Many of us are used to our alcohol coming in two temperature categories: room temperature or cold. Almost all shots are consumed at room temperature and many purists will often sip straight rum, bourbon, whisky, or tequila also at a lukewarm level, along with the near certainty of red wine being around room temp. On the other side are the many cold cocktails and beers, like gin and tonic, Old Fashioned, or martinis.
Once fall passes its mantle to winter, however, I find myself returning once more to the drinks that I have ignored since the last time snow fell: hot drinks. The most well-known drink in the category is almost certainly the Hot Toddy.
The Hot Toddy is an old drink, dating back well over two centuries in its simplest form. Though the place of origin is not as clearly recorded as with many other drinks, a number of alcohol historians link the Hot Toddy to 1700s Scotland, possibly as a method for coping with the cold climate and possibly as a way of making whisky more appealing to the masses through its dilution and the addition of sugar.1
At first, the Hot Toddy was essentially a hot version of an Old Fashioned: water, sugar, and a spirit. One of the quirks of the older version of the drink is that, though the now typical citrus was missing, nutmeg was occasionally added to the cocktail – these Hot Toddies using nutmeg are now often referred to a Slings.
It is almost impossible to say what is the most traditional spirit used to make a Hot Toddy. As Dan Searing, a bar manager, said: "[A] toddy is how your grandmother made it."2 Critically examined, the lack of a single, traditional spirit makes sense: consuming a warm beverage is a natural solution to the cold that surely came to be in many different places. The spirit used would be the spirit available locally and easily. With how easy it is to make a Hot Toddy, this gives me a perfect opportunity to try a number of a varieties. All do, however, share a basic blueprint:
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- Spirit of your choice (I would recommend dark alcohols as they lend themselves much better than their transparent cousins, like vodka and gin)
- Sweetener – this can be honey, granulated sugar, even maple syrup
- Hot water – the amount is up to you, though two parts is a good place to start
- Optional: Citrus, typically lemon. Some people just throw in a lemon peel and let it steep for a time, while others add the lemon juice to increase the citrus. Again, this is up to you.
You might have noticed that every single part of the Hot Toddy allows for a personal flair. This is an excellent part of the drink: versatility and personality. However, think of the Hot Toddy as a three legged stool: take one leg away and the whole thing falls. So, though you have room for creative interpretation, be sure to always include a spirit, sweetener, and hot water.
Photo by Ethan Brandt
The first version I tried was with brandy, since my book on cocktails lists that version first. I tried to keep it simple and stuck with one part brandy, two parts hot water, and granulated sugar. The first impression is sweet, as brandy is already a sweet drink. There were nice hints of raisin all throughout and made me feel that I should be wearing an ugly Christmas sweater by the fire.
Next came dark rum with the same preparation as above. This was probably my least favorite of the versions I tried, which is saying something, because it was still decent. It was more similar to a sugary water with a little spice to it. I suspect this version would have been enhanced by slightly more rum and maybe a little citrus.
A French version of the Hot Toddy came third with the use of Hine’s Antique XO Cognac.. While I was initially nervous about this preparation, as the notion of watering down expensive cognac hurts my soul. However, the result was delicious, with nutty and fruity nuances. I took my time enjoying this version and I will certainly be going back again.
My all-time favorite rendition of the Hot Toddy has long been one also known as Irish Punch. I made this version like I was initially taught by some Irish friends, with lemon juice and cloves in addition to the Jameson (of course), water, and sugar. This version packs a stronger punch in terms of flavor and certainly accomplishes warming the belly. Less nuanced than the Cognac or Brandy, but obviously with more spice since I added the cloves, this is a great rendition for when you want to warm up while still knowing you’re drinking.
If you’re in the mood for something that’ll make you think of the Highlands, try a peaty Scotch as your spirit. I used one called, fittingly, Peat Monster and wow, did I like this version. The smokiness from the Scotch still comes through and is complimented by the sweetness of the sugar and balanced nicely by the water. If you want a pipe tobacco comparison, think of something like Sillem’s Black in a mug.
The final version I tried was spontaneous. A while ago I bought this spirit called Root. Made with many spices, including anise, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, smoked black tea, clove, nutmeg, birch-bark, and more. The result is essentially an alcoholic version of root beer (which makes sense). I made this with just the spirit, water, and sugar; there was no need to add cloves, cinnamon, or lemon, since the spirit already had those! This was a phenomenal version of the Hot Toddy. At 80 proof, it’s still high enough to give an alcoholic kick, but the spirit made a perfect winter beverage. Seriously, try it.
Photo by Downtown Lori Brown, Taken at The Cask & Ale, St. Petersburg, FL
Where would a comforting drink be without a pipe? I tried several different blends with my brews and I found that my favorites for the Hot Toddy were Englishes and Aromatics. Specifically, I found myself returning to the re-release of Balkan Sobranie in a smooth Radice Rubens Rhodesian and Devil’s Holiday in a Nathan Armentrout meerschaum that I snagged from Nick at Quality Briar earlier this year. The smokiness of the Balkan Sobranie played really well against the sweeter versions of the Hot Toddy, like the brandy, while the combination of the very sweet Devil’s Holiday and the peaty Scottish Hot Toddy created a surprisingly delicious combination, like a cherry by next to a campfire.
Photo by Ethan Brandt
I’ve always loved a good Hot Toddy, but now I see there’s a lot more versions to try. What about you? What’s your favorite spirit for a Hot Toddy? What tobacco do you like alongside it? Sound off, lads!
Editor’s Note: You can see our exclusive video of the making of the Hot Toddy just below. We were graciously hosted by Meghan Clarke. She makes a lot of drinks for me at The Cask & Ale in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, which is one of my favorite and often frequented places. – Kevin Godbee
The Cask & Ale
29 3rd St N
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Photo by Kevin Godbee
Photo by Barry Lively of B. Lively Images
1. See Imbibe!, by David Wondrich.
2. Jason Wilson, Spirits: Warm up with a hot toddy, Washington Post (Dec. 7, 2010), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/07/AR2010120704311.html
Ethan Brandt is a second-year Law student at Washington University in St. Louis, focusing primarily on Constitutional Law. He has a blog all about pipes called Pipe School and has had pipe-related pieces published at Smokingpipes, Quality Briar, and works closely with The Briar Portrait Gallery. He picked up his first pipe his freshman year of college and never looked back.