Anyone with even a passing interest in cocktail lore knows that some drinks transcend all seasons: a dry martini, a silky smooth negroni (whether it be the OG, the white, or the trendsetting sbagliato), a classic manhattan—and, of course, a hot toddy.
A hot toddy, you ask? Isn’t that just a home remedy, a spiced Yuletide tonic, an excuse to quaff whiskey even when you’re a bit under the weather?
Yes, yes, and most definitely yes.
But don’t let that fool you; the hot toddy is so much more than the sum of its parts. Its flavor, like its history, is delightfully complex. Often thought to originate in Scotland, the humble hot toddy may actually have roots in India, where a drink known in Hindi as a taddy was being quaffed long before Edinburgh was serving its patrons a wee dram of whiskey added to hot water as a bulwark against the cold.
How the taddy made its way west is no mystery. With British occupation and inevitable appropriation, the drink underwent several variations before evolving into the hot, spiced, whiskey-laced version(s) we know and love today. Whatever its origins, there’s no doubt that the hot toddy has staying power—and, like many of the cocktail universe’s most tried-and-true staples, has evolved over time to include nearly endless variations on the OG recipe.
More than medicinal, the hot toddy of today is inherently adaptable and customizable. But, no matter the version, the flavor should be based in aromatics—whether it be soothing spices; homemade (or store-bought) syrups; a hint of citrus; or even (gasp!) your fave tea. And, of course, be sure to serve it piping hot (there’s nothing worse than a lukewarm toddy, trust me).
Let’s Get Spirit-ual. In my humble opinion, a hot toddy is not really a hot toddy without the brown—whiskey, rye, bourbon, or scotch, that is. However, some toddy variations have been known to mix it up by substituting spirits such as brandy, rum (and even tequila!) Whatever you use, be sure it’s not too precious—after all, you are mixing it with water (or tea). Here, I harken back to the toddy’s humble roots by using whiskey.
Stop and Smell the Spices. As mentioned above, aromatics are the cornerstone of all hot toddies. Ginger is key; but cinnamon, nutmeg, and even allspice can have a supporting role. Making your own ginger syrup is a snap: think simple syrup, but with fresh ginger in the mix—and the best part is, you’ll have enough to add to other faves like Moscow Mules and Whiskey Sours, too.
Many modern toddy recipes call for allspice dram, a spiced liqueur often found in holiday drinks. If you’re feeling spicy (pun definitely intended), you can make it yourself, though it’s pretty easy to find either in your fave spirit store or online.
Serve with an optional cinnamon stick and a dash of fresh nutmeg for an extra spicy touch!
Sweet and Sour. This is where it gets dicey. Everyone who’s anyone will tell you that a hot toddy needs some citrus—but what kind (and how much), is entirely up to you. I find that a very generous squeeze of lemon juice generally does the trick; especially if I’m feeling a bit under the weather. Additionally, feel free to garnish with additional lemon (peel or slice), or an orange peel (fancy!)
The OG toddy is described as using sugar as a key ingredient—and yes, a hot toddy does need some kind of sweetener. But don’t fret, it doesn’t have to be sugar; honey definitely works and is preferable to sugar, especially when your throat is scratchy from brutal seasonal allergies or a nasty spring cold. And the best part is, you don’t even have to add additional sweetener if you’re using infused simple syrup or allspice dram—remember, the beauty of the toddy is that you can have it your way.
Hot Tea. I met the indomitable hot toddy when one of my bar patrons suggested I add some whiskey to my tea when I was feeling under the weather; and until I began my deep dive into the HT universe, I, like the Mandalorians, thought, this is the way. However, while nearly all OG hot toddy recipes do suggest ‘spices,’ they traditionally call for hot water as a base, rather than tea. So…what’s an aspiring hot toddy aficionado to do? Again: the choice is yours. Just be sure that you steep the tea before adding the other ingredients; be sure to choose your tea accordingly (a basic black tea like English Breakfast or Earl Grey works well); and, again, make sure it’s hot.
This hot toddy variation serves one, but if you have a classy kettle and some mugs, feel free to keep that water piping hot (tea cozy, anyone?) and have your own toddy to-do.
- 1 1/2 to 2 oz. whiskey
- 1-2 tsp. honey or sweetener of choice (or substitute allspice dram, ginger syrup, etc)
- Lemon juice, to taste
- Boiling water (or steeped tea of choice)
- Cinnamon stick or grated nutmeg, optional
- Lemon or orange peel (garnish)
- Add the whiskey, sweetener, and lemon juice to your fave mug. If using honey, be sure to pour in a bit of hot water to dissolve fully.
Pro Tip: Pre-warm your mug before adding ingredients by filling with hot water, then discarding.
- Fill your mug with boiling water and give it a good stir, either with a spoon or with a cinnamon stick, if you’re feelin’ fancy
- Garnish with lemon (peel or slice), orange peel, or grated nutmeg
- Sit back and be warmed from the inside out with the complex deliciousness of the humble hot toddy
Hot Toddy history and origin story via britishfoodhistory.com
Hot Toddy recipe inspired by liquor.com and the bar patron who introduced me to hot toddies so long ago.
Lisa is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and (very) amateur photographer. In her spare time she likes to read, write, bake, cook, cook, watch U.K dramas/police procedurals and panel shows, and have her heart broken by the Philadelphia Phillies (during baseball season, of course). Though she generally avoids social media, you can sometimes find her on Twitter and Instagram @dolphy_jane.