there? When we’re speaking about Slings, is that like the Singapore Sling that we’re seeing out there that’s become so famous or so commonly associated with that term?
P: Sure. The toddies and Slings both were water, and it was either hot or cold, spirit, and a sweetener of some kind. Here, really David Wondrich is the — he’s done all the work here. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of differentiation between the two categories. You could have Hot Toddies and you could have cold toddies. You could have hot Slings, and you could have cold Slings, and they were really interchangeable. Maybe that speaks to the need to not be dogmatic about this drink at all is that even then it was a little murky. Maybe it’s okay to take liberties with it as it evolves.
T: I’ve certainly not come across this myself, but any word, or have you come across anything to do with why are we calling it a toddy because obviously, it can be hot or cold? The toddy surely means something. Is it like a todd? Is that a measurement like a dram or something, or — any word on that?
P: Thank you for stumping me on that one. I don’t know. I wonder. You hear a lot about the toddy stick. Before there was the barstool, there was the toddy stick, and they were using it to crush the sugar in the toddies and the Slings. Is it possible the toddy stick was something before it was used to make toddies? It was a farming implement that they brought into the kitchen, this toddy stick, and the name transferred to the drink. I’m totally making this up, but it’s interesting to speculate.
T: Yes, definitely. That theory definitely would seem to have some foundation there, too. It’s funny that you mentioned, as well, all the work that Wondrich has done. It comes up pretty much every episode that we cover. Is anyone fact-checking this guy, by the way? Not to throw any shade.
P: I’m pretty sure he makes it all up, but he writes it so well.
T: This guy has just made a career of historical discoveries and everyone says, “Well, David Wonderich says it. It’s got to be true.”
P: He does seem to be backed up by people like Ted High, and Gary Regan. I think he probably knows what he’s talking about.
T: I do say that with tongue-in-cheek there. I’m definitely not questioning David Wonderich’s work there. He’s a great resource.
P: It would be funny, though, to put David Wonderich’s body of work into ChatGPT, and then print off a totally fictional cocktail book, though.
T: Obviously, it would probably read very well. That tool, for anyone listening who’s not familiar with it — A) where have you been? B) it’s a chat machine that has incredibly powerful AI. You can ask the same questions, but not only that. It’s like, you’re on Southwest Airlines. There’s a problem with your ticket, and you can’t get hold of anyone on the phones. This is like the chat thing that you get on the side, but it’s taken to a million levels above, right?
T: I should bring this back on track though back to the toddy. Cold toddies, though.
T: Do we see any other variation there or any expansion upon this idea or this style of drinks as well?
P: Well, gosh, because I’m very reductionist at heart, I would argue that a Tom Collins, maybe, is a cold toddy. If you want to use the tea and lemon definition, then why not? Right?
T: Yes, definitely. I think that’s a great point there.
P: We do a cold toddy at the distillery with apricot tea. Then, just a little bit of star anise and cranberry.
T: It definitely starts to seem like the one out of the two, hot versus cold — that would be more in need of the water component to be flavored versus the hot one, right?
P: Sure. Exactly. Then once you start going down that path, you start to need to disambiguate, because you’re now making punch, essentially. If you’ve read again Wonderich’s punch book, once you start getting citrus, once you start getting teas, spices, these are all hallmarks of the next evolution of mixed drinks.
The Ingredients Used in Pip Hanson’s Hot Toddy
T: Fantastic. What are you looking for in this ideal of a Hot Toddy? If someone’s never had this drink, someone’s never thought of it before, someone’s never heard of it before, what would you serve them and say like, “This is the classic Hot Toddy?” How would you want that profile to land?
P: Totally. It depends entirely on the context, I would say, because there are a lot of choices, you can go a lot of ways with it. I would argue it’s really a template rather than a specific cocktail these days. If it’s a cold day, you know somebody who’d like a hot drink and if they’ve got a slight cold, so much the better or maybe not, then I would make them something that we call here at the distillery The Neoclassical. That is really your new-school toddy that your grandmother might make you. Lemons, spiced orange syrup, and we use Keeper’s Heart Irish and American in it, which is the whiskey we make here. It’s our first flagship whiskey, which is a blend of pot still whiskey and grain whiskey from Ireland and Indiana rye whiskey. I think that blend of those three whiskies, especially the pot still whiskey, comes in really nicely in a drink like this.
T: Sorry to jump in here — real forward-thinking product there and wonderful whiskey there, too. Also, the grain from Ireland might not be unique, but we’re talking about single-pot still Irish whiskey. We’ve covered it on the show before. Unique to Ireland. Ireland’s signature whiskey, I would argue. North American rye, American rye whiskey, again, not protected as a United States product, but definitely — and Canada. Canada would have an issue if we were saying this is only a U.S. thing, but you know what I mean? A distinctly American whiskey, and marrying those two together, I think is wonderful.
P: Yes, I would say it’s one of the most interesting products that I’ve ever tasted. I would say it’s the most complex single bottle on your shelf right now. I think it just makes fantastic drinks. Pot still whiskey in particular responds very well to the Hot Toddy treatment.
T: We’re chatting about this. I think honestly for many of our listeners who haven’t come across it before too, this idea of blending those transatlantic components will also be a new one. Give us a brief idea of what that ingredient tastes like as well, because when I think of single pot still, I think of a creaminess from the unmalted grains and an oily, in a good way, mouthfeel. Then I think of rye and I think of this spice, this bite. I can see how these two come together. Is that where we’re going with that?
P: Yes, you have these strong cooked fruit and spice notes that you do associate with pot still whiskey. Plus, I think the oiliness and creaminess that you mentioned is absolutely there, that mouthfeel, that textural appeal. I would argue the grain whiskey is really slept on in the general world of whiskey. I love grain whiskies. I had some fascinating grain whiskies in my day. What we found, what Brian Nation, our master distiller found when making the blend, was that you really needed the grain whiskey to bind the other two together. Even though it’s not necessarily the lead guitarist in the band, it’s a pretty good bassist, I would say.
