Have your heard mulled wine referred to by the name "whiskey?"
December 1, 2010 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I was looking at an Icelandic book of recipes from 1858 that is largely based on Danish cookbooks and in it there's a recipe for "whiskey" which is made from tea, sugar, lemonjuice and white wine. This isn't terribly similar to glühwein or glögg, but not entirely dissimilar. My question is, does anyone know why this is referred to as "whiskey" in the recipe book? Has anyone heard any kind of European mulled wine referred to by that name? Or know another name for mixed wine and tea drinks? I've put the recipe inside.

The "whiskey" is made by brewing 30 grams of tea until it is a bit bitter. The tea is poured through cloth onto a kilo of sugar which has had two lemons worth of lemonjuice squirted on top of it. Then three bottles of "Rhine wine" (presumably German Riesling white wine) are thrown in there as well and the whole thing boiled and served hot.

Having read other recipes in the cookbook and various guidelines for handling and storing food, I have to say that the book is generally of quite high quality. This is the only conspicuously weird recipe I could see at first glance. I'm presuming that the recipe for "whiskey" came from a

For added weirdness, the name "whiskey" is glossed as "Irish liquor" in the cookbook, which means that the either the author of the cookbook knew what whiskey was or the writer of the original recipe.
posted by Kattullus to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a wild-assed guess:

In Japan, sake refers to rice wine. But it also is used collectively to refer to any kind of alcoholic beverage. Traditionally, rice wine was pretty much it if you wanted to get drunk; other kinds of things (like beer) are more recent, so the term sake is generic.

I wonder if, in Iceland, "whiskey" is the same way? Used specifically for "distillant of fermented grain" but also used generically for any alcoholic beverage?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:18 PM on December 1, 2010

Sorry, that should be "distillate", not "distillant".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:19 PM on December 1, 2010

Another wild-assed guess: the word "whiskey" comes from the Irish uisce beatha (which itself was just an Irish translation of aqua vitae), and was originally a term meant to encompass distilled spirits in general. I wonder if the more general meaning of the term is what had been passed on to either the Danish or the Icelandic at that point?
posted by scody at 1:25 PM on December 1, 2010

It strikes me that aside from the wine, those are pretty much the ingredients for a hot toddy, a popular winter drink in Ireland normally made with whiskey. Have you made this concoction? The concentrated tea would tint the wine and perhaps give the drink a little of the harsh edge that a real toddy would have.
posted by Diablevert at 1:28 PM on December 1, 2010

The problem here being that the recipe has fuck all to do with distilled spirits.

I'm guessing that the bitter tea and slight caramelization of the sugar, added to German wine, was the closest approximation someone in 19th century Iceland could muster to an authentic whiskey-style brown liquor. In the grand tradition of blue raspberry margaritas and apple "martinis".

(Though I don't know why they wouldn't have used something like Aquavit - I know Icelandic society has a history of culinary limitations, but it has generally been limitations in resources rather than technology...)
posted by Sara C. at 1:31 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Presumably the name of this non-whiskey beverage is "Whiskey" for the same reason that US bars today make a beverage called "Long Island Iced Tea" that doesn't have tea in it? Because somebody thought it tasted like whiskey (though I can't imagine that it actually does)?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:38 PM on December 1, 2010

I always thought Long Island Iced Tea was some kind of joke about the drinking capacities of WASPS out at their summer homes in Suffolk County. Had no idea it was actually supposed to taste like tea.
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2010

Long Island Iced Tea is, indeed, supposed to taste like iced tea without actually having tea in it. There was a fad for that kind of thing in the 70s/80s, but LIIT is the only survivor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:49 PM on December 1, 2010

Wait, I lie. The Hawaiian Punch cocktail is still available some places. It tastes exactly like the terrifyingly sweet children's juice/corn syrup drink, but it's made mostly out of liqueurs.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2010

Iceland didn't have prohibition of alcohol then, but was coming up so maybe there was a thing about replacing alcoholic drinks with something else.

Like those coffee saloons they had in the states.
posted by Not Supplied at 2:14 PM on December 1, 2010

"Rhine wine" doesn't actually stand for Riesling. In this case, it probably means dry (German) white wine, for German-made wine used to be dry historically, at least according to Wikipedia. Also, this is "whiskey" recipe is most likely a German punch recipe, which makes the name even more bizarre.

My totally random guess is that when punch first reached Iceland, it was introduced there by the British and it was first whiskey based, as whiskey was easier to transport than wine, and the name sort of stuck. Of course, I have no evidence to support this hypothesis.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:22 PM on December 1, 2010

There was no prohibition on alcohol in the 19th Century in Iceland. The toddy explanation is plausible, but I didn't think of it because of the wine. Now that I've googled it, there is a tradition of red wine toddies in Denmark. I suppose "Rhine wine" just refers to German wine, but not specifically rieslings. I'm guessing this is a red wine toddy recipe. Why it gets called "whiskey" I'll probably never know.
posted by Kattullus at 2:31 PM on December 1, 2010

Was whiskey particularly expensive in the region at the time? If so, the recipe could have been used as a fun substitute for those who could not afford the real thing. You know, like Hershey's bar?
posted by Neekee at 2:39 PM on December 1, 2010

daniel_charms: when punch first reached Iceland

There's a separate recipe for punch in the recipe book and also, now that I've checked, recipes for egg toddies, as well as a general toddy recipe that can be adapted for rum, madeira, port, red wine, mulberrywine and cognac. And there's also a champagne punch, which, though mostly champagne-based, also includes "Rhine wine" which has to be a white wine (you wouldn't put red wine in a champagne punch). So the "whiskey" recipe is clearly a white wine toddy. I found a couple of recipes for white wine toddies on Scandinavian recipe sites, though they bear little resemblance to this 19th Century white wine toddy (no tea, for starters).
posted by Kattullus at 2:40 PM on December 1, 2010

Well, an anecdote:

My Icelandic ex's grandma used to drink something called "whiskey," and it was pronounced in that inimitable accent:

"whhhee--skee." With the last syllable sucked back in, as is done. It was, in fact, this herbal-y concoction that sounds close to what you're describing.

I was really confused as to what she was talking about until my ex told me, "No, no. The old folks' 'whiskey' is different."

So, yeah. I've heard of it.
posted by functionequalsform at 5:21 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wait, I lie. The Hawaiian Punch cocktail is still available

So is the Dr. Pepper.
posted by Miko at 7:08 PM on December 1, 2010

functionequalsform: "No, no. The old folks' 'whiskey' is different."

Huh. I've never heard of it. I'll have to ask around. Good thing I'm in Iceland right now. Next time I'm over at my grandparents I'll have to quiz the family. Too bad the 85th birthday party I went to was pre-this-question.
posted by Kattullus at 7:54 PM on December 1, 2010

Like Diablevert, I think the connection must have something to do with hot toddies.

That said, I was ready to swear that this was in On Food And Cooking. I don't actually have my copy here right now, but a quick search of Google Books isn't finding it, so maybe I'm imagining things.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:31 PM on December 1, 2010

Another wild-ass guess here, but Iceland was dirt poor in the 19th C., so a "whiskey" substitute may have had more to do with lack of money to buy imported alcohol than with temperance. But actual Icelanders might know more about this than one guy like me on the internet who read two Icelandic novels once.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 11:23 PM on December 1, 2010

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