I lived in the great frozen tundra of Milwaukee for seven years. I did, rather painfully, eventually acclimate to the winters, but it was slow process. The first year I was sure I was going to die. The second year I just wanted to. By the third year, I grumbled more than the natives, but could, on occasion, set foot out of the house between October and May without long johns.
Compared to the buckle of the Bible belt that is West Virginia, folks in Milwaukee drink a lot. I think by anybody’s standards, they drink a lot. The cold has something to do with it. Nevertheless, beer is a perennial favorite. No kidding, I went to a church social one time and they served beer.
Milwaukeeans drink beer year-round, but in winter, usually at the holidays, the hot drinks start appearing. Another Milwaukee passion, schnapps is poured into hot chocolate when not drunk straight. Schnapps in one guise or another will appear all year, but Christmas and New Year’s is the time for Tom & Jerrys, hot buttered rum, eggnog and assorted warmer-uppers with a buzz.
I’m not a fan of eggnog, but a nice Tom & Jerry on a cold winter night is sublime. Below is one recipe – for whatever reason, the drink isn’t popular around here and I don’t know why. It’s so ubiquitous up north that you can buy the “batter” in just about any store.6 eggs 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg
Directions: Separate eggs, beat whites until stiff, add sugar. Beat yolks until foamy. Fold together and add spices. Refrigerate until serving. To serve: fill mug with hot water. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of mix per mug and 1 oz. liquor (brandy or rum).
Now folks in Milwaukee are also the biggest consumers of brandy in the nation, so anytime I had a T&J it was always made with brandy and not rum. The “not rum” part was important. I once got raging drunk on rum & cokes while eating popcorn and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t drink or eat either for years.
In order to keep up with all that drinking, there’re a lot of bars in Milwaukee. In quiet, otherwise staid neighborhoods, there’s often a house on a corner where the owners have turned their living room into a bar. These little places were scattered all over the city and put the hop in bar hopping.
One time, on a bitterly cold night, my date and I popped into one to try and get the feeling back into our feet. I had a bad head cold and the barkeep, entranced with my southern accent, was determined to doctor me. He insisted I needed a hot buttered rum. I protested I didn’t drink rum. He insisted. I demurred. He sat one in front of me. I was new enough to the town that I hadn’t yet learned how to impose my will on strong-willed Germans. I couldn’t stand rum and the idea of putting butter in hot rum really turned my stomach. I decided to take a sip to be polite.
Hot damn, that was good stuff. It didn’t just involve rum and butter, but included spiced cider. Knowing my history with rum, I stopped at one and, later, convinced myself the head cold disguised the taste and under normal circumstances rum was not going to go down my throat without bringing up the contents of my stomach.
Years passed. Twenty-five or so of them. My boycott of rum continued.
A few years ago, I arrived in Massachusetts with a bad head cold. Between sniffles, coughs, achoos, chills and general unpleasantness, I told HMOKeefe the rum story. The next thing I knew there was a hot buttered rum in a large mug in my hands. I had several. – muchly much better than Nyquil and I slept all night.
We branched out to mulled cider, which near as I can figure is a more heavily spiced version of hot buttered rum minus the butter.
I’m a fan of mulled cider both with and without rum. The other night the first really cold snap of the year arrived and I pined for mulled cider. I couldn’t find fresh cider, but I did find an old bottle of cider in the pantry. I had a very fine rum on hand (Appleton Estates) and some old, half-stale mulling spices. I decided bad mulled cider was better than none.
I made way too much of the spiced cider and ended up freezing the leftovers in ice cube trays. This was genius! I can now have spiked spiced cider anytime I want. With the cold and rain of the past few days, I have enjoyed my less than stellar cider although freezing did much to improve it.
I’m getting used to having a hot toddy in the evening. This weekend I may play around with hot chocolate and brandy (Schnapps is just hideous.) But right now, Babette and I have a date to curl up on the sofa and enjoy some quality time together. She’s one happy puppy these days and is no longer shy about demanding attention.