Hot toddy — a remedy for a, or the, cold

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The northern Israeli city of Sfat has been considered the epicenter of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, since the 16th century. It was here, for example, that Isaac Luria, known more popularly as “ The Ari” (The Lion), developed what is now widely considered the basis of contemporary Jewish mysticism or “Lurianic Kabbalah.” Since wine is such an important component of Jewish life, it is not surprising that the kabbalists also look upon the fruit of the vine with particular affection. They often compare wine with Kabbalah — just as wine is, so to speak, hidden in the grapes, so, too, Kabbalah is hidden in the Torah.

The hill containing the Old City Cemetery of Sfat, where the Ari is buried, looks out upon the 45 acres of vineyards of the Lueria Winery. Originally planted 18 years ago by Yosef Sayada, who still works in the fields, the grapes were all sold off to other wineries until 2006, when Sayada established the Lueria Winery. His son Gidi oversees the winery and while most of their grapes are still sold off to other wineries, the Sayadas have been steadily increasing the amount they hold back to create their own wines at Lueria. There is a new visitors center at the site, and a nearby bed and breakfast decorated in a style reminiscent of the family’s western Mediterranean roots has also been set up.


The red wines are mostly cabernet sauvignon-based blends containing variable amounts of other varietals depending upon the characteristic of the vintage. They also bottle gewurztraminer, chardonnay and a cabernet-based dessert wine along with the sangiovese-based Lueria Rosso 2011. It has bright raspberry and dark plum aromas and flavors with herbs, spice, burnt chocolate and a hint of the earthiness that is found in its Rosso di Montalcino cousins. A nicely balanced, medium bodied effort, it would pair well with pasta and other Italian dishes.

Spirits-wise, with the onset of a rather cold winter at the moment, we thought we’d revisit the “hot toddy,” a classic curative cocktail.

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The hot toddy is most directly associated with Scotland, and refers to a mixed alcoholic drink that is served hot. While there are many great variations, the essential elements of the Hot Toddy are as follows: (1) a spirit base such as Scotch or other whisky, brandy or dark rum; (2) hot water or some other hot liquid such as tea, coffee or milk; and (3) some kind of sweetening agent like honey, sugar or syrup.

This basic formula, however, can be augmented — often to great effect — with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. While it doesn’t work in every combo, traditionally one also adds a citrus element, such as lemon or orange, sometimes in juice form or sometimes as a garnish.


Generally enjoyed in cold weather, and often sipped late in the evening to facilitate sleep, the hot toddy is actually a fairly versatile potion, one that can be enjoyed in much the same fashion as an evening tea or after-dinner coffee. Or, for that matter, you can suck down some with breakfast, if you are so inclined, but we suspect this won’t escape the attention of co-workers or supervisors and, therefore, don’t recommend it.

The precise history of the hot toddy is unknown. One popular yet highly unlikely etymologically grounded theory states that the hot toddy was introduced into Scotland by a British East India Company man from “tari tadi,” a Hindu term that refers to a distillation of sap from several varieties of palm tree (the jaggery, wild date, Palmyra, cocoa nut palm, etc.).

Far more likely is the explanation offered by the poet Allan Ramsay.

In his 1721 poem “The Morning Interview,” Ramsay depicts a rather grand tea party in which he describes various items by their national identity: tea from China, sugar from the West Indies, and “Scotia does no such costly tribute bring/Only some kettles full of Todian spring.” Ramsay elucidates this in a footnote: “The Todian spring, i.e. Tod’s Well, which supplies Edinburgh with water.”

In Scottish folklore this is readily understood as a reference to whisky, which is derived from the Scottish Gaelic term “uisge beatha,” or “water of life.” Sure enough, the 1786 publication of the poem “Holy Fair” by Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous bard, employs toddy as slang for whisky — and the now mostly unread, and largely unreadable, Robbie Burns is most assuredly the final word on Scottish authenticity.

Despite its Scottish roots, well over 200 years ago the hot toddy was already being made with other brown spirits, such as Irish whiskey, dark rum, American whiskey and brandy. All of these are fine; just avoid using white spirits, such as gin, silver rum, vodka or tequila, as these will result, in our humble opinion, in a decidedly nasty beverage. There are folks out there who go in for this sort of thing, but then there are folks who will go for just about any sort of thing. To each his own, but you have been warned.

Another source of basic recipe variations calls for using tea instead of hot water. Doing so offers a plethora of flavors to toy with. A chef’s pantry of herbs and spices offers yet another fertile pasture for positive invention and variation. As in all things, be guided by your senses.
Here then we offer three great hot toddy recipes for you to slip into: a Highland based hot toddy, a smoky Islay-based hot toddy and a bourbon-based recipe for all you American whiskey fans:

Hot toddy (Highland)
2 ounces Highland single malt Scotch whisky (we recommend the Dalmore 12-year-old or Macallan 12 year old; though any non-peaty, non-smoky Highland Scotch malt whisky will work in this recipe)
1 to 3 ounces boiling water
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey (or brown sugar)
3 drops Angostura bitters
1 slice lemon, studded with cloves
A sprinkle of ground nutmeg
Into a heatproof glass or large coffee mug put the sugar, bitters, lemon juice and clove-studded lemon slice. Add the whisky, pour in one third of the boiling water, and stir gently until the honey or sugar dissolves; add more boiling water to bring it back up to temp and fill your cup to the desired level. Dust lightly with nutmeg, and sip lovingly.

Or try this smoky, peaty version:
Hot toddy (Islay)
2 ounces Islay single malt Scotch whisky (we recommend the Laphroaig 10 or Ardbeg 10; though any smoky Islay Scotch should do nicely).
1 to 3 ounces boiling water
1 teaspoon Demerara sugar (or one lump)
Lemon peel
Into a heatproof glass or large coffee mug put the Demerara sugar and a swatch of thin-cut lemon peel. To this stir in 1 ounce of boiling water until the sugar is dissolved, then add the muscular, smoky, peaty single-malt Scotch. Finish with more boiling water to bring it all back up to temp and fill your cup to the desired level.

For you bourbon lovers:
Hot toddy (American)
2 ounces bourbon whisky (we recommend a softer wheat accented bourbon like Makers Mark, but any bourbon should get the job done nicely)
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 ounces boiling water
1 tablespoon honey
Into a heatproof glass or large coffee mug apply the same directions as before.
Try one, try all, or create your own. Nothing beats back the cold, or a cold, better. L’Chaim!

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1 COMMENT

  1. Three fingers laphroaig, three tea spoonfuls honey topped with boiling water.

    Boom. Doesnt really cure anything but it makes you feel good.

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