The Hot Toddy

Amanda/November 25, 2012

You’ve been cooking for days and your house has been swarmed by family. You’re tired, overfed, and perhaps even feeling the symptoms of an impending cold. Now that Thanksgiving is behind you, it’s time to put up those feet and have a hot toddy. It’s a funny name when you think about it: ‘hot toddy’. Even after hearing the term for years, many people have no idea what a hot toddy actually is and even fewer know its origins.

First, let’s start with the obvious. A hot toddy is a deliciously warm alcoholic beverage, but for years now many have also considered it a home remedy for colds, sore throats, sinus problems, and even the flu. The origin of the hot toddy is a bit muddled (pun intended). What we do know, is that it is a very old drink and, thusly, the history of it remains unclear. The best bet is that it was first created in Scotland in the 1700s as a drink for women…yep, it was a girly drink, perhaps even the apple-tini of its day. Supposedly, in Scotland at the time, the scotch available was very smokey with a strong peaty flavor that was unpalatable to woman – until you sweetened it, that is. That’s all well and good, but what about that weird name? Perhaps another theory can better explain it. Back in the day, trading with Great Britain and India was very frequent and a great way to get the exotic goods that were popular at the time to the British. Many believe it may have been named for “toddy”, a popular Indian beverage made from fermenting palm tree sap and this somehow morphed into the drink we love today. Maybe. Another theory involves a poem. Allan Ramsay published a poem in a paper called The Morning Interview in 1721. In his poem, Ramsey referred to water from Todian Spring as the water supply used for making tea for his poetic tea party. Possibly the hot toddy gets its name from Ramsay’s Todian Spring? We have no way of knowing for sure, so the origin of the hot toddy will likely remain a mystery. In the meantime, you can experiment with ingredients until you find the perfect drink that will comfort and warm you through the colder months, either purely for enjoyment or to soothe an ailment.

And now the recipe for a classic hot toddy. You will need:

  • A “spirit”, as in some alcoholic liquid. Bourbon, brandy, and rum all work well.
  • A sweetener such as honey, raw sugar, fresh lemon, or for some adventurous souls, orange rind.
  • A warm base of tea, coffee, apple cider, or plain hot water.

Honey, lemon, hot water, and bourbon are the most traditional toddy ingredients, but feel free to think outside the box on this one and try some of the other suggested ingredients we listed. Whatever you choose, we recommend using only quality ingredients, since so few are used and one low-grade ingredient can ruin the whole drink. High-quality honey with less than 19% water content is advised, pure honey is best. Your lemon should be fresh and not the pasteurized lemon juice available at grocery stores; these cause a bitter aftertaste. For the alcohol, quality bourbon, rum, or brandy is suggested. Bourbon being the strongest flavor of the three, you might prefer it in your toddy, we certainly do. If you’re not after that strong of a flavor, brandy or cognac makes the drink very balanced and smooth, while rum is the choice if you want a sweeter result, due to the sugar cane used to make it.

Once you’ve specified your ingredients to your personal taste, cut the lemon into eighths. Take half the lemon and mush it into a coffee cup. Into this, add two ounces of the honey, two ounces of your choice of spirit, and four ounces of hot water. Stir these ingredients into a well-blended, tummy-warming drink, and enjoy!

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