Few things are as soothing on a blustery night as that “hug in a mug,” the hot toddy. But back in the day (like, the 1700s) making a hot toddy didn’t just signify that chilly weather had inspired a boozy warmer-upper. In the far reaches of drinks history, one’s toddy of choice often expressed a person’s cultural and economic context as well as their current geography.
The hot toddy’s classic construction approximated a three-legged barstool—with a wobbly base of booze, hot water, and sweetener— and pre-dates even the term “cocktail.”
Irish folks drank hot whiskey with a bit of lemon peel (called a “skin”) if they could find it, while Scots preferred warming up Highland malt whisky and topping it with a scant grating of nutmeg. The Brits even mixed gin in their toddies. Most households used honey as their sweet, while the wealthy indulged in white sugar. And across the pond as early as the 1750s, New Englanders sourced abundant Applejack (distilled apple cider) and maple syrup to make “Yankee Slings.” Southerners had rum, rye whiskey, or bourbon, to which they mixed hot water with sugar, blackstrap molasses or honey. If you were really flush, you’d make your toddy with French Brandy. Ooh, la la!
As toddies moved across the U.S. West, the alcohol-to-water ratio tipped dramatically towards higher proofing, and the sweet portion dropped a bit. This was often supplemented by citrus picked up in the warm Southwest, most abundant in winter months. Tequila toddies, anyone?
Mark Twain called his nightly Hot Scotch, “the only soporific worth considering,” especially on a cold mountain evening. We heartily agree.
Classic Hot Toddy (makes one)
- 2 ounces whiskey
- 1 1/2 tbsp honey
- Juice of 1/4 lemon
- Cinnamon stick
- 3-4 ounces hot water
Method*: To an 8-ounce mug, add the whiskey, honey, and lemon juice. Stir with the cinnamon stick until the honey is dissolved. Add hot water to the mug, and stir until combined. Add more sweetener or citrus to taste.
*The Hot Toddy has endless variations of boozy bases, sweeteners (syrup, honey, sorghum, agave nectar), and give or take a bit of spice or zing of citrus. Think of it more like a ratio than a recipe, and tinker with abandon! Try adding a grating of nutmeg, a star anise pod, a pinch of cayenne pepper, or a dusting of flaky sea salt if you’re feeling especially sassy.
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