T: Yes, I tell you what as well, you remove that bassist from the band and even if you know nothing about music, you know that something’s missing there. I’m with you on that one, too, about grain. I think especially when those summer months come around, and I’m thinking of having something late afternoon, before the evening, and I want to drink a whiskey. I love a single grain for that.
P: Yes. Agreed.
T: We’re already dipped a foot at least in the spirit category here, so we might as well continue, too. If I can play devil’s advocate for a second, just when it comes to thinking about this drink classically and thinking about, “All right, we’re going to add a sweetening component.” Do you think bourbon is one that maybe, if someone’s having this for the first time, that might make it the most approachable form of the drink? Just because it has that inherent built-in sweetness and roundness. What do you think about that?
P: It would certainly have that quality to it. I would almost argue that the heavy barrel char component of the bourbon might be almost potentially more than, certainly, a neophyte whiskey drinker would want, especially when amplified by the heat. Bourbon could be great. I would almost say, and I am biased here, but I do think pot still Irish whiskey does make one of the best, probably the best Hot Toddy I’ve ever had, or I think Keeper’s Heart if you’ve got these blends of flavors. I think it does everything well without being too much of anything.
T: Yes, I know, because as well as bartenders, folks might be tempted to take a drink to the next level by splitting the spirit base and incorporating a number of different whiskeys into that, and you guys are doing that already for them.
P: We do it for you. That’s why I say that it makes the best, most complex single bottle on your shelf right now, just because it has all that flavor of three different distillates, three different maturation styles in one.
T: This is certainly not the case for folks that are dialed into the whiskey world and enjoy it and drink a lot of it, but I definitely do think sometimes there’s a connotation, or there’s an idea, about folks that don’t know whiskey that think that blended isn’t as good as maybe like a single style, but that’s completely not the case. Blended is thought through. It’s balanced. By no means should we be looking at any above the other. Courses for courses.
P: Our master distiller, Brian Nation, was the master distiller for Jameson and Redbreast in Midleton. He was at Irish Distillers for 23 years, involved in making those brands. He was also the master blender at the same time that he was a master distiller, which is — there’s not a lot of people, not a lot of master distillers who do both. He’ll tell you that blending is very difficult. It’s not an easy thing to do to make a consistent and delicious blend. I get the impression there’s a lot of art to blending as well. I think it is really a legitimate art form that I think we’re rediscovering the value of.
T: I think we might have brought this up before on the show, too, but let’s make no mistake about it. A single malt whiskey is also a blend of hundreds, if not thousands, of barrels, too. That is a blended whiskey. The components are all the same base spirit, but that is a blended whiskey.
P: It’s a similar thing to when people object to water or ice in whiskey, ignoring the fact that water is very likely to already have been added to the whiskey at some point in the process. Really, what’s another splash, if you like it?
T: On that single malt front, some people will immediately go to Scotch and Scotland when we talk about that category. Again, I’m thinking more about someone who’s fairly new to whiskey, or fairly new to this drink, or hasn’t had it before. Those multi-notes and earthiness or savoriness to it off the bat may be hard to come to terms with at first sip if you’re not an experienced whiskey drinker. Does that make it a difficult component for the Hot Toddy or is actually the Hot Toddy a vehicle that makes this whiskey a lot more approachable for folks that aren’t ready to drink it neat?
P: I think it’s a great vehicle for people who are dipping their toes into whiskey as well as for people who just like the flavor of whiskey. Water does a good job of making strong flavors more palatable. It’s true, but it also does a good job of bringing out flavor that you wouldn’t be able to detect otherwise. I really like a lot of water in whiskey, because it takes something that you think of as very, very punchy and potent, and it almost turns it into more of, like, an iced tea with enough water without losing any of its effect.
T: Fantastic. Also, you mentioned early on here that Cognac or, if we want to take that broader, brandy would’ve been common, especially during a certain time, if you had a decent amount of money. Maybe we can group all aged spirits together there rather than going to each one or — actually, before we do, rum. How’d you feel about that? Aged rum, what are you looking for? What style of aged rum would you go for in a Hot Toddy?
P: God, anything without too much sugar already added and maybe just a little bit of hogo, but not too much. I would say, middle of the road, you want it to have a foot in every world. A nice well-aged rum with a little bit of that brown sugar flavor, if that’s what you got on hand, will make a delicious one, too. There’s no need to go too cerebral with the rum.
T: Yes, definitely. I imagine, too, especially if you start incorporating other ingredients into that, which we’ll get into, but some baking spices or things, a star anise — those licorice notes of the rum just lends itself — It’s just a perfect marriage.
P: Rum is a phenomenal, just fascinating, spirit that makes fantastic hot drinks.
T: Wonderful. What about clear spirits now? Because I’ve definitely seen on menus — I’ve spoken with bartenders before as well about looking at this idea of a Hot Toddy and taking each of these components as we’re doing today and going wild with them. Whether it’s mezcal with some of that smokiness, evoking maybe a peated Scotch or I don’t know, maybe a gin. I’m not sure. Tell us how you feel about using unaged spirits in the drink.
P: I don’t think you can go too wrong. The only wrong answer might be vodka, but there might be a good vodka Hot Toddy out there, too. I’m not sure I’m aware of one. I think a gin Hot Toddy would be delicious, especially with the right gin. I don’t know that I can imagine a gin that I could think of that I would say you could not make a good hot drink with this. Maybe if you’re using a genever of some kind, you might go a little bit more robust and fuller, richer flavors. If you’re using a London Dry, then you maybe want to steer cleaner and lighter. That would be a rough guide, but just because it doesn’t have oak in it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t — I’m sure it’ll taste great. Well, you can mix anything, right? You can make anything work. You just have to find the other points on the circle.
