The word Toddy comes from Indian palm wine, or ‘Taddy,’ and the name made its way to England where it took on a new meaning as a sweetened cocktail. The origin of the drink is not entirely clear, but the Toddy first appeared in print in England in the mid-1700’s as a drink that could be served hot or cold. On the same cocktail family tree as a Punch, but simpler, the original version became popular in the Anglo and Colonial American world. The basic recipe for a hot toddy is the definition of cocktail simplicity: spirits, sugar, and water. We tend to use steaming hot water, but if you add those three ingredients together at any temperature and you’ve made a Toddy. It’s common to have spiced and citrus components, too, with cinnamon and lemon being popular choices. In most bars in America, if you order a Hot Toddy, other than an odd look, you will get whiskey, hot water, honey or sugar, and a thin slice of lemon. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get grated nutmeg or cinnamon. But more and more, mixologists have taken to riffing on the Hot Toddy during the colder months of the year, and they have elevated the drink into something much more interesting –– changing up the base spirits from whiskey to Cognac, rum, or even vodka, adding new flavors to the sweet element, and playing around with different citrus types and different spices and aromatics — like blood orange, ginger, and star anise— to push the Toddy into totally new territory. If you understand a few basic guidelines about base spirit, citrus, heat, dilution, and sugar, you can easily create your own Toddy perfection based on your own favorite flavors.
Use Flavorful Whiskies
Since there is hot water in a Toddy, the drink is diluted more than a cocktail that is shaken, stirred, or served on the rocks. As such it’s important to make sure whatever spirit you use is flavorful enough and strong enough in alcohol content to stand up to the dilution of hot water. If a whiskey lacks a strong personality on its own, its flavor will be lost in a Toddy.
Experiment with Other Base Spirits
The Hot Toddy is a cocktail that begs for experimentation, as many spirits work within its simple framework. Some work better than others.
Know How Citrus and Sugar Handle Heat
Similar to the way that dilution affects the choice of base spirit in a Toddy, the heat of the drink affects the intensity of citrus and sweetness.
Try Different Sugar Components
Like choosing a flavorful spirit, a flavorful sweetener will also make for a better Toddy. For starters, opting for brown sugar or demerara sugar instead of white refined sugar will give you a more flavorful drink.
Don’t Forget the Bitters
Not only will a few dashes of bitters add the spice complexity you want to taste in a warm winter sipper, they also help balance the other flavors in the drink into a more unified whole–tying together the sweetness of the sugar element with the sharpness of the spirits.
Get it Really Hot
A lukewarm Hot Toddy is like a weak handshake. When it comes to bringing the heat, there are a few different approaches you can take. If you don’t have a steam wand, rinse the glass with hot water and even heating up your booze to keep the drink from cooling down too quickly. For batched Toddies, serving from a pot on a warming plate or on the stovetop will solve this, but it’s still a good idea to warm the glasses with hot water before serving.
The Hot Toddy has always been a batched cocktail favorite. If you do a search on eBay for antique Toddy Ladles or Toddy Lifters––glass bulbs dipped into a bowl or pot to siphon out Toddy––you’ll find a flood of listings in England that prove the Toddy’s popularity through history as a hot batched punch. With or without the Toddy Lifter, it’s an easy drink for entertaining in the winter because you can serve it from a pot on the stove or on a warmer and guests can help themselves. It also makes your home smell great.
Classic Hot Toddy Recipe
Heat a glass with boiling water.
Add 2 ounces of flavorful Scotch (or chosen spirit)
Add a barspoon of sugar (preferable demerara) and a lemon zest.
Top with hot water (3-5 ounces)
Sip and feel the warmth run though you.