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Umami hot whiskey toddy: Shiitake mushroom, saffron infusion

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  • umami hot whiskey toddy with steam drifting to right
  • end pouring hot water for uamami hot whiskey toddy
  • umami hot whiskey toddy with shiitake mushrooms and steam
  • end pouring shiitake saffron infusion for umami hot whiskey toddy
umami hot whiskey toddy with  steam drifting right

Umami hot whiskey toddy features a winter infusion of shiitake mushrooms and saffron in Scotch whiskey for a warming cocktail. Shiitake mushrooms lend an earthy chocolate flavour to this infusion while the saffron adds a honey note. The umami hot whiskey toddy is made with rich demerara sugar, hot water and the shiitake and saffron infused Scotch whiskey, the whiskey infused mushrooms are added back into the toddy for additional flavour. The garnish for the umami hot whiskey toddy is a dried shiitake mushroom which lends a savoury aroma and a visually beautiful textured mushroom form, being a slice through the centre including the cap and the stem, with a rich golden colour. The shiitake mushrooms used in the umami hot whiskey toddy are easily grown at home and can be preserved by dehydrating which intensifies their unique umami flavour. Umami hot whiskey toddy uses a Scotch whiskey base characterised by fruit, floral, oak and vanilla paired with the intensifying umami and unique spiciness of shiitake mushrooms married together by smooth honey and golden colour of saffron to create a unique winter mushroom cocktail.

What is umami flavour? ‘Savouriness’

Umami is a savoury taste, or flavour, or ‘savouriness’ (Segnit 2010: 17; Patterson & Aftel 2018: 1632, 1810-1811; Stephenson 2016: 69-70), such as can be found in mushrooms, seaweed, tomatoes, shellfish, garden pea, broccoli, parmesan cheese, aged cheese and, ferments such as sourdough and miso. Umami can also be achieved through cooking processes such as roasting (Patterson & Aftel 2018: 1814). Niki Segnit (2010: 17) in The Flavour Thesaurus elaborates that umami and other ‘tastes‘ perceived on the tongue and in the mouth can also be thought of more broadly as ‘flavours‘ that are perceived through other senses including smell and the sensory qualities of ingredients such as ‘heat from chilli’ or ‘cooling…of menthol’. Daniel Patterson and Mandy Aftel (2018: 254-257; 1625-1626) in their amazing book The Art of Flavour add that taste buds for fat and for heat have now also been identified – thus meaning there are seven aspects of taste that can be adjusted to ‘fine-tune’ our experience of ‘flavour’ as the ‘combination of odour and taste information’: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, fat and heat. Umami, for Patterson and Aftel (Patterson & Aftel 2018: 1811-1812), in The Art of Flavour, is perhaps more like a ‘quality’ than a ‘flavour’, they write:

‘…umami is not a flavour per se but…a quality…an intensity of flavour, an amplification or a concentration…Add ingredients high in umami to create a dish with depth and power.’

Further, umami can be increased through the addition of salt and diminished through increasing acidity (Patterson & Aftel 2018: 1815, 1819).

Shiitake mushrooms as umami-savouriness: Flavour enhancer, sulphurous, spicy

Niki Segnit (2010: 204) in The Flavour Thesaurus describes how shiitake mushrooms are named after a ‘shii‘ or chestnut tree and ‘take‘ or mushroom. Segnit (2010: 206-7) details how shiitake mushrooms have ‘flavour-enhancing properties’ as they contain ‘a compound called lenthionine’ which is ‘maximised by drying and rehydration’ and is similar to the ‘sulphides’ found in garlic and onion. Daniel Patterson and Mandy Aftel (2018: 1817-1819) in The Art of Flavour refer to this flavour intensifying property of umami as ‘turning up the volume’ of ‘flavour’. Niki Segnit (2010: 321) elaborates that shiitake mushrooms also contain a ‘flavour compound’ called ‘bis(methylthio)-methane which has a sulphurous, garlicky, spicy, mushroom quality’ which they share with shellfish, some cheeses such as Camembert and white truffle.

