What Makes Black Walnut's Hot Toddy So Restorative - 405 Magazine

What Makes Black Walnut’s Hot Toddy So Restorative

The restaurant's general manager has concocted a top-tier take of the allegedly medicinal cocktail.

Photo by Greg Horton

The restaurant’s general manager has concocted a top-tier take of the allegedly medicinal cocktail.

When a Broadway performer walked into Black Walnut after a performance of The Lion King in 2022 and asked for a hot toddy, general manager Taven Cunningham was ready with his version of the allegedly medicinal cocktail.

“We’d had a few bad months with staff, including Chef Black, being sick, so I’d been making toddies for them,” Cunningham said. “Thanks to that, I had developed a version that we all loved. She ended up having three that night and then brought friends the next night.”

She also provided inspiration for the name of the drink: Nala’s Voice, as she was the voice of Nala in the production. The beverage is a classic toddy build with the exception of Johnnie Walker Black Label, a blended Scotch whisky, which is not the typical spirit associated with the drink.

“Chef Black loves Johnnie Walker, so I wanted to use one of his favorites,” Cunningham said. “And after we burned off the vapors in the coffee siphon, the scotch added a very pleasant smokiness to the back end.”

Rather than just pour whisky in at the last minute, Cunningham steeps all the ingredients — whisky, tea, fresh mint, lemon expression and raw honey — in the siphon, a device that relies on a vacuum and gravity process to brew or steep grounds-free, aroma-rich coffee and tea. For Nala’s Voice, he uses loose-leaf tea, either black or green depending on the weather or customer’s preference.

“I grew up with parents who didn’t go straight for the medicine when I was sick,” Cunningham said. “They were proponents of a hot toddy, so they’ve been part of my life since childhood, and there is something comforting about grabbing a cozy seat in the lounge and sipping on a hot toddy.”

Nala’s Voice is only available in the Black Walnut lounge, not the restaurant proper. That means you’ll need to request lounge seating to try it, but the full food menu is available in the lounge, so you won’t miss out on the fantastic new menus.

“Like everything else we do at Black Walnut and Grey Sweater, Nala’s Voice is made with fresh ingredients and prepared with the method we believe creates the best version of the food or beverage,” Cunningham said.

The wonder of this particular toddy is that the scotch never overpowers the drink, a balancing act that is exceedingly difficult to pull off. The whisky flavors come through — and the smokiness Cunningham mentions — but it’s not boozy, thanks to the tannic structure of the tea and the ability of honey, mint and lemon to blunt the scotchiness. Give yourself a dose of healing, or simply savor the restorative flavor, at Black Walnut at 100 NE Fourth St. in Deep Deuce.

Photo by Greg Horton