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January 14, 2007
Shaken and Stirred

Saving the Toddy

By JONATHAN MILES

BY proposing to add polar bears to the list of “threatened” species last month, the Bush administration seemed to finally acknowledge that global warming is taking a toll. With rising sea temperatures shrinking the polar ice cap, “the polar bears’ habitat,” said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, “may literally be melting.”

Closer to home and heart, I’d been worrying about another sort of species that — at least this season — seems terribly vulnerable to climate change: the hot toddy.

Like polar bears, these cold-weather cocktails depend upon frigid temperatures to survive. And frigid temperatures have been a conspicuous no-show in New York this winter.

No one longs to warm their hands on a near-scalding mug or experience that beautifully restorative surge of heat and alcohol that arrives with the first sip of a toddy when it’s 65 degrees and above outside. That’s margarita weather.

At Hearth, a restaurant on the corner of East 12th Street and First Avenue where the name alone evokes images of warming, salutary comfort, sales of hot drinks — like Hearth’s superlative hot buttered rum — are down 50 to 60 percent, said Paul Grieco, the general manager.

If the doomsayers are correct, in suggesting that this balmy season may be a glimpse of the future, then what’s to become of the toddies? As with wildlife species, the key to survival may be adaptability. Which is why Hearth’s Kathy Madison, a simple and soul-satisfying combination of bourbon and ginger-infused apple cider, might just endure.

“You know, it’s just as good cold,” Hearth’s bartender, Stephanie Schneider, told me recently, as I was pretending to be cold in order to fully appreciate a steaming Kathy Madison. (The drink’s namesake, Ms. Schneider said, was a legendary apple peeler whose record peel measured 172 feet 4 inches.) To prove it, she mixed a second Kathy Madison, this one poured over ice rather than heated in a mug.

Instead of tasting like winter, it tasted like fall, the ginger adding a whisper of spice to the familiar cider flavor, and the bourbon an oak-tinged warmth. This was eminently appropriate, since the temperature outside was a tart but not crisp 55 degrees.

“Arctic polar bears are becoming canaries in the mine, warning of the consequences of global warming,” read an editorial in The Boston Globe two weeks ago. Well, here’s my own dead canary: So far this winter, my favorite hot drink was cold.