Umami savouriness in cocktails

Tristan Stephenson in The Curious Bartender (Stephenson 2016: 70) writes that savoury umami qualities are not often used in cocktails where sweet and sour are predominant flavours as ‘one of the main functions of a cocktail is to whet the appetite, not suppress it’. Umami or savouriness is used in cocktails such as the Bloody Mary, a version of the Punch formula with tomato juice (an umami rich ingredient) and spice in the form of celery salt. Umami or savouriness can be used to add depth and complexity to cocktails through umami infusions and concentrated umami stock. Shiitake mushroom infused Scotch whiskey is paired with Pedro Ximenez sherry, chocolate infused maple syrup, walnut bitters, garnished with cherries in Experimental Cocktail Club cocktail, Take is Going back to Japan (Nichols 2015) (take means mushroom in Japanese). Tristan Stephenson in The Curious Bartender Volume II (Stephenson 2018: 85-87) uses savoury umami flavours in his Umami Bomb cocktail where an umami stock featuring dried mushrooms, kombu, miso, and mirin is paired with Rye-based Vodka and Amontillado Sherry.

For my own exploration of umami I decided to use homegrown shiitake mushrooms as this is what I had to hand – I decided to preserve these by dehydrating which has the added benefit of intensifying the umami flavour of the mushrooms. I wanted to create a hot cocktail as for me shiitake mushroom flavour is delicious in a hot mushroom broth or tea with miso – so I started researching vintage Hot Toddy recipes to see where umami or savouriness could work in such a recipe.

What is a Hot Toddy?

Toddies, and Slings, were a closely related and old fashioned family of drinks circa 1750’s, which predated the cocktail and called for sugar, water, spirit, sometimes garnished with freshly grated nutmeg – which could be served hot or cold (Wondrich 2015: 171). David Wondrich (2015: 170-171) in Imbibe very helpfully explains that although the Toddy and the Sling used similar recipes and each could be served hot or cold – the general rule of thumb was a ‘Hot Toddy’ and a ‘Cold Sling’, he elaborates:

“Toddy was perceived as a hot drink that you could also make cold, and Sling as a cold one that you could also make hot.”

In what follows I offer a close reading of the Toddy and Sling recipes in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 Bar-tender’s Guide and the later 1887 edition of the Bar-tender’s Guide with help from David Wondrich (2015) in Imbibe. In developing my own interpretation of the toddy formula I rely on the measurements from the 1862 version of the Cold Whiskey Toddy and the helpful notes on how to pre-warm the glass and dissolve sugar with hot water before adding spirits from the 1887 edition where a recipe for a Hot Whiskey Toddy is offered as a note accompanying the Cold Whiskey Toddy recipe.

1862 Cold Whiskey Toddy with sugar & ice, Hot Whiskey Sling with nutmeg

Jerry Thomas (1862: 174-177) in his 1862 Bar-tender’s Guide includes recipes for a Cold ‘Whiskey Toddy’ and a ‘Hot Whiskey Sling’ calling for water and whiskey – the Toddy uses cold water and ice and includes sugar, while the Sling uses boiling water, omits sugar and adds grated nutmeg.

1887 Hot Whiskey Toddy with sugar

In the 1887 (Thomas 1887: 919-924) version of the Bar-tender’s Guide a recipe for a ‘Cold Whiskey Toddy’ includes instructions on how to make a ‘Hot Whiskey Toddy’:

“To make a HOT WHISKEY TODDY, dissolve the sugar in boiling water, omit the ice, and pour boiling water into the glass until it is two-thirds full.”