T: Right. I think, like, a lot of times with cocktails, it comes down to which is the one component that I am hell-bent on using in this drink, and how can I make the other ingredients adapt to it?
P: Totally. Exactly.
T: We’ll get into that just a second, but you bring up genever. I’ve got a question for you here. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about over the years. Typically, right, aged? Some people say, “Oh, genever. It’s the original,” and you have folks out there like Jared Brown at Sipsmith saying that even though people think this pre-dated gin, it doesn’t — anyway. Regardless of what came first, the elevator explanation, what is genever? It’s barrel-aged gin. Is a better way to describe it whiskey with juniper? How do you feel about that?
P: That is a good way of describing it. I would only say that I’ve — I don’t know, and I’m certainly open to being mistaken on this, that I don’t know that barrel aging is a requirement to be called a genever.
T: I definitely don’t think it is, but I feel like we mainly come across those. But again, I might be wrong with that, or certainly we don’t see the same aging periods, but what I do get when I’ve had genever as well is like, a much maltier base than I get from a gin which is — you’re looking for that base to be pretty neutral.
P: Yes, I think malt line is the base for genever, if I’m not mistaken, and that flavor is unmistakable in that category.
T: There’s another one out there, if you’re looking for something in gin that’s like that and here in the U.S., St. George Spirits, I think, has a dry rye or something. It’s a rye-based gin and that’s really wonderful. That is like drinking rye whiskey that hasn’t been aged and has juniper. That’s a good one, anyway.
P: If you’re going to make gin Hot Toddies, I would say go straight to the St. George section of the shelves and grab all their gins because those are all going to make really interesting and different drinks, for sure.
T: Good folks out there, and I think they’ve recently celebrated 40 years. Happy birthday to those guys. We are going to say, though, for the purposes of this show, that we’ve chosen a whiskey of our choice as the base pair for this, which I think it would be a crime to do anything otherwise. Not a crime — a crime for this show, but not in general, as we’ve discussed. We’re choosing whiskey and now we’re going to base the other components of this drink upon it. I’d like us to do a similar kind of thing in saying, what would be classical? What would be your approach? But also, what are the other possibilities? Let’s start with a sweetening agent for this. Where are you going with that?
P: Again, it’ll really depend on the context. I think in the example of just a cold day and your friend wants a hot drink, The Neoclassical is kind of what I recommend. You’ve got black tea, you’ve got spice, orange, you’ve got lemon. Let’s say it’s a different context, right? You’ve been talking to your friend about the history of the drink, or maybe your friend has been listening to a really well-produced Hot Toddy podcast somewhere online, and they were curious. In that case, maybe you’d want to give them something a little more historically relevant or historically faithful, maybe. In that case, you might make them something that’s very similar to the original hot pot of hot water, whiskey, and sugar. Again, that’s where the whiskey is really going to make a difference. You could even do something — I like that recipe, but I like adding just a little bit of lemon peel for aromatics in that drink, and that would be called a Whiskey Skin rather than a Hot Toddy. But I would say if you want historical accuracy of Whiskey Skin, which would just be about two ounces of whiskey, maybe six ounces of hot water, maybe a half ounce of piloncillo or whatever kind of rough, unrefined sugar you can get, and then topped with hot water. That’s a pretty close facsimile of the original Hot Toddies, the 1750 Hot Toddy. Differences would be sourcing the kind of spirits that they would have back then. If historical reproduction is your concern, then that might be a bit of a challenge, but in spirit, certainly very close.
T: Then that leads us very nicely into the final component of the drink in a way or the way I think about it, which is the hot component. Water — could be something else. First of all, on the water front, if I’m worried I’m making — you said a ratio there of two ounces spirit, six ounces hot water. If a guest is worried that — “I don’t want my whiskey diluted down too much.” If I think about this through the lens of like a highball or a shaken cocktail or something like that, generally speaking there’s no difference there, right? There’s nothing for us to worry about.
P: Sorry. There’s no difference where?
T: In terms of the dilution, sorry. Just like if you’re adding six ounces of water to two ounces of whiskey, there’s no danger of me being like, “Oh, this is a tasty drink, but I really wish I could get a little bit more of the whiskey in this one.” That’s a pretty balanced ratio that you’re talking about there.
P: I would agree with that. I would say it’s going to taste even more — it’s going to taste stronger than a highball. That’s a two-ounce to six ounces obviously, a one-to-three ratio. If you made a one-to-three highball, you’re going to taste a little bit of whiskey, but it’s not going to be super intense. It’s going to be more like that delicious iced tea that I said. When you’re doing that with hot water, because it’s hot, all of the alcohol, specifically the ethanol burn, but also just the full flavor of the whiskey generally, is going to be really amplified. What I find over the years of drinking Hot Toddies is that, and this might seem crazy to some, but I really do prefer a much lighter Hot Toddy. If I were making one for myself, it would be even less whiskey, just because I think when you have a service that accentuates the harsh alcohol burn and some of the harsher elements of whiskey, you can still taste it very well bringing down the levels some.
T: Sometimes it might seem counterintuitive, but then you think about the whole, it gets to summer, you’re going for the frozen drinks, and even though the spec is maybe the same as you’re doing for a standard cocktail, as soon as you get into frozen, suddenly you’re like this needs more sugar, this needs more acid, this needs more everything, right? Because when you get colder, it’s harder to taste things.
P: Yes. People think they want a strong drink, but it feels like your general, average drinker is going to respond best to the same, a very predictable ABV range of — call it maybe 12 to 20 percent. You know what I mean? I would stay on the lower side of that, generally. People like to taste it, but they don’t necessarily like to taste it front and center without anything in the way.
