A Brief History of The Hot Toddy (With New Recipes)
As the weather turns frightful, sometimes even your whiskey needs a little warming up.
Check out a brief history of the hot toddy—one of our favorite winter warmers—then try your hand at the recipes included below!
So what is a hot toddy?
Before we get into the historical origins of the drink, let’s look at what a hot toddy (or sometimes tottie) is. A toddy is a drink made typically with a spirit base, water, some type of sugar, and spices. In its simplest form today, a hot toddy is usually a mixture of whiskey, cinnamon, hot water, honey, and lemon. Another canonical iteration of the toddy is the use of tea as the spice (or in addition to the spice). What we’ll see, though, is that like all great cocktails, the base recipe is just a jumping off point for experimentation and advancements in flavor profile over time.
Alright, that’s cool, so then where did it come from?
The word toddy itself stretches back to the British colonial era and is taken from the Hindi word tārī, which was a drink made from the fermented sap of the various varieties of toddy palm, hence the name. The British, always fond of taking things that weren’t theirs, realized they loved this drink and decided they wanted to make it their own. They drank and drank and drank these toddies, and eventually word spread. It’s important to note here, though, that this toddy was not the hot toddy that we know today. This drink was served cool, and, for a while this was the tradition. The toddy eventually made its way across the ocean to the American South where plantation owners would drink their own version of a toddy that was made with rum, spices, and locally-available sugar. This mixture was cooked, then cooled and consumed. While derived from the colonial toddy, this drink was called a bombo or bimbo.
That’s great and all, but you said you’d be talking about hot toddies.
The hot toddy that we’ve come to know and love most likely finds its roots in Scottish tradition. (A whisky cocktail? From Scotland? Surprising, we know.) The drink was made with whisky, hot water, honey, and spices such as nutmeg or clove, and was touted as a cold cure. This did not stop people from drinking their hot toddies at other times, however—preventative measures are important when thinking about one’s health, after all—and the drink’s popularity spread. Here is where rumor and legend begin to insert themselves into the story. First, it is said the name toddy, in this case, is because of the origin of the water used for the drink—Tod’s Well in Edinburgh. (For some proof of this, check out the website Conan’s Pub, where the creators have gathered a 1721 Allan Ramsay poem and a sliver of Lois Joseph Vance’s 1909 novel The Bronze Bell. Side note: Make Me A Cocktail attributes the Ramsay poem to 1781.)
We’ve now made our way back to the American portion of the toddy’s history. Legend states that during the Revolutionary War, colonists would use toddies as liquid courage, drinking round after round to get up the nerve to fight. The biggest difference in the American toddy from the Scottish, it needs to be pointed out, was the use of rum or brandy in comparison to whiskey. The colonists were working with what they had—which was more often the brandy they were making at home or the rum that was being imported from the Caribbean. The presentation of the toddy was also changed slightly. The drink was typically made in a punch bowl in large amounts to accommodate the crowds that would gather at local taverns and then served in a specific type of stemmed glassware, which was itself at some point named a toddy.
So there you have it, the hot toddy, which wasn’t all that hot at first. Below, we’ve included several unique incarnations of the traditional hot toddy. You’re sure to find one that warms you up this winter.
Koval Hot Toddy
- 2 oz Koval Single Barrel Bourbon
- 1 Tablespoon of Honey
- 2 Teaspoons Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/4 Cup of Hot Water
Method: Mix water and honey in a hot toddy glass to melt. Add other liquid ingredients and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Vanilla Hot Toddy
- 1.25 oz. Crown Royal Vanilla
- 1 tsp fine grain sugar
- 2 small cloves
- 1.5 oz. boiling water
Method: Add Crown Royal Vanilla, fine grain sugar and cloves in a mug. Add boiling water. Stir and enjoy.
(Created by Mixologist Chantal Tseng, D.C)
- 1.5 oz Johnnie Walker Black Label
- 1 tbs Butter
- .5 oz Brown Rice Syrup
- .5 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
- 4 oz Boiling Water
- 1 pinch Chinese 5-Spice Powder (Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel, Anise, Szechuan Pepper)
- Slice Dried Pineapple for Garnish
Method: First, heat hot toddy glass. Add butter, spices and some boiling hot water, reserve half, and stir until melted. Add remaining ingredients and continue stirring until dissolved. Garnish with dried pineapple slice.
Monkey Shoulder Hot Toddy
- 1.5 oz Monkey Shoulder Whisky
- 2 Bar spoon Sugar/Honey
- 3 oz Boiling Water
- 1 clove
Method: Add sugar of honey to heat proof glass. Add boiling water and allow to infuse. Now add Monkey Shoulder and stir until sugar/honey is dissolved and cloves infused. Garnish with clove studded lemon wedge.
Bonnie Vee Toddy
(Created by Jason Baron, Bonnie Vee, NYC)
- .75 oz Santera Añejo
- .75 oz Strong Black Tea
- .5 oz Fresh Ginger and Honey Syrup (2:1)
- .5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
- 3-5 Whole Cloves
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- Lemon Twist
Method: Combine ingredients in a mug and top with hot water.
New Amsterdam Winter Toddy
- .5 oz New Amsterdam 80 Proof
- .5 oz E&J VSOP Brandy
- Teaspoon BOTH Honey & Grenadine
- 1/4 Cup Warm Cranberry Juice
- Garnish: Orange & Cloves
Method: Add ingredients into a coffee mug, and stir together before garnishing.
Cinnamon Tequila Toddy
- 1 ½ parts Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
- 5 parts hot water
- ¾ part cinnamon bark syrup
- ¼ part honey
- ¼ part fresh lemon juice
- 3 dashes vanilla bitters
- Cinnamon sticks
Method: Combine equal parts sugar and water and 3 cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and bring to a boil to create cinnamon bark syrup. Remove cinnamon sticks from the mixture and combine the remainder of the ingredients in a coffee glass. Stir and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
- 1 oz Belvedere Vodka
- 5 oz Hot Water
- 1 oz Lillet Blanc
- .5 oz lemon
- .5 oz honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- fresh ground nutmeg
- orange wedge
Method: Add hot water to mug, then honey to melt. Add remaining liquid ingredients. Garnish with cinnamon stick and orange wedge. Top with grated cinnamon. Optional: Pierce orange wedge with three cloves.
Prairie Gin(gerbread) Toddy
- 2 parts Prairie Organic Gin
- 1 part gingerbread syrup*
- 1 part lemon or orange juice
- ¼ cup boiling water
Method: Fill cup with hot water and stir until gingerbread syrup is dissolved. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
* Gingerbread Syrup
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
Method: Combine ingredients in a pan. Heat to boiling while whisking until all the powder substances dissolve. Boil for 2-3 minutes so syrup thickens.
- 1 bottle Cinnful Apple Angry Orchard Cider
- 4.5 oz Scotch or Irish Whiskey
- 2.25 oz Lemon Juice
- 3 oz Honey Ginger Syrup**
- 3 oz Water
Method: Add all ingredients to a Crock Pot and set at low heat. Allow to heat up and then serve and garnish with a lemon wheel studded with cloves. If using a stovetop, add all ingredients to a small saucepan and simmer over low heat. Be careful not to allow the mixture to get too hot because the alcohol will boil off.
**Honey Ginger Syrup:
- 2 cups Honey
- 1 cup Water
- 2 tbs Finely Chopped Peeled Ginger
Method: Peel the ginger and then finely chop. Add all ingredients to a pot and cover. Simmer over medium to low heat for 20 min. Strain, allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.
Hot Toddies by Christopher O’Hara. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2002.
The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink edited by Andrew F. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.