Cold Weather Comfort: How to Make a Classic Hot Toddy

Posted by: Erin January 26, 2022 No Comments
Hot toddy in the sun with honey, lemon and ginger
Ward off all the ails you: the classic Hot Toddy has been around for centuries, warming the weary and fortifying the ill. And it tastes fantastic, too. 

by Erin

Hot toddy in the sun with honey, lemon and ginger

Toronto has been in the brisk embrace of a severe January cold snap. Nighttime temperatures fall to near minus 30°C with the windchill, and being a lakeside city, the dampness adds an extra bite to the bone-aching deep freeze.

To ward off the chill, I turn to the Hot Toddy – a centuries old spiced whisky elixir that has a bit of a murky past, as all classic cocktails do.

Hot Toddy History

Some believe it originated in 1700’s Scotland, where it was served as a celebratory drink for Christmas. Edinburgh’s pubs mixed Scotch with a splash of hot water sourced from Tod’s Well, hence christening the cocktail with its moniker.

Other stories suggest it was birthed in British-controlled India in the 1600’s. Apparently, the Hindi word taddy means “beverage made from fermented palm sap.” But calling the sweetened drink a, “Hot Beverage Made from Fermented Palm Sap” didn’t have the marketing cache required to really catch on. Taddy just rolls off the tongue so much more effortlessly.

As trade routes between India and Britain flourished, fragrant spices like clove and cinnamon became more common in the UK. British barkeeps took full advantage, adding them to the hot drink to intensify the flavour whilst warding off England’s damp chill.

Fast-forward to today, and the Hot Toddy is a stalwart for cold weather comfort. There are variations: in Ireland they use Irish whiskey (natch) and call it a Hot Whiskey. The use of flavourful rum turns a Hot Toddy into a grog. I like to use bourbon, or bourbon styled whiskies, because I think the warming spice notes work beautifully with the intention of the Hot Toddy.

If you don’t want the addition of whisky, leave it out, and adjust spices to your liking.

Mug of Hot toddy with lemon, honey and ginger

Hot Toddy, Two Ways

The beauty of a Hot Toddy is that it leaves much up to interpretation.

As already discussed, the choice of spirit – scotch, rum, bourbon – is up to you. But I’ve also seen Hot Toddies bolstered by Earl Grey or Lemon tea instead of water. Vegan? Swap out the honey for brown sugar, maple syrup, or agave. Mr. Toddy does not command strict adherence.

(Which is perfect for me because I have a physical repulsion to the word strict, and I think puritans are a bore.)

This is the recipe my mum made for me when I was a wee tot coming down with the sniffles. And yes, she did add just a thimbleful of whisky to break a fever. (I’m an 80’s free-range kid raised by a no-nonsense European. The Hot Toddy as bona fide medicine was a harbinger for my adult life, I’m sure.)

If someone in your clan needs to ward off all that ails them, or simply warm up after a long trek across the frozen tundra – or just from the bus stop – Hot Toddy can’t be beat. If you are at all nervous about serving your young ones a hearty shot of whisky – though look how great I turned out – simply leave it out and adjust the spices accordingly.

Serves: 1

Bartender level: beginner +

  • 2 oz bourbon or whisky of choice (I like Wayne Gretzky)
  • 10 oz boiling water
  • 1 lemon, sliced in half
  • 1 Tbsp honey, or to taste
  • A quarter-sized chunk of fresh, peeled ginger
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch of fine sea salt (I use fine Celtic sea salt)
  1. Warm a mug with boiling water for a minute. Dump out water.
  2. Into the warmed mug, add the ginger, and squeeze half a lemon and pour in honey.
  3. Pour in an ounce or two or boiling water and stir to combine and melt honey.
  4. Slice the other half of the lemon into rounds.
  5. Stud one lemon round peel with cloves.
  6. Add the sea salt and the clove-studded lemon round to the mug.
  7. Pour in the remaining water and stir to combine.
  8. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

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