It is officially Fall in the North East United States, and as much as the hype is for pumpkin spice everything – I am an advocate for more traditional and simple flavors – like a Hot Toddy. A warm cocktail made with brown spirits – most traditionally Whiskey – , sugar and spices, this drink brings comfort to the cold, warms you to your bones, and is credited as being able to cure the common cold!
Likely one of the oldest cocktails, this beverage has many possible origins. This warming drink can trace its roots back to the 1600’s in India. According to some sources, the Indian beverage tārī or taddy was recorded in the 1600s in British occupied India as being made of “of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar and spices.” It spread in popularity with the English settlers as the British Empire weaved a network of trade routes across the globe. It is also claimed as being invented in Scotland by a Doctor Robert Bently Todd in the 19th Century who was known to prescribe alcoholic spirits for his patience for a wide variety of illnesses. No matter the story, the drink enjoyed a popularity in the 1800’s in Britain and America in many different iterations, sometimes as a social drink, sometimes as a home remedy, and occasionally as a medical prescription.
At least where I grew up with Central New York Winters, it seemed like everyone’s family had a fall back Hot Toddy recipe, and the variations were endless. Most recipes call for three main ingredients – Hot Water, Whiskey, and flavoring. Some popular whiskey preferences are scotch whiskey or bourbon, and some of the preferred flavorings can include lemon, clove, cinnamon, black tea, or honey. Similarly, a hot beverage with all of the same flavoring combinations but made with rum is called Grog. Made with wine it is called wassail. Made with tequila…well… I don’t know but if anyone tries it with tequila let me know how it goes – I’m not adventurous enough to try.
Personally, I go for a very simple Toddy when the seasons change. I like to boil my water, and then let it cool just a bit, so that it’s not so piping hot that it burns the whiskey. I put two slices of fresh lemon, about ½ inch in thickness, in the bottom of a mug or cup, and add a heaping spoonful of honey. Pour in the water and stir for a moment to incorporate the honey. On top I splash 1oz of Irish Whiskey, which I prefer to the smoky scotch or the brash bourbon. I am not a stickler for a particular producer or distiller though, when I first started making my own Toddys in college I used Irish Mist, and today we have Tyrconnell 16 year in the house. One more quick stir and I’m ready to curl up with a book or a large blanket.
The warmth that spreads to your toes, and the feeling of comfort is, I believe, akin to drinking hot chocolate after being outside in the snow all day building snowmen and ice forts. There is just something about the simplicity of water, lemon and whiskey that draws me in, makes me take a deep breath, and sigh.
If you’ve never experimented with a Hot Toddy I think it is time you checked out what you’ve been missing.
– M., Nicky, ”Warding off Jack Frost: The History of the Hot Toddy”, Arcadia Publishing, November 2018, https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Navigation/Community/Arcadia-and-THP-Blog/November-2018/Warding-Off-Jack-Frost-The-History-of-the-Hot-Tod
– Edsall, Sam Zachrich, “The Hot Toddy through History”, Know How Studios, January 2018, https://www.knowhowstudios.com/2018/01/hot-toddy/
– Lyons JB. Some contributions of Robert Bentley Todd. J Hist Neurosci. 1998 Apr;7(1):11-26. doi: 10.1076/jhin.18.104.22.16898. PMID: 11620236.