Ingredients & measurements for Whiskey Toddy & Sling

The measurements for Toddy and Sling recipes are provided in the 1862 edition of the Bar-tender’s Guide, note that in the later 1887 edition of the Bar-tender’s Guide the measurements are less clear with the water simply being added until the glass  is “two-thirds full”.  David Wondrich (2015: 175-6) in Imbibe comments that that ratio of spirit to water should best be 1:1.5 or 1:2. Ingredients called for in the Cold & Hot Whiskey Toddy and Hot Whiskey Sling:

  • Sugar (1 teaspoonful) – (Cold Toddy 1862, Hot Toddy 1887, omitted from Sling 1862)
  • Water (1/2 wineglass) – (Cold for Toddy, Hot for Sling 1862, Hot or Cold for Toddy 1887)
  • Whiskey (1 wineglass)
  • Ice (For Cold Toddy 1862, 1887)
  • Garnish: Nutmeg (For Hot Sling 1862)
  • Glassware: small bar-glass

How to make a Hot Whiskey Toddy? Build in the glass & ‘stir with a spoon’

The Hot Whiskey Toddy is built in the glass – the small bar-glass being pre-warmed with hot water, the sugar is added first, then the hot water, stirring to dissolve, then the spirit is added. In the 1887 edition of the Bar-tender’s Guide (Thomas 1887: 923) instructions for making a Cold Whiskey Toddy the sugar and water are mixed and then the whiskey and ice added, finally the instruction is to ‘stir with a spoon’. The 1862 version of the Bar-tender’s Guide (Thomas 1862: 174) also indicates the method as ‘Stir with a spoon’ but omits the detail on the order in which the ingredients should be added.

In a helpful note elsewhere in the 1887 edition of the Bar-tender’s Guide (Thomas 1887: 1228-1233; also see 919-924 on the Hot Whiskey Toddy) referring to Hot Scotch Whiskey Punch, tips are provided on how best to dissolve sugar and prepare the ‘small bar-glass’ for making a Hot Whiskey Toddy:

“Sugar does not readily dissolve in spirits; it is necessary, therefore, for making hot toddy or punch to put in the water before the spirits, or at least sufficient of the water to dissolve the sugar, taking care to warm the glass before pouring boiling water into it.”

The Hot Whiskey Punch and Hot Whiskey Toddy recipes both call for sugar, hot water, and whiskey, but the Hot Whiskey Punch has more water (2 wineglasses rather than ½ a wineglass) and includes a lemon twist or lemon slice garnish.

How is the umami hot whiskey toddy different?

The umami hot whiskey toddy offers a seasonal winter mushroom twist on a vintage Hot Whiskey Toddy pairing a shiitake and saffron infused Scotch whiskey with rich demerara sugar and hot water, garnished with whiskey infused shiitake and a golden coloured slice of dried shiitake.

Demerara Sugar

I used demerara sugar to add richness and complexity with molasses notes.

Boiling filtered water

I used boiled filtered water poured from a vintage silver tea pot. Following the advice in the 1887 version of the Bar-tender’s Guide (Thomas 1887: 1228-1233) I first warmed the glass before adding the sugar and hot water to dissolve it with, stirring with a long handled bar spoon. I used a reinforced coffee glass with two layers of glass and air in between so that the outer layer remains cool to the touch although the contents are hot. Visually the coffee glass has an interesting elegant smooth tapered shape with no need for a handle.

Umami: Shiitake saffron Whiskey infusion – shiitake as flavour enhancer, spice

Aroma and visual presentation along with flavours are key in creating cocktails that provide an extraordinary sensory experience – this shiitake and saffron infused whiskey offers all three – with intense aroma, colour and flavour.

1) Single Malt Scotch Whiskey

Kininvie 23 years Single Malt Scotch Whiskey was used as a base for the infusion which has sweeter and lighter fruit, oak, floral and vanilla notes, rather than a stronger peaty or smoky flavour profile. Kininvie is what I had in my home bar and I felt it had the advantage of allowing the shiitake mushrooms to take centre stage.

