With a few freak exceptions, 2011 wasn’t meteorologically kind to the hot toddy (or snowmen, for that matter). But even if the thermometer stubbornly refuses to dip into toddy-friendly temps, bartenders are still playing with the formula with as much Wonka-esque zeal as ever. Take Kim Patton-Bragg, mixologist behind the bar of Tamarind in New Orleans. Her toddy season may unofficially end (along with bead hoarding and sinning, generally) on Mardis Gras, but that didn’t stop her from serving us a toddy fit to inspire any ambitious Northern mixologists still (sort of) shivering in his suspenders.
Two things distinguish Patton-Bragg’s Calabaza Caliente: its clearly culinary slant and the use of an atypical toddy tipple: tequila. Patton-Bragg created the Calabaza as part of her yearly “Tales of the Toddy” contribution to her city’s bacchanalian Tales of the Cocktail fest. As for the uncommon choice of tequila? “I thought, well, I’ve never had a hot tequila drink,” says Patton-Bragg. “That sounds like an interesting challenge.” (It doesn’t hurt that she’s an agave worshipper, with hopes to open her own tequila-mezcal spot sometime soon.)
The next step was giving her tequila—an El Tesoro Reposado—a bit more body for the toddy, courtesy of some roasted sugar pumpkin. “I cut the roasted pumpkin into chunks and infused the tequila overnight.” The strained result is “a little bit orange,” she says, with a “rounder mouthfeel.” Not that the pumpkin was just some glorified gourd tequila-camouflage. “I was going for richer flavors,” says Patton-Bragg. “I tend to be more of a culinary bartender, and I kind of put together flavor profiles that I know work food-wise.” Hence the toddy’s dry, tawny Port, luscious honey-sage brown butter (oh yes …), and piquant apple cider. “Apple and sage work beautifully with tequila,” says Patton-Bragg. “And Port is a beautiful, under-used cocktail ingredient.”
No arguments here. Beyond the sheer joy of having butter in our cup, Patton-Bragg’s toddy has as much luscious culinary logic as some of the better dishes we’ve tasted, with enough depth to compliment its boozy warmth. “It’s earthy and rich,” says Patton-Bragg. Toddy season may be near over, but we’re keeping this recipe close by, in the event of a freak July snowstorm. Or just a chilly day in an air-conditioned bar.