When it comes to hot cocktails, there are few drinks that can go toe-to-toe with the hot toddy. A little bit sweet, a little bit sour, a little bit strong, the hot toddy has all of the hallmarks of what make a great classic cocktail and it warms you up from the inside out when the temperature is fit for penguins and polar bears. Where did the hot toddy come from, though? Who made it first?
Like that of many other classic cocktails, the toddy’s story is an interesting one. Keep reading to find out where it came from and try your hand at mixing one up yourself. The recipe and video below come thanks to the help of our friends at Moloko, a cocktail bar in Portland, Oregon.
Best Hot Toddy Recipe
- 2 oz Woodford Reserve bourbon
- 4 oz hot water
- 1 oz lemon juice
- .5 oz honey syrup*
- .5 oz orange juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 orange slice
- 1 whole clove
Method: Pour hot water into a glass to temper it. This ensures that the glass doesn’t cool your drink (it’s a hot toddy, not a lukewarm toddy). Next, squeeze the lemon and orange juice using your method of choice, cut off an orange slice, and slip pieces of clove into the orange. Pour out the hot water you used for tempering the glass, then add bourbon. Splash in your lemon juice, orange juice, and honey simple syrup. Next, add your cinnamon stick and be-cloved orange slice (and straw, if you like). Pour in about 4 oz of hot water, stir, and enjoy!
*To make honey simple syrup, simply heat equal parts honey and water until the honey dissolves.
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.
The History of the Hot Toddy
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 are familiar with 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 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.
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; in this case, the name “toddy” comes from the origin of the water used for the drink: Tod’s Well in Edinburgh.
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 toddy 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.