The hot toddy is a classic drink — a little bit sweet, a little bit sour, a little bit strong. It has all of the hallmarks of what make a good cocktail and it warms you up from the inside out when it is bitter cold outside. Where did it come from though? Who made it first?
The story of the hot toddy, like that of many other classic cocktails, is an interesting one. Keep reading to find out where one of our favorite hot cocktails came from and then, after that, try your hand at making a classic toddy or one of the variations on the original that we’ve included. Once you’ve worked through them, graduate to the hot toddy’s closest relatives: glühwein and hot buttered rum.
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 modern, canonical iteration features tea as the spice (or in addition to the spice). What we’ll see 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 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 whil 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 with rum, spices, and locally-available sugar. This mixture was cooked, then cooled and consumed. While derived from the British 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 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 you’ll find several unique incarnations of the traditional hot toddy recipe. With so many to choose from, you’re sure to find one that warms you up this winter.
The Classic Hot Toddy
- 2 oz whiskey (such as bourbon or rye)
- 4 oz hot water
- 2 tsp dark sugar (such as Demerara)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Cinnamon stick
- Lemon slice
Method: Add whiskey, hot water, sugar, and lemon juice to a heatproof mug. Stir and garnish with cinnamon stick and lemon wedge.
Koval Hot Toddy
- 2 oz Koval Single Barrel Bourbon
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- .25 cup 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
- 1.5 oz boiling water
- 1 tsp fine-grain sugar
- 2 small cloves
Method: Add Crown Royal Vanilla, fine grain sugarm and cloves in a mug. Add boiling water. Stir and enjoy.
(Created by Mixologist Chantal Tseng, Washington, D.C.)
- 1.5 oz Johnnie Walker Black Label
- 4 oz boiling water
- .5 oz brown rice syrup
- .5 oz fresh pineapple juice
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 pinch Chinese five-spice powder (one part cinnamon, clove, fennel, anise, Szechuan pepper each)
- 1 slice dried pineapple to garnish
Method: 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
- 3 oz boiling water
- 2 barspoons sugar or honey
- 1 clove
Method: Add sugar of honey to heat proof glass. Add boiling water and allow to infuse. Add Monkey Shoulder and stir until sugar/honey is dissolved and cloves infused. Garnish with clove studded lemon wedge.
New Amsterdam Winter Toddy
- 1..5 oz New Amsterdam Vodka
- .5 oz E&J VSOP Brandy
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp grenadine
- .25 cup warmed cranberry juice
- Orange slice and cloves to garnish
Method: Add ingredients into a coffee mug and stir together before garnishing.
Cinnamon Tequila Toddy
- 1.5 parts Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
- 5 parts hot water
- .75 part cinnamon bark syrup
- .25 part honey
- .25 part fresh lemon juice
- 3 dashes vanilla bitters
- Cinnamon sticks
Method: Combine equal parts sugar and water and 3 cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. 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
- Grated cinnamon
- Orange wedge, cinnamon stick, and cloves to garnish.
Method: Add hot water to mug; add 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
- .25 cup boiling water
- Cinnamon stick to garnish
Method: Fill cup with hot water and stir until gingerbread syrup is dissolved. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- .5 teaspoon ground ginger
- .5 teaspoon nutmeg
- .25 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
- 3 oz honey ginger syrup**
- 3 oz water
- 2.25 oz lemon juice
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 ginger, finely chopped and peeled
Method: Add all ingredients to a pot and cover. Simmer over medium to low heat for 20 minutes. Strain, allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator.
Bonnie Vee Toddy
(Created by Jason Baron, Bonnie Vee, New York City)
- .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 to garnish
Method: Combine ingredients in a mug and top with hot water. Garnish with lemon twist.
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.
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