A cold-weather staple that has survived through the centuries partly thanks to its ability to continue masquerading as medicine well into the age of science, the Hot Toddy is a delicious cocktail with a long history. It’s also a simple hot drink perfect for cold wintry nights, and an ideal cocktail for holiday gatherings because of how easy it is to make in large batches.
The word Toddy comes from Indian palm wine, or ‘Taddy,’ and the name made its way to England where it took on a new meaning as a sweetened cocktail. The origin of the drink is not entirely clear, but the Toddy first appeared in print in England in the mid-1700’s as a drink that could be served hot or cold. On the same cocktail family tree as a Punch, but simpler, the original version became popular in the Anglo and Colonial American world.
The basic recipe for a hot toddy is the definition of cocktail simplicity: spirits, sugar, and water. We tend to use steaming hot water, but if you add those three ingredients together at any temperature and you’ve made a Toddy. It’s common to have spiced and citrus components, too, with cinnamon and lemon being popular choices. In most bars in America, if you order a Hot Toddy, other than an odd look, you will get whiskey, hot water, honey or sugar, and a thin slice of lemon. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get grated nutmeg or cinnamon.
But more and more, mixologists have taken to riffing on the Hot Toddy during the colder months of the year, and they have elevated the drink into something much more interesting –– changing up the base spirits from whiskey to Cognac, rum, or even vodka, adding new flavors to the sweet element, and playing around with different citrus types and different spices and aromatics — like blood orange, ginger, and star anise— to push the Toddy into totally new territory.
If you understand a few basic guidelines about base spirit, citrus, heat, dilution, and sugar, you can easily create your own Toddy perfection based on your own favorite flavors.
7 Expert Tips For Making A Next-Level Hot Toddy
1. Use Flavorful Whiskies
Since there is hot water in a toddy, the drink is diluted more than a cocktail that is shaken, stirred, or served on the rocks. As such it’s important to make sure whatever spirit you use is flavorful enough and strong enough in alcohol content to stand up to the dilution of hot water. If a whiskey lacks a strong personality on its own, its flavor will be lost in a Toddy.
“The sweet vanilla notes of bourbon can be sublime, making it a common cold-weather cure, but if smoke and brine are your style, go with a maritime Scotch” says Jason Hedges, Beverage Director at Laurent Tourondel Hospitality and author of The Seasonal Cocktail.
For smoke and brine, look to the whiskies that come from the Scottish Isles, like the intensely smoky Ardbeg 10, or the maritime and lightly-peated Talisker 10. As for strength, bartender Miguel Buencamino of Holy City Handcraft recommends that it be at least 100 proof. Buencamino prefers “good ole American bonded bourbon” for his Toddies, saying, “I’ve been really partial to Jack Daniels’ Bonded lately, but Old Grand-Dad Bonded is solid, too.”
2. Experiment With Other Base Spirits
The hot toddy is a cocktail that begs for experimentation, as many spirits work within its simple framework. Some work better than others.
“I’m partial to the combination of blended Scotch and Jamaican rum in a standard Hot Toddy,” says Javelle Taft, bartender at Death & Co, Denver. “The Jamaican rum adds complexity of winter spices to the smoky Scotch. Japanese Whisky can also be subbed in for Scotch if you’re looking for a lighter body.”
Some good Jamaican rums to try in a toddy are the affordable and high-proof Worthy Park 109, and the funky and flavorful Hampden Estate 8-Year. While Japanese whisky can be quite expensive, Suntory Toki and Nikka Days are affordable options for Toddy experimentation.
“I personally enjoy a Cognac-based Hot Toddy,” says Hedges. “You can try using rum, brandy, or even agave spirts, and each spirit will bring its unique flavor profile to the drink adding a fun twist to the classic.”
3. Know How Citrus And Sugar Handle Heat
Similar to the way that dilution affects the choice of base spirit in a Toddy, the heat of the drink affects the intensity of citrus and sweetness. “Citrus is much more pronounced in very hot drinks, and sweetness is perceived a lot less,” says Jake Powell, Bar Manager at Death & Co. “So, you have to add a little more sweetener than you would in a regular cocktail, and if you include citrus, it should be less than a quarter ounce.”
4. Try Different Sugar Components
Like choosing a flavorful spirit, a flavorful sweetener will also make for a better Toddy. For starters, opting for brown sugar or demerara sugar instead of white refined sugar will give you a more flavorful drink.
“Traditional hot toddy recipes often call for white granulated sugar,” says Hedges, “but you can experiment with different varieties like brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or flavored syrups like cinnamon, ginger, spiced, or vanilla that add an extra flavor dimension to your Hot Toddy.”
Buencamino is partial to ginger in their Toddy sweetener. “I like adding ginger to my honey syrup,” says Buencamino, “I feel like it’s got this calming, comforting essence it adds to a traditional Toddy.”