T: During your own years, many years, of working as a bartender in multiple countries around the world — I’m sure this is maybe something that unites all guests. You’re going to get that one that asks you, “I’d like this cocktail, but make it strong.” Do you have any advice for bartenders out there? Maybe younger bartenders.
P: Make it strong, man. Give it to him. It’ll be 7-cent cost, and as long as they’re not wasted — It’ll be like 7-cent cost, and it’ll make them happy and they won’t have this memory of — even if they’re being totally unreasonable, my policy has always been if somebody asks for a splash more wine, because it wasn’t heavy enough, I’ll always pour it, as long as it’s not a safety issue, of course.
T: Very good point there, of course. That’s the first thing we want to be thinking about, is we don’t want anyone to be overserved, but what is your thinking? You’re thinking, “Yes, we can do that,” and you navigate that by going what? An extra quarter-ounce or something? I’m talking across the board, not just a Hot Toddy here.
P: Yes, totally. Our cocktail pours are based on a 50-mil pour. If a guest asked me for an extra strong, that’s like one and two-thirds ounces. If a guest asked me for a strong highball, say, I would probably give them a 60 mil instead of a 50 mil. That would seem to me to be a good deal.
T: Yes, definitely. You’re going that extra mile and maybe not the nicest thing to hear, but why not? Please, folks. It’s not adding much time onto the preparation of the drink and it sounds like from your front, not too much extra cost there, too.
P: That question almost goes from a culinary question to a hospitality question, in my view. It goes from, like, how is it going to taste, and how are we making it to what does this person actually want? Sometimes they just want to feel like they have a need that somebody is happy to meet. Even if that need requires that person to go a little out of the way, they’re going to do it. It’s such a simple thing to get right. Symbolically, it’ll make their experience much better so it’s always worth it to try to give them what they want.
T: Try to meet them there. Yes, great advice. The whole component here, too, though, I don’t know whether I’ve just had this wrong over the years or whatnot. Again, I’ve not really actually probably drank that many Hot Toddies, but I always assumed that tea was part of it, it had to be. Would you say that that’s a very common conception or misconception?
P: It absolutely is. I would say in the past 100 years, if you were to randomly — I’m trying to imagine scenarios in which this would happen — randomly accost strangers on the street and ask them to make you a Hot Toddy, I would say probably eight times out of 10 it would have tea in it. Now, it is the case that historical records do not show any tea. In fact, that would’ve been ruinously expensive probably for most households, but today it means tea. You have to respect that. It’s the same as going to a bar and correcting somebody every time they order a Martini of some kind, to not mean gin and vermouth. It’s very similar, just the less of it the better.
T: Speaking about accosting people on the street and asking them to make Hot Toddies, there’s a Billy Eichner episode I’d like to see. I’m not sure that reference will land with everyone, but we’re certainly in the neighborhood where that man seems to operate. Any other things, general ingredients here — again, we’re sticking to the whiskey base. We’re going classical sweetening, sugar, hot water — I’m looking at my spice rack now. I feel like I can add a couple of extra ingredients in here. Actually, before we go into the spice rack, let’s start with lemon.
T: Are you going peel as if you’re creating a nice twist for an expression, or are you cutting across the lemon and either going for a wedge or a wheel? If I’m adding that to my water as I bring it up to a temperature, how do I make sure that that’s not too bitter? What part of the lemon should I be using there?
P: Sure. To lemon or not to lemon? I guess to back up a little bit, the question of lemons generally I think is — the biggest question is do you use the juice? Right? Do you add acid to this drink? Do you consider it to be a drink with acid, or do you think that’s maybe more of a punch and you leave it out. That’s a fork in your road as you’re making your Hot Toddies. Which adventure do you choose? As far as lemon goes, you’re going to read a lot that claims you need to cut the whites off of lemon peel when you use it in drink applications because the whites are bitter. Now, I’m not sure how many times you’ve cut the white off of a lemon peel and then bitten it, but I’ve done it a couple of times and I’ve never gotten a bitter component off of it. I would argue that that conventional wisdom is maybe not correct. What I suspect is the actual aromatic oils that are trapped in the lemon, the yellow of the lemon are the thing that are also bitter, which would make sense that this intense lemon extract is bitter, it wouldn’t necessarily be astringent anyways. It wouldn’t necessarily be surprising. You certainly could busy yourself by slicing the rind off. It’ll look a little better if you’re serving it professionally. You certainly want to consider that if you’re making it for yourself. Do I think leaving the rind on if you make, say, a Whiskey Skin with a lemon twist is going to give you a noticeably more bitter flavor? I’m not sure I do. I swim against the current on that one. Now, if you’re going to leave-
T: I like it.
P: If you’re going to do a lemon twist, or you’re going to do a lemon wheel or a lemon wedge, that question will be answered by whether or not you want acid or the possibility of acid in the drink. If the answer is “yes,” then how much? If you want a lot, then you’re going to maybe use a wedge and either squeeze it in or put it on the side so they can squeeze it in. If you don’t want a lot, but you maybe just want just the barest amount of acid in this drink, then a wheel dropped in would give you both acid and bitterness. When we use bitterness in the context of lemon oil bitterness — it’s interesting that people talk about bitterness from rind as a bad thing when they’re reaching for bitters in the drink that they’re making. Do you know what I mean?
P: I’m not convinced that the bitter lemon is a bad thing, either, so there are plenty of times when you can just drop in a lemon wheel and be done with it.
T: Yes, I think that’s a really great point, too, and I think maybe some of my worry there when it comes to that bitterness front is that — I’m reminded of Christmas recently, when I had my bird resting and deglaze my pan. I get it all into a pot, starting to reduce my stock, and I’m like, “Yes, lemon will really, really liven this up.” Do not reduce that for half an hour. That’s going too far.
P: Yes. On the timescale that a Hot Toddy is alive, I’m not super concerned. When you’re talking about long extractions using sustained heat, absolutely tread carefully.