2) Dried shiitake mushrooms

Dehydrated shiitake mushrooms have a strong savoury umami smell, their flavour when rehydrated through cooking or infusion with alcohol brings a richness reminiscent of dark raw chocolate, a luxurious savoury earthiness.

3) Saffron

Saffron imparts a honey like flavour complementing the richness of the mushrooms and the whiskey to create a link between the savoury shiitake mushrooms and the fruity floral vanilla smoothness of whiskey. Saffron pairs well with both sweet and savoury ingredients – connecting with the fruit, floral and sweet vanilla of the Scotch and the savoury earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms. The saffron lends a deep golden colour to the whiskey which is matched by the golden hue of the shiitakes after they have been dried.

Method – small batch slow process cold infusion

To make the shiitake and saffron whiskey infusion I used a clean preserving jar to which I added a small amount of whiskey (enough for one cocktail – 2 shots), a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms and a pinch of saffron threads. I left this overnight for about 8-12 hours and then strained the liquid and retained the whiskey infused mushrooms which I added back into the hot umami whiskey toddy for additional flavour. If you wish to make more cocktails simply increase the batch size as required. If you increase the infusion time (up to 12 hours) the golden colour and flavour will be stronger than with the shorter time.

Infusions are a great way to create unique flavour pairings such as quince with rose and ginger or with earthy spices for use in a quince Alexander or bespoke rhubarb bitters with cacao and wattleseed for use in a rhubarb pickle Corpse Reviver No. 2.

How to grow your own shiitake mushrooms

I grew these shiitake mushrooms myself during the lock down and they were easy and fun to grow – they produce more than one flush or batch of mushrooms and so offer an ongoing sustainable source of food. Mushrooms have the advantage of growing in small spaces with relatively low light – so are fantastic for urban situations where you want to increase your food sustainability.

The mushroom block simply needs to be soaked in water and then set on a table or stand within a clean container with the block itself and sides of the container being misted with filtered water to create humidity. Once the mushrooms emerge it is important not to mist the block and the mushrooms but only the sides of the container – otherwise the block and the mushrooms can become too wet.

Once the mushrooms have grown, they can be harvested all at once and either used fresh in cooking or preserved by dehydrating. The block then needs to rest for 6 weeks and dry out before being re-hydrated to encourage another fruiting. When soaking your rested blocks a good tip is to weight them with a bowl or pot of water as they will otherwise float and not absorb the water.

fresh shiitake mushrooms for umami hot whiskey toddy

How to dry shiitake mushrooms

Dehydrating shiitake mushrooms is a great way to preserve them as this process intensifies the umami or savouriness of the mushrooms. I used as air dehydrator to dehydrate my shiitake mushrooms which are simply sliced thinly and then placed on the trays of the dehydrator without touching and the machine turned on medium heat for 4 ½ hours, rotating the trays once during this time. Once completely dried out and cooled store in a clean glass jar and use in soups and other dishes or to make infusions or garnishes.

dried shiitake mushrooms for umami hot whiskey toddy

How to make an umami hot whiskey toddy – Build in the glass & stir

The method for making this umami hot whiskey toddy is that described in the 1887 edition of the Bar-tender’s Guide where the drink is built in the glass and stirred. First the glass is first pre-warmed with warm water and then the sugar is added, followed by the boiling water, which is then stirred to dissolve the sugar. The whiskey infusion is then added. The umami hot whiskey toddy is garnished with a slice of dehydrated shiitake mushroom and the whiskey infused shiitake mushrooms are added back into the hot toddy for additional flavour. The umami hot whiskey toddy is served with a fork or chop sticks with which to eat the whiskey infused shiitake mushrooms. The umami hot whiskey toddy blurs the boundaries between drink and food with the inclusion of the whiskey infused mushrooms offering a nourishing shiitake mushroom tea, along with the earthy chocolate and smooth honey of the shiitake and saffron whiskey infusion. It is a perfect after dinner drink to be served in place of a dessert course.

