“Under the proper circumstances, a Hot Toddy — particularly one constructed upon a foundation of good Highland malt whisky — is one of the clearest signs I know that there is a providential plan to the universe.” So says celebrated drinks writer David Wondrich in his excellent book Imbibe! And it would seem, with the bitter winds howling and the flu bugs flying, that this month has brought us the most proper of circumstances to break out the toddy mugs.
As with anything involving centuries-old drinking practices, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the hot toddy. The word “toddy” is derived from a Hindi word for palm sap, though how it came to refer to a warm whiskey cocktail is anyone’s guess. As Wondrich suggests, the hot toddy as we know it today seems to be Scottish in origin. It makes sense: a piping-hot, potent toddy would be the perfect antidote to the damp chill of the Scottish Highlands.
Like the old-fashioned, the hot toddy is more of a cocktail template than a strictly defined recipe. It’s a drink that can be prepared at a moment’s notice, and it lends itself to tinkering based on personal preference and what you happen to have on hand. It’s a quick fix to any number of wintry problems, from a drafty house or a sore throat to the post-holiday doldrums.
That said, there are a few toddy dos and don’ts. Do choose a robust spirit. Since there’s little else going on, you’ll want something with body and character as the base. Single-malt scotch is classic, but dark rum, cognac, apple brandy and cask-strength bourbon also work well. Don’t use a clear spirit, like vodka, or a spineless whiskey like Jack Daniel’s. Do get creative with the sweetener: Try raw sugar, honey or maple syrup. But don’t use too much. The aim is to thicken and round out the drink, not overtake it with sugar. And do feel free to garnish tastefully. A twist of lemon, a cinnamon stick or a bit of fresh nutmeg are lovely additions.
You will often see all manner of hot drinks billed as toddies on modern cocktail menus. Perhaps bartenders fear that three ingredients (two, if you don’t count water) would be just too simple for today’s craft-cocktail crowds. And while those tea- and liqueur-spiked drinks may well be delicious, a proper toddy coaxes beauty from austerity. As Wondrich reminds us, “Toddy … is a simple drink in the same way a tripod is a simple device: Remove one leg and it cannot stand, set it up properly and it will hold the whole weight of the world.”
- 2 ounces Maggie’s Farm Dark Rum
- Bar spoon of honey
- 4 ounces boiling water
Combine all ingredients in a warmed mug. Garnish with a clove-studded orange slice and serve.