We're exploring twelve seasonally-inspired cocktail recipes this year alongside our candle subscription with writer, historian, and cocktail creative Al Culliton.
As you’ll recall from January, we’re journeying through the medieval Labors of the Month this year. Through this exploration, we are connecting with the innate qualities of the annual cycle—those the things that stay the same year after year, century after century. We seek to notice what’s special about each month and strive to connect with our inner selves through scent, drink, and contemplation.
The Labors are depicted in many different manuscripts, but the most famous of all is the Très Riches Heures du Jean Duc de Berry, an early 15th century liturgical book from France. This sumptuously illuminated tome illustrates scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Perhaps most famously, it also contains a complete Labors of the Month cycle. Above each Labor, there’s a beautiful depiction of the stars and the corresponding signs of the Zodiac for that month, set against a bright celestial blue backdrop.
February; Source: Très Riches Heures du Jean Duc de Berry
For February, the Très Riches Heures shows the viewer a snowy countryside scene. A shivering figure braces against the cold as they stride across a yard full of snow-covered structures and objects: a grain silo, a wagon, a sheepfold, barrels, beehives, and stacks of wood. A man wields an axe at the edge of the forest, looking to add to the piles of wood at his feet, while another drives a donkey laden with firewood toward the village in the distance. There’s a dwelling on the left, shown with the front wall removed to reveal the scene within. There, three figures warm themselves by a roaring fire, hiking their garments up above the knee to counteract what must have been a deep chill in their bones.
Though this example is more complex than most, the throughline of February’s Labors is warming oneself by the fire. After January’s feasting, there’s a lull before the agricultural work begins again in spring. And the restful quietude of the fireside is our best companion. Fire is the answer to February. Warmth and light are what we need when we’ve settled into our deepest winter selves. February’s Keap themes — sharing love, gratitude, and self-love — urge us to embrace things as they are, to be thankful for what we have, and to nurture ourselves and those around us. What I take from that is, instead of wishing for the earth’s natural warmth to come again, we can create our own. We can find a special kind of peace in the almost incongruous combination of stillness and unbridled energy that fire offers.
Now this is 2022, and many of us will be without a fireplace or woodstove or backyard fire pit. In its stead, may I suggest lighting your Keap candle and mixing up an Ignis? This warming cocktail was designed to be a fireplace in a cup and to compliment the earthiness of this month’s Wild Figs scent. In this hot toddy variation, smoky Mezcal comes together with bittersweet amaro, woodsy kukicha tea, and walnut orgeat, garnished with lime and fresh nutmeg. Just the thing, I think, to keep you company on these long, chilly nights.
- 1½ oz. Mezcal
- 1 oz. amaro*
- 1½ teaspoon walnut orgeat* (or agave nectar)
- 6 oz. hot kukicha tea
- Lime coin, for garnish
- Nutmeg (whole), for garnish
- *See notes below on amaro and making orgeat.
Everything should be hot before combining!
Boil water. Heat the mug you’re going to make your toddy in. Separately, brew a strong cup of kukicha tea – about 6 oz. hot water per tea bag. Set a timer for 6 minutes. If you’re using a pitcher or mug to brew instead of a teapot, place a saucer on top to keep the brewing tea hot. In yet another vessel (such as a double rocks glass), pour a few ounces of hot water. Now combine the Mezcal and amaro in a metal cup, such as a small shaker tin. Carefully place the tin into the rocks glass of hot water. (You’ve just created a kind of double boiler!) When your tea timer is up, remove the tea bag (or strain out loose leaf tea) and stir the orgeat (or agave) into the hot tea. Toss out the warming water from your tea cup/mug. Pour in the heated spirits, then the sweetened tea. To make a lime coin, place a lime on a cutting board and, gripping firmly with your non-dominant hand, slice a silver dollar-sized piece of peel off the side, taking just a bit of the fruit’s flesh. Place the coin, skin-side up, in the drink and grate fresh nutmeg atop.
We'll be revisiting the bottles from this month in future months, so set up a nice little bar area for yourselves—we'll be mixing up drinks all year long!
A NOTE ON AMARO
Amaro is one of the best ways of traveling overseas from the comfort of our own home or, maybe, your favorite bar. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to serve after a meal and it’s the toughest thing for me to keep in stock at my house because I love drinking it so much. This cocktail was designed using Braulio Amaro, a beautiful digestivo from the alps that features notes of conifer, white flowers, and gentian root. But there are plenty of amari that would work in this cocktail, and they can take you all over Italy via your tastebuds. Averna will take you to Sicily, Meletti to the Adriatic coast, and Ramazzotti will bring you to the piazzas of Milan. This cocktail is also great with: Sfumato Rabarbaro, Zucca, Cynar, or Varnelli’s Amaro Sibilla.
Toast 1 cup walnuts at 350°F for 5-7 minutes, shifting the pan every couple of minutes. Watch very closely after the 5 minute mark. Once toasted, transfer nuts to a nonreactive bowl. If using walnut halves (instead of pieces), crush them up with your hands, add 1 cup water, cover, and let sit for 12 hours. Strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Combine however much liquid you have from the soaking step (should be just under a cup) with an equal amount of sugar. Heat in a saucepan on medium, stirring frequently until just dissolved. Take off heat. Using a vegetable peeler, take two 3”x1” pieces of orange peel. Express the oils from the peel into the orgeat. Add 1 oz. Cognac. Once cool, refrigerate in a jar with a tight fitting lid until ready to use. Will keep 6-8 weeks.
This month’s simpler recipe
Looking for a simpler twist or a non-alcoholic option?
- To mix a Mezcal toddy, use the Ignis recipe. Keep the Mezcal at 1½ oz., up the tea to 8 oz., skip the amaro, and use ¼ oz. agave nectar (more to taste), plus ¼ oz. lime juice. Garnish with a lime coin and fresh nutmeg.
- For a non-alcoholic version, brew 8 oz. lapsang souchong tea (in place of kukicha, for the smokiness!), skip the spirituous ingredients, and use a scant ½ oz. agave plus ¼ oz. lime juice. Garnish with a lime coin and fresh nutmeg.
AL'S TODDY METHOD
The goal with toddies, and all hot drinks, is to ensure that all of the elements (including the mug) are as hot as possible when building the drink. Here’s how we like to do it:
- Boil water.
- Fill the mug you’re going to make your toddy in with boiling water and set aside.
- If you’re using tea, cider, or similar, prepare those separately. For tea, brew a teabag or loose tea in a teapot or separate mug. I use 4-6 oz. water depending on the recipe. If using a mug, make sure you cover it with a saucer to trap the heat. Set your tea timer; I favor 5-6 minutes so the flavor can stand up to the other flavors in the drink. For something like cider, you’ll want to heat it on the stove in a small saucepan.
- To heat the spirituous elements, pour a few ounces of hot water into a large rocks glass or similar. Combine your spirit, liqueur, and/or fortified wine in a conductive vessel, like a metal cup or a small cocktail shaker tin. Carefully place the tin into the rocks glass of hot water. Stir the mixture to circulate heat.
- When your tea timer is up, remove the tea bag or strain out loose leaf tea and stir whatever sweetener you’re using into the hot tea.
- Toss out the warming water from your tea cup/mug.
- Pour in the heated spirits, then the sweetened tea.
- If using a small measure of citrus juice, add it now.
- Garnish with fresh spices, citrus, or what have you.