T: That’s when it becomes a problem. Yes, that was my error there. I’ll remember that one for next year or this year. I’m looking back over to that spice rack now though. I’m looking at maybe star anise-
P: The answer is, yes.
P: The answer is always, yes.
P: Just throw it all in.
T: Anything and all of the above.
P: Grab a T-ball, throw it all in. If you’re interested, make notes and see what works. Then tomorrow when you do it again, or later on tonight, or tomorrow morning or whatever it is, take notes about the next one and see how they change. I don’t believe in sacred cows. I don’t really believe you can do things wrong. I think you maybe just haven’t found the context to do them right when you think you’ve made a mistake. I’m not going to defend that statement in court, but I will say that I think you can make surprising things work with the right creativity.
T: I think that’s a great attitude to have. Before we move on, one final question here about that. Cinnamon. How much experience do you have with real cinnamon? Also what folks think is cinnamon, what they’re buying? It’s actually probably cassia bark? Now, what is that? It’s something else.
P: Yes, the great cinnamon debate. I don’t have strong feelings on cinnamon. I’ve heard that what we buy — And I don’t know how that applies to restaurant supply, but I imagine it’s the same.
T: Those cute little straws.
P: No, I get it, yes — the idea that this is somehow an inferior cinnamon. It probably is, but isn’t this, in a way, just somebody else’s marketing telling you to feel bad about your cinnamon?
T: Yes. I tell you what? We like things neatly packaged.
P: You know what I mean? Same with olive oil. I don’t eat the best olive oil in the world, but I feel just fine about it. It’s a similar thing. Is there a better olive oil out there? Is there a better cinnamon out there? Yes. You’ll probably be fine if you use what you got in the cabinet, though.
T: I’ll tell you, and I only bring this up because it was brought to my attention when I was out in the Seychelles last year. We recorded an episode out there, the Dark ‘N’ Stormy, if you haven’t listened to that one yet, listeners.
P: Best national flag in the world.
T: Oh I see. It’s wonderful.
P: It’s very random.
T: It’s so good. We were actually gifted some fresh cinnamon bark. Yes, the flavor was different. I’ll say this, though, this thing was tough to work with, whereas the cinnamon that we’re all accustomed to do — the flavor was slightly different, maybe not as intense, maybe didn’t hit the high notes, but it’s nice, it’s neat, it’s good. I don’t know, I just figured we’d bring that up because it’s not often that we’re going into cinnamon on this show.
P: I think it’s important to bring these questions up. Just to be totally clear, the ingredients are crucial. If you want cinnamon in your drink, then you’re going to have to figure out a way to get a good cinnamon in there. The flavor that most people associate with cinnamon is maybe fake cinnamon. Put it this way, of all the ingredients that I spend a lot of time thinking about, cinnamon is not one of them, and it is for other people. Maybe the chai makers of the world are very concerned about their cinnamon supply. I found this out when I started working among many Irish people, notorious for disliking cinnamon. I don’t reach for it very much. We don’t really have it on hand too often here. I guess, as far as the great cinnamon debate goes, happily, it’s a question I’ve been able to sidestep.
T: Until today.
P: Yes, right, and then you held my feet to the fire.
T: All right, then. We’re going to briefly jump into your preparation and build over this drink. I’m going to ask you to commit to one recipe for that. Before we do, thinking about this — We got a nice little bar here in the VinePair office. Say, I opened this one up to the public and we became known for Tim’s Hot Toddies, right?
T: We’re doing great business with this. Are there any components of this that, for a volume, you would pre-batch ahead of time or bring together? I know it depends on the recipe that you’re going to give us, but just thinking about this. We also touched upon this recently in the Irish Coffee episode, in terms of how you can have many components ready for service. Again, maybe there’s more ingredients involved in that than this drink, but any tips you might have there? I’m not sure if this is something you’ve ever thought about having to batch Hot Toddies, but I was curious about that one.
P: Hot Toddies in winter are relevant to my interests, you can say. Here at the distillery, our second year in a row, we have a full Hot Toddy menu that, after Thanksgiving, we start rolling out one hot drink a week through until the New Year. Then we put everything on a menu in the New Year and run it for about three months to basically get through this in the next three months that await us. We do high-volume hot drinks at the bar, and I haven’t found that batching is necessarily helpful for Hot Toddies. It might just be because they’re — I don’t know, they seem to be simpler drinks to me. Generally, it’s different things mixed with hot water, and the hot water step is much simpler operationally than shaking or stirring. You just dump and mix. When the bar slows down, I haven’t found the Hot Toddies necessarily to be the choke point, or I haven’t found that combining the sugar and the whiskey is sometimes all that’s in there aside from hot water. I haven’t necessarily found that batching those two would move the needle.
T: Yes, that makes sense. I guess it really does come down to, say, you’re looking to some of those spices we were just speaking about then, or maybe mixing the sugar already with the water.
P: In that case, there are certainly things you could do, and I guess maybe we’re batching in a different way. If you’re going to use spices and if you’d like that spice extraction to be to order, then you could pretty easily put it in a little paper tea sachet, the compostable tea sachet, so you could do a spice blend to order, and have individual sachets. I would argue that’s batching.
T: Nice. Yes, I like that.
P: Or you could make, I think — In The Neoclassical that I described with the spiced orange syrup and black tea, we spice the orange syrup because we want that warm “baking spices” aroma, but we don’t want the unpredictability that sometimes spices in a tea bag can bring. We basically just make a syrup out of the spices with orange zest — a fairly straightforward process. If you’re looking to get the spices in there in an easy way, that might be another way. It’s just to make a syrup.