Dried shiitake mushrooms as a garnish

The garnish for the umami hot whiskey toddy is a slice of dried shiitake mushroom. The dried shiitake perfectly captures the form of the mushroom with the stem and cap intact with their amazing texture and golden colour of the dried mushroom complements the golden saffron colour of the infusion. The dried shiitake have a rich savoury umami aroma that sits well with the steamy whiskey shiitake and saffron infusion of the umami hot whiskey toddy for a delicious and comforting hot winter cocktail.

umami hot whiskey toddy from above

Umami hot whiskey toddy: Shiitake mushroom, saffron infusion

Print Recipe
Serves: 1 small batch dried shiitake mushrooms, 1 small batch shiitake & saffron whiskey infusion, 1 umami whiskey hot toddy Cooking Time: Dried shiitake mushrooms: 10 minutes preparation, 2 ½ hours drying, Shiitake & saffron whiskey infusion: 8-12 hours; Umami whiskey hot toddy: 5 minutes


  • Dried shiitake mushrooms: 1 flush of homegrown shiitake mushrooms, approximately 500grams
  • Shiitake & saffron whiskey infusion: 2 shots whiskey, Kininvie 23 years used here
  • 1 handful sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • Umami whiskey hot toddy: 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
  • 1 ½ shots boiling water
  • 2 shots shiitake and saffron infused whiskey, I used a small vintage glass jug to add the whiskey infusion
  • Glassware: reinforced heat resistant coffee glass, I used a vintage silver tea pot for pouring the boiling water
  • Garnish: sliced dried shiitake mushroom, held in place with small wooden peg, whiskey infused shiitake mushrooms, serve with a fork or chopsticks



Dried shiitake mushrooms: Brush off any dirt or compost particles and wash shiitake mushrooms


Slice thinly


Place on trays of dehydrator so that the mushrooms are not touching


Dry as per model instructions – mine was 4 ½ hours on medium heat, rotating trays once


Check that the mushrooms are completely dry and cool


Store in a clean glass jar


Shiitake & saffron whiskey infusion: Add the whiskey, dried shiitake mushrooms and saffron threads to a clean mason jar and seal


Allow to infuse overnight – for about 8-12 hours


Strain, retain the whiskey infused mushrooms to add to the umami whiskey hot toddy


Umami whiskey hot toddy: Pre-heat coffee glass by filling with warm water and then pouring out once the glass is warmed


Add the sugar to the bottom of the glass


Pour on boiling water until the glass is about two thirds full


Stir the sugar to dissolve with a long handled bar spoon


Once dissolved add the shiitake and saffron infused whiskey


Add the whiskey infused shiitakes into the umami whiskey hot toddy


Garnish with a slice of dried shiitake mushroom held by a small wooden peg


Serve with a fork or chopsticks for eating the whiskey infused shiitake mushrooms


Umami cocktails online

Brian Nichols (2015). Four new ways to make fancy drinks at home. In T Magazine, New York Times.

Umami & flavour

Daniel Patterson & Mandy Aftel (2018). The art of flavour. Robinson: London.

Niki Segnit (2010). The Flavour Thesaurus. Bloomsbury: London.

Cocktail manuals

Tristan Stephenson (2016). The Curious Bartender: The artistry and alchemy of creating the perfect cocktail. Ryland, Peters & Small: London & New York.

Tristan Stephenson (2018). The Curious Bartender Volume II: The new testament of cocktails. Ryland, Peters & Small: London & New York.

Jerry Thomas (1862, 2018 reprint). The Bar-tender’s Guide: Bon-vivant’s companion. Dick & Fitzgerald: New York, reprint by Thomas Majhen.

Jerry Thomas (1887, 2016 reprint). Jerry Thomas’ Bar-tender’s Guide: How to mix all kinds of plain and fancy drinks. Dick & Fitzgerald: New York, reprint by Dover Publications: New York.

David Wondrich (2015). Imbibe. Perigree: New York.

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