In honor of National Hot Toddy Day (January 11), we’ve put together a brief history of one of the most beloved cold weather cocktails out there (also, a great way to cure a cold if you’re feeling under the weather).
Check it out, and 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 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 in the American toddy, 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. In America, too, the presentation of the toddy was 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 four recipes, the first two are single-serving toddies and the second two are for sharing with friends and family (or to make for an epic day of day drinking).
Basil Hayden’s Hot Toddy
(Created by Luca Zanirato, Miami, FL)
- 2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
- ¼ part Honey
- 1-2 Star Anise
- 2 parts Hot Water
- Orange Zest
- Lemon Zest
- 3 Cinnamon Sticks
Method: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a hot toddy glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
(Created by Erick Castro, Boilermaker – New York, NY)
- ½ oz. Campari
- ½ oz. Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
- 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- ¾ oz. Cinnamon Syrup*
Method: Build ingredients into warm 8 ½ oz. mug and top with boiling water. Garnish with an orange slice.
*To make cinnamon simple syrup, bring 4 cinnamon sticks, one cup sugar and one cup water to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
G & Tea
(Created by Tim Wells, Revival Social Club – Chicago, IL)
- 1 Tbsp. Earl Grey Tea
- 1 Tbsp. Rooibos Tea
- 1 Tbsp. Chai Tea
- Half of one orange (Cut into slices)
- 12 oz. Hot Water
- 6 oz. Nolet’s Silver Gin
- 4 oz. Apple Cider
- 4 oz. Cinnamon syrup
- 2 oz. Lemon Juice
- 2 oz. Meletti Amaro
Method: Combine all 3 teas along with cut up orange and add 12 oz. of hot water. Let the tea and orange brew/infuse for half an hour. Meanwhile combine the apple cider, lemon, amaro, and cinnamon syrup and set aside. When the tea has finished brewing strain out the orange and tea leaves, and combine with the cider and cinnamon mixture. To serve warm heat all ingredients over low heat on the stove until desired temperature has been reached, add the Nolet’s Silver Gin, pour into serving vessels, and garnish with fresh grated nutmeg.
*Cinnamon Syrup can be made by boiling 2 Cups of Water with 5-6 cinnamon sticks over medium heat for 10 minutes and then by adding 1 1/2 cups of sugar and stirring until dissolved.
Noble Vine Mulled Wine
- 1/2 cup Zacapa Rum 23
- 1 750 ml bottle Dry Red Wine (Cabernet, Pinot Noir or Merlot)
- 3/4 cup Water
- 2 Medium Lemons, Sliced into Lemon Wheels
- 2 Medium Oranges, Sliced into Orange Wheels
- 1 Vanilla Bean, Halved Lengthways
- 10 Whole Cloves
- 5 Cardamom Pods
- 3/4 cup Sugar in the Raw
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks
- 1/8 cup Sliced Almonds
- 1 tbsp Grated Nutmeg
- Butcher’s Twine
- Cinnamon Stick and Sliced Fresh Lemon for Garnish
Method: Combine whole cloves, cardamom pods and split vanilla bean in the cheesecloth and tie with twine. Place in pot on stove. Add remaining spices into the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Bring mixture to a simmer and stir to dissolve sugar. Once dissolved, keep stove on low to keep warm. Pour into punch glasses. Garnish with Cinnamon Stick and Sliced Fresh Lemon.
Still thirsty for more? Check out the best hot cocktails for winter weather.
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.