5. Don’t Forget The Bitters
“Don’t be shy with the bitters,” says Powell, “They provide all that Autumn spice you want in a hot toddy.” Not only will a few dashes of bitters add the spice complexity you want to taste in a warm winter sipper, they also help balance the other flavors in the drink into a more unified whole–tying together the sweetness of the sugar element with the sharpness of the spirits.
6. Get it Really Hot
A lukewarm Hot Toddy is like a weak handshake. When it comes to bringing the heat, there are a few different approaches you can take. “My ideal method is using the steam wand on an espresso machine,” says Hedges. “Start by combining your ingredients in a heat resistant mug or glass and immersing the steam wand into the mixture at an angle to allow the steam heat it up — this is probably the most efficient and convenient way to heat up a toddy.”
If you don’t have a steam wand, Hedges recommends rinsing the glass with hot water and even heating up your booze to keep the drink from cooling down too quickly. For batched Toddies, serving from a pot on a warming plate or on the stovetop will solve this, but it’s still a good idea to warm the glasses with hot water before serving.
7. Go Big
The Hot Toddy has always been a batched cocktail favorite. If you do a search on eBay for antique Toddy Ladles or Toddy Lifters––glass bulbs dipped into a bowl or pot to siphon out Toddy––you’ll find a flood of listings in England that prove the Toddy’s popularity through history as a hot batched punch. With or without the Toddy Lifter, it’s an easy drink for entertaining in the winter because you can serve it from a pot on the stove or on a warmer and guests can help themselves. It also makes your home smell great.
The Hot Toddy Recipes To Make
1. The Classic Hot Toddy Recipe
For our “classic” version we’re going with Scotch Whisky, preferably something with enough flavor to stand up to the dilution in hot water. Ardbeg 10 is extraordinary in a Toddy thanks to its intense rich flavor and smokiness. For a subtler flavor without a loss of complexity, Talisker Distillers Edition has maritime notes and is softened by a sherry cask finish.
- Heat a glass with boiling water.
- Add 2 ounces of flavorful Scotch (or chosen spirit)
- Add a barspoon of sugar (preferable demerara) and a lemon zest.
- Top with hot water (3-5 ounces)
- Sip and feel the warmth run though you.
2. The Chestnut Toddy
This Cognac-based Toddy comes from Jason hedges’ book, The Seasonal Cocktail. It includes chestnut infused Cognac and Vanilla Butter that has a fairly involved recipe, but that can be stored frozen and used all season. In creating the drink, he says that the trick was “finding the ideal ratio of chestnut flavoring to the other ingredients, the balance of sweetness and flavor from the spiced vanilla butter, and the best method for incorporating the chestnut flavor.”
Add all ingredients to a mug and stir.
*For the Chestnut Infused Cognac: Combine 1 cup of roasted and chopped chestnuts with 1 liter of Cognac. Let it infuse for up to one week, stirring or agitating occasionally.
**Vanilla Butter Recipe:
- 1lb Brown Sugar
- 1lb Unsalted Butter
- 1 pint Vanilla Ice Cream
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 2 Star Anise Pods
- 1 tsp Ground Star Anise
- 1 tsp Cloves
- 1 tsp Allspice
- 1 tsp Black Peppercorns
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
Heat butter, spices, and vanilla extract in a pot until the butter is melted. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Add ice cream and continue stirring. Strain and freeze.
3. The Gingered Toddy
This Hot Toddy from Miguel Buencamino of Holy City Handcraft is beautifully spiced, courtesy of a ginger honey syrup and the inclusion of star anise.
- 1½ oz Bourbon
- ½ oz ginger honey syrup*
- ½ oz lemon juice
- ½ cup hot water
- 4 dashes orange bitters
- Lemon wheel
- Star anise (garnish)
In a coffee mug, combine bourbon, lemon juice, syrup and bitters then stir gently until incorporated. Next add hot water and stir again. Garnish with lemon wheel and star anise. Serve and enjoy!
*For the ginger syrup: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of water with 3/4 cup of sliced fresh ginger. Bring to a simmer then add 1 cup of honey. Stir until incorporated, strain into a sanitized container. Store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
4. The Peach Toddy
This toddy variation from Death & Co uses vodka as its base spirit and uses a teabag to turn the hot water to tea.
- 2 ounce Ketel One Peach & Orange Blossom
- 1 peach teabag
- 1 large lemon wedge
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 dash orange bitters
- 4-5 ounces hot water
- Garnish: lemon wheel
Add Ketel One, bitters, teabag, cinnamon stick, and honey to a mug. Top with 4-5 ounces of hot water and stir to dissolve honey. Let sit for 3 minutes, then remove teabag. Squeeze large lemon wedge into mug and discard. Stir to incorporate all ingredients. Garnish with a lemon wheel, in glass, and enjoy.