How to Make Pip Hanson’s Hot Toddy
T: Got it. Yes, that’s a great idea. Using that, having it for your sweetness, but also bringing the flavor that you desire — then it’s just a case of adding water and your base spirit, or maybe it’s not, but you’re going to tell us now because I’m going to ask you to walk us through the ideal, that drink here. I’d love you to walk us through start to finish. If we’re at a professional bar, talk us through the preparation of this drink, including, if you will please, ratio, spec, measurements — yes, your classic ideal of a Hot Toddy here.
P: All right. The classic idea of a Hot Toddy — If I’m going to choose the classic, platonic ideal of a Hot Toddy, I think I have to choose the Whiskey Skin, not The Neoclassical, just because that is really about the whiskey in a much more satisfying way that I think probably the listeners of this podcast will appreciate. If you’re going to make Whiskey Skin, your first step is going to be to identify your glass. That can be anything concave but having a handle helps because you don’t want to burn your hands, so I would suggest a mug, ideally. There are a lot of fancy options out there, but you don’t have to think too hard about it. You can just choose your favorite mug because it’s your favorite. Your next step is going to be to get some water going. You’re going to want to have plenty of hot water on hand. I would just say get a pot of water boiling or an electric kettle. Probably an electric kettle is the best way. Then, when the water is up to heat, when the water is boiled, you want to shock the glass, it’s called. That is simply just pouring hot water into the glass and letting it sit and warm the glass up. You can’t overdo that, is what I was trying to say. You can’t overdo the heating of the glass. You want to get it as hot as possible and that takes 20 seconds to 30 seconds, or more. Heating the glass is, I would say, the real step — when I said a Hot Toddy, it has to be hot to me. The way they make sure you get it the most hot is to heat the glass as much as possible. The amount of weight and mass represented by that glass dwarfs the drink. It’s really going to be the biggest factor in terms of if you keep the heat or not — is how hot that glass is when the drink goes into it. Get the glass hot, put the hot water in it, leave it there for as long as you can while you’re busying yourself with the rest, but there’s not much. That’s the good news. I would say, for a Whiskey Skin, this is again, a historical reproduction of basically trying to make what the first Hot Toddies conceivably would have tasted like. I try to use less refined sugar, something with some of the cane flavors still left in it. Even Demerara is maybe a little too refined, and so we like to use a piloncillo here. You can break off a couple of pieces off the cone and just smash them in with a toddy stick, or a muddler, into hot water, or you can make a syrup out of it. Either way, you’re going to want to get your sugar in some form ready. You’re going to want to have your whiskey ready, and in this case, I would use Keeper’s Heart Irish and Bourbon, just because it has a little more of a predominant bourbon flavor, a little higher bourbon in the blend. I want a little more of that charcoal, a little more of that honey and caramel. Finally, the fourth ingredient is a lemon peel. It’s just those four things. When your glass is shocked, in goes your sugar, in goes your lemon peel, and in goes your whiskey. If you’re using rock sugar, you’ll want to smash it up a little bit into the whiskey, add the water, smash it some more if it’s not melted yet, and you’re basically good to go.
T: What about some rough or exact measurements for each of those components there?
P: Thank you. Right. Let’s see. We use 15 milliliters of piloncillo syrup at the distillery, which translates to about a half-ounce. We use one and a third ounces of high-proof Keeper’s Heart 110. It’s a new bottling of the Irish and American that we released a year and a half ago, but the 110 we just released at a higher proof than before. I really like that. It’s great in a Hot Toddy. A little goes a long way. I would use about 40 mils of Keeper’s Heart 110, and then I would top the mug off with hot water, which is going to wind up to be about, I would say, 10 ounces.
T: Interesting there, because I know you’ve worked both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.
P: And the Pacific, yes.
T: The Pacific, yes, of course. Do you generally find that you prefer to work in milliliters or ounces? I find that fascinating.
P: I opened a bar called Marvel Bar in Minneapolis in 2011, and when we were planning Marvel, immediately, it was obvious that milliliters were the only way to fly. It takes-
P: Oh, yes. I was using ounces before I was exposed to milliliters in Japan. It wasn’t until we were planning Marvel that I thought the obvious choice here is to just move everything to milliliters. Once you start really batching recipes or reducing batches into individual drinks, it really pays for itself.
T: That’s because, generally speaking, you’re able to think of one milliliter as one gram when it comes to the batching process there?
P: That is really helpful. There are so many obvious reasons to use the metric system generally, but the most practical reason is that it allows you to fine-tune your recipes in a way that I don’t really believe ounces do. You can talk about fat and skinny, quarter-ounces all you want, but it’s still fundamentally inexact. For me, being able to talk in terms of 12, 15 milliliters, even if it’s difficult to hit that exact 12-milliliter mark on a jigger, at least you know what the target is. You can get great graduated cylinders and measure things down to the milliliter and prove it out that way, rather than having to rely on terms like “fat” and “skinny.” My favorite dry martini recipe, for example, in milliliters or in ounces would be something like — What would it be? Like ⅚ of an ounce of vermouth and 2 ⅙ ounces of gin? That just sounds awful.
T: It’s hard to get that.
P: When you say 65-25, you suddenly are like, “Oh, okay, great, 65-25.”
T: Yes, so much more straightforward.
P: Yes. If we needed another reason to all switch to metric, that’s the reason.
T: Or you could find yourselves, like the U.K., where you’re in both worlds. You’re driving around in miles and measuring things in grams and milliliters. I don’t know.
P: I’ve just stopped counting anything in the U.K. I’ve stopped measuring and counting. I don’t even try anymore.
T: I tell you what, I don’t measure anymore. Right there, the currency is not doing too well. It’s my family and friends over there that are listening right now. No, it’s serious. We’ve seen it, it swings both ways. It’s the special relationship we have between these two countries. All right. That’s brilliant. That’s a brilliant walk-through of the drink itself, preparation, serving vessel, garnish, I guess, we’re talking about that lemon that’s already in there.
