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.
The drink is most directly associated with Scotland, and refers to a mixed alcoholic drink that is served hot. While there are many variations, the essential elements of the hot toddy are: (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 can be augmented with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg. Traditionally one also adds a citrus element — although it doesn’t work in every combo — such as lemon or orange, sometimes in juice form or sometimes as a garnish.
In his 1721 poem “The Morning Interview,” Allan 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.
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.
Here then are three great hot toddy recipes for you to slip into:
Hot toddy (Highland)
Use a good Highland single malt Scotch whisky. The Dalmore 12 or Macallan 12 are great here, though any nonpeaty, nonsmoky Highland Scotch malt whisky will work fine.
2 ounces Highland Scotch whisky
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.
Hot toddy (Islay)
Use a good smoky, peaty Islay single malt Scotch whisky. The Laphroaig 10 or Ardbeg 10 are great here, though any smoky Islay Scotch should do nicely.
2 ounces Scotch whisky
1 to 3 ounces boiling water
1 teaspoon Demerara sugar (or one lump)
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 Islay Scotch whisky. Finish with more boiling water to bring it all back up to temp and fill your cup to the desired level.
Hot toddy (American)
A softer wheat accented bourbon like Makers Mark works great here, but really any bourbon should get the job done nicely.
2 ounces bourbon whiskey
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. L’chaim!