When it comes to winters on the West Coast, one might legitimately ask whether those of us living in Lotusland deserve to be envied or pitied.
As of this writing, it’s a sun-drenched January day in Vancouver. Should you be out of organic kale chips, sodium-free granola, or beet-infused soy milk, you’ll see purple crocuses, snow drops, and grape hyacinths poking their little flowered heads out of the ground on the walk to the East End Food Co-Op.
Try to not to hate us, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Waterloo, Quebec, and—let’s face it—every city east of Hope. And take some solace in the fact that, as much as the sun might be beaming and the birds singing today, we’re not strangers to endless days of unrelenting West Coast winter grimness. Think black sheets of rain, tombstone-grey skies, leaf-clogged storm drains, and endless mud.
But back to the question of whether we deserve to be envied or pitied.
As the more ignorant among us—i.e. MAGA Americans—on the planet are well aware, Canada is often perceived by others as an endless winter wonderland. A country where every snowmobile has a block heater, folks either cross-country ski or skate to work, and nine out of 10 people live in igloos.
That’s true for rest of the country, but it’s not the case on the West Coast, where it snows about as often as the Vancouver Canucks make the NHL playoffs. And for that, we deserve to be pitied, at least when it comes to the classic cocktails of winter.
From afar, endless days of snow and ice seem like a pain in the ass, even if you’ve got a snowblower or a teenager willing to put down the goddamn Oculus Quest 2 for 10 minutes to shovel the walkway. And, sorry, but there's no disputing that winter is a pain in the ass. Here, let's prove it.
But there’s also something wonderful about looking out the window and see everything covered in a pristine white blanket. The city somehow seems more peaceful. And changing out of your COVID-19 pyjamas and getting outside is something you want to do rather than something you should do but couldn’t be bothered.
When it snows, that’s a green light to go tobogganing down Oak Street into False Creek. To build snowmen and snow forts on the roof of your 360-square-foot condo’s building in Yaletown. And, in an East Van tradition that dates back to the days of the Clark Park gang, throwing hard-pack snowballs at the folks in the peasant wagons and proletariat chariots that roll along Broadway.
The great thing about this physical exercise? When you get back home and strip off the Burton GORE‑TEX Duffey pants, Burberry monogram-print cashmere scarf, and Hunter Balmoral side-adjustable rain boots, you’ve earned a cocktail. And because you’re colder than Melania Trump at Christmas time, nothing less than a warming winter cocktail will do.
Think Hot Toddy, Hot Buttered Rum, Irish Coffee, or Clarence Odbody–approved Flaming Rum Punch.
Here’s the great thing about warm cocktails for cold nights—they are almost always idiotically easy to execute.
Generally, we’re talking nothing but liquor, a sweetener (maple syrup, cinnamon- or clove-infused simple syrup), and a hot liquid (coffee, hot chocolate, apple cider, or tea).
Hot drinks tend to be less nuanced than their shaken and stirred counterparts. Why? An obvious reason is—being frozen to the bone—you want something el pronto. Forget shaving seahorse scales into a rum muddled with sliced ginger and bruised pine needles, it’s all about executing things quickly.
Another reason is that the most classic of hot drinks have been around forever, which is to say pre-dating the first golden age of cocktails in the 1920s.
As stated on the excellent and informative European website Mixology: “These drinks don’t require special ingredients, tools, or skills to make. In that sense, they’re pre-bartender. Anyone can make them at home. In fact, it’s telling that the most popular hot drink invented in Jerry Thomas’s time was the Blue Blazer—pouring burning alcohol between two cups is something people would much rather pay someone to do for them. In comparison, traditional hot drinks aren’t so impressive. They’re not difficult to get right and they’re so ordinary, they don’t seem exotic. They’re just part of the cultural furniture. They get taken for granted, and when people think about them at all, these drinks tend to be considered boring.”
But sometimes boring is just another word for comforting. And speaking of comforting, a toddy is just that, a great thing being that it doesn’t have to be boring. Here’s a recipe you can make. And as much as the sun is shining on the West Coast as this is written, next week we’re supposed to get snow. Just like true Canadians. Envious as you might be, get ready to pity us.
Sage, Thyme, and Maple Hot Toddy
1.5 oz Gentleman Jack bourbon
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz maple syrup
4 oz sage-thyme tea (boil three fresh sage leaves and three fresh thyme sprigs in a cup of water). Let steep for 10 minutes then strain.
Combine everything in a glass or clear mug and garnish wit a cinnamon stick. Serve hot.