P: Yes. The lemon is your garnish in this case. It provides, I think, a little bit of pleasurable bitterness in this case, as well as, obviously, the lemon zest aroma. That functionally is a garnish. Let’s say you weren’t making a Whiskey Skin, you were making a classic 1750 Hot Toddy, you might use nutmeg instead of lemon. With hot drinks, aromatics are enhanced. It’s always a good time to use a garnish with a hot drink.
T: Is it nutmeg or is it mace? Question for a different podcast.
P: Oh, yes. Awesome. That’s going to be a can of worms.
T: There we go. It sounds fantastic. All right, then, any final thoughts here before we move on to the second section of the show — the final section of the show? Any final thoughts before that on the Hot Toddy, Pip?
P: No. I would just say we — we’ll, I said no, but obviously, I mean, yes.
T: That’s, yes, how it goes.
P: We’ve been discussing two very classic versions of the drink but I think that maybe it doesn’t quite do justice to the adaptability of the hot drink format. We’ve got some really interesting toddies that we’re doing with sous vide cooking sushi ginger into Japanese mirin, and using that as a sweetener and a savory agent as well. It’s playing with fruit teas and spiced honeys. None of this is necessarily crazy in the Hot Toddy genre, but it just — I think it speaks to how much you can riff on this format. It really is about as versatile as they come because it really is just something sweet, something strong, and something hot.
T: Plug and play, the world’s your oyster after that. I love that idea, though. You started talking about mirin and pickled ginger, I’m in. Sign me up.
P: There’s a lot of ways you can take it. I do think Keeper’s Heart will always make the best Hot Toddy you’ll ever taste — so much complexity. They taste so good.
Getting to Know Pip Hanson
T: Nice. All right then, Pip, let’s head into the next section of the show where we get to know yourself more as a bartender and a drinker, starting with question one here. What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
P: These days it’s always Keeper’s Heart. We’ve released quite a few bottlings in the past 1 ½ years that we’ve been open. I think we’ve got something like 10 different bottles on the shelf now. We’ve got Irish and American, and Irish and Bourbon. Those are the two blends of Irish and American whiskeys that are our flagships. We’ve got a 10-year Irish single malt that we’re releasing. It’s finished in Malaga casks. Then we’ve got a lot of different barrel finishes, as well as a lot of interesting new things planned for this year, too.
P: That is predominantly on my shelf. But I will say, before the Keeper’s Heart, anything made in the pot still was usually what I was reaching for.
T: If you’re looking at home, and I’m saying, “Sorry, I’m not allowing you to have something aged,” where do you think that would go? What might take up the most shelf space of unaged spirits at home?
P: Unaged spirits. If money was no object, it would probably be agave, but it is, so gin. Actually, no, that’s not even true. If I could, I would go super deep into Japanese honkaku shochu which I think is a really slept-on category of spirit that has some of the most interesting and diverse flavors I’ve ever tasted. Specifically, honkaku shochu, just wild stuff.
T: This is the first time here we’ve ever had that on the podcast, and I’ll admit it’s a new one for me. Do you mind just giving us a quick, brief insight into what that is?
P: Yes, honkaku shochu. It’s a shochu. It’s a distilled spirit made in Japan. It is distinct but similar to Korean soju. Japanese honkaku shochu is often made in traditional stills of various types. Some of them are in tree trunks with copper bottoms and copper condensers on top. It’s really an interesting, very diverse style of distillation. You can distill just about anything into shochu, so any grain certainly but then also soba noodles. There’s lots of soba noodle shochu which is to say fermented and distilled noodle shochu. I think I heard about pizza dough shochu once — very versatile, but the key is — and the reason it’s distinct from vodka, because it’s generally not aged, is that it’s distilled to a very, very low proof. I don’t think it’s distilled higher than 50 percent and it’s usually bottled right around 25 percent. As a result, you just have all of this flavor coming through — not predominantly ethanol, and then oak maturation, but all of this constituent ingredient providing a ton of flavor. It’s incredibly delicate, incredibly light and subtle, and just very, very fascinating.
T: That sounds incredible, I need to start doing an exploration there. You’ve opened a can of worms there for me. Moving on to question two here, which ingredient or tool is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
P: Well, I’m going to say a chopstick because I spent a long time learning Japanese stirring technique, and practicing that and bringing that to my work. When we opened, O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company, I wanted to, if not start over, at least take nothing for granted. Rather than training bartenders on Japanese technique, we started implementing metal chopsticks as stirring sticks. You can spin a chopstick around — it may not be like a crypt pinky and this technique that you spent 30 years learning, but you can stir a drink in half the time with the chopsticks just by whipping around the sides of the glass. Maybe have a bar spoon in your regular rotation, but then have a chopstick as a fallback. We’ve basically switched the entire bar over to chopsticks instead of spoons and I’ll never look back.
T: Nice. This may be too much for us to go into detail here and possibly is one where we say, “This is going to be another show.” Are there any very brief bullet points or talking points you can tell us about how Japanese stirring technique and bartending differs from what folks might be familiar with in the U.S., or is that just too much to explore?
P: It’s very meticulous and very technique-oriented. I would say there are a lot of bars in the U.S. now that are doing the things that, at one point, you really had to go to Tokyo, or at least to Japan, to see. I would let the bartenders around this country who are doing their own interpretation of that style — I would let them answer the question.
T: Go visit those spots. Angel’s Share used to be a beloved one here in New York. I believe a friend of mine, Takuma Watanabe, who was the former head bartender there, opened up Martiny’s. If anyone’s in New York, I would definitely recommend seeking that place out, saying hi to Takuma. Also, he’s someone that can speak about this, too. Just one little recommendation there. It really is an art form. You see it, you absorb it. Even if you don’t know what’s going on, I think if you’ve sat at that bar, you really feel that something slightly different to maybe what you’re used to is going on there. It’s fascinating.
