From the Editor

From the Editor

Editor's Word | 16 Dec 2000 | Issue 13 | By Charles MacLean

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The fires of summer have been extinguished, the clocks have gone back and the winter solstice approaches. The season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ it may be, but today a chill, damp wind cuts to the bone and the depressing prospect of months of short, dark days looms large in one’s mind. What’s needed is a toddy, the most ancient of Scottish pick-me-ups and cure-alls that’s legitimately taken at any hour of the day or night, alone or in company. Let us reflect upon it.The origin of the word is obscure. Allan Ramsay, the poet, wrote of “kettles full of Todian spring” in 1721. Tod’s Well on Arthur’s Seat (the mountain which rises at the heart of Edinburgh) was one of the city’s early water supplies, though the ‘spring water’ he was referring to was whisky toddy. His readers clearly understood the euphemism, so it may be, as Ramsay believed, that the term ‘toddy’ derives from Tod’s Well.The drink, which is simply hot, sweetened whisky and water with lemon (if spices are added it becomes ‘punch’), was the most common way of drinking whisky in those days. Most of the whisky produced then was coarse and fiery: ‘compounding’ made it palateable.
Sir Walter Scott loved it. His son-in-law and biographer, J.G. Lockhart, reveals that “he could never tell madeira from sherry.” In truth he liked no wines except sparkling champagne and claret: but even as to the last he was no connoisseur and sincerely preferred a tumbler of whisky toddy to the most precious “liquid ruby that ever flowed in the cup of a prince.” It was only in the 1880s that toddy went out of fashion, replaced by whisky and soda. Actually, it was the swing towards whisky and soda parallelled by the blenders’ preference for Speysides rather than the whiskies of Campbeltown, rather than that away from toddy which caused this change in style. Yet punches and toddies can be fine drinks for winter days. Here are some tips for making them. Malt whisky produces better toddy than blended whisky, but there is no need to use your best malt: cask strength (50-60% ABV for example) is better than bottled strength (40-43% ABV). Richer, sherried malts (The Macallan, typically, Glenfarclas or Mortlach for example) produce what would surely have been called ‘traditional’ toddies. It would be instructive to experiment with other styles – waxy Clynelish, perfumed Bowmore or a smoky Lagavulin. Honey is commonly used as a sweetener rather than sugar, but heather honey should be used sparingly since it tends to dominate. Lemon is essential if the toddy is being taken ‘for medicinal purposes’, but is not necessary otherwise. A clove, a scrap of cinnamon bark and a shake of nutmeg are demanded by some recipes. Experimentation is the thing – compliments of the season!
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