P: It’s just, time slows down.
T: Question number three. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
P: The best piece of advice I’ve ever worked in this industry is when you cut someone off, take away their ashtray because they’re going to throw it at your head.
T: Oh my God, that sounds like a story.
P: It was, but it wasn’t my story. My first night at a bar, I was with a guy called Johnny Michaels. I view him as the godfather of the Twin Cities cocktail scene. He was the first with almost everything. Sometimes, I have an idea that I think is great and I’ll realize Johnny did it 15 years ago. Johnny put in some time in some of the dive bars of the world. I basically started in fine dining. It was always good to hear Johnny’s stories of what the other side of the bartending trade is like, and maybe a side that I wish I had seen sometimes.
T: I totally get that. You want to see it, but also maybe not have lived it, or not had to have — yes, definitely get that.
P: I do feel like I should have worked in a dive bar at one point in my life but, alas.
T: See, I used to visit it from the other side, but yes, I hear you on that one.
T: Question number four. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
P: Oh, God, I saw this on the list and I don’t know if I have an answer for it. My answer was going to be the bar in London — my corner pub that I got cut off at. I would visit them again because I’m 86ed, and so I can’t get back.
T: Because now you’re allowed.
P: It’s the only way I can get back in — to go in and apologize.
T: Which pub was that or do you not want to bring that up?
P: It was called the Three Bells in North Harrow. I had just moved in and I didn’t have a good night there one night. I wasn’t allowed back and that doesn’t normally happen to me. This was actually the only bar that I think I’ve ever been 86ed from, so, yes, I would go back there.
T: In Harrow — there’s a university up there. I’m forgetting which one it is. London has a couple but there’s a university up there, is it not? A bit of a student vibe.
P: I believe it is, yes. I just was there for a couple of months.
T: Not that I’m saying that was you.
P: Clearly it was, though.
T: I was saying, not that you were a student at that point maybe, but — all right, we just spoke about a dive bar here. I got a question for you about that. What do you think is the one fundamental difference between a dive bar and a pub? Is there one? Maybe that’s the question that I should have asked first?
P: To me, I don’t know. I don’t know how often I heard about people using the word “dive bar” in the U.K., for example. I’m not sure it seems like a common term. I would almost say when we say “dive bar” in the U.S., we’re trying to evoke the connotation of what’s commonly understood to be a pub in the U..K — this unpretentious conviviality that accepts all. Maybe it’s just dialect when you get down to it.
T: That’s a great point. Until I moved to the U.S., I’d never come across the concept of a dive bar. I had seen them in movies but I definitely had never heard the term used before I came here. I don’t know, I think there is a difference. I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is.
T: You know what I think it might be? I’m just riffing here, so this might be completely wrong but, at almost any dive bar in the U.S., you can expect to pull up a stool and sit at the bar. Most pubs, especially good ones, no one’s sitting at the bar. Now you might be standing there on a Friday evening when everyone’s just spilled out of work and across the road into their local pub. Generally speaking, the etiquette is like “Get the hell out of the bar so that other people can go and get drinks fast,” right?
P: That is an excellent point.
T: Then I think it opens up to all these other things because I think about some of my fondest memories of discovering dive bars here in the U.S., which is going on a random Wednesday evening when they had a deal on wings, watching baseball, which is new to me, and just sitting there on my own. It’s harder to drink at a pub on your own than I think it is at a dive bar. Again, maybe I’m wrong there, but that just came to me now.
P: I have been in some pubs that, if you had transported them to the U.S., they would absolutely be a dive bar. I think maybe they’re kissing cousins if they’re not the same
T: Browns in Shoreditch. I’m sure that’s a pub. I’m not asking anyone to look that one up, but definitely, yes. We’ll move on. That’s the one you’re choosing, North Harrow is your last bar.
P: Yes. If I could go to any bar again, I would go to Marvel again. That was always my favorite bar in the world, so that’s my real answer.
T: Final question for today, Pip, if you knew the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
P: Dry Martini.
T: I thought it was going to be that, and you know what I was going to say? I was going to say what would be the 65 milliliters of gin and what would be the 25 of vermouth? Unless you’re flipping it, tell us about this Martini.
P: It would definitely be gin-forward, 65-25. I reach for Tanqueray 10, and I know that’s a big commercial brand, but I tell you what. I have seen almost every bartender of name reach for Tanqueray 10 at some point in their career, it feels like. I’m going to stand by one of my favorite commercial, mainstream, sellout brands.
T: I’m sorry to stop you here, but gin is one of those categories where I have no qualms in saying that the big guys are better than the smaller guys. I’m sorry, it’s just true.
P: It is often very true. I would get Tanqueray 10 and then I would probably take a flight to France and pick up some of the Noilly Prat Dry that is barrel aged, which they discontinued here in the U.S. If I couldn’t do that, my friend, Eric Seed, imports some lovely Dolin to this country. I would be happy to use that, too, I guess, I would say. Finally, a dash of orange bitters, and then ice out of a freezer, which I think is the key to a Martini.
T: Very nice. Yes, it’s a good one. No garnish there?
P: Oh, certainly. Lemon twist.
T: Lemon twist, and that’s making its way into the glass?
P: Yes, straight to the drink. Strain it, express over the top, and then drop it in so the oils on the surface float to the top of the drink.
T: Fantastic stuff. You know what? We’re getting closer — not that close yet to 5 p.m. here, but we’re getting there and it’s Thursday.
P: Sort of oblivion.
T: It’s time to think — I say what, Pip, thank you so much for joining us today.
P: My pleasure.
T: It’s been a wonderful episode, appreciate your time.
P: Likewise. Thank you for having me. It’s been a great time to be on here.
T: Fantastic. We’ll have to have you back someday, but cheers.
P: I look forward to it. Thank you. Cheers.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.