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How to Make a Perfect Hot Toddy, the Whiskey Cocktail to Keep You Warm This Winter

"It's like whiskey chicken soup."

hot toddy whiskey lemon cocktail Photo: courtesy Brent Hofacker/Adobe Stock

The Hot Toddy is the perfect cocktail for this moment.

Now, I know many of you read that last sentence and gave a little internal scoff at the idea that I’m referring to the present. “This moment?”, you say. “Are you sure you’re thinking of this moment and not mistaking it with a covered-wagon moment, or a Grover Cleveland moment or a moment during which settlers wore buckles on their goddamn hats?”

Nope. This moment. Yes, it is true that the Hot Toddy predates America. Yes, it is true that your great great grandmother probably gave one to your great grandmother to mollify her when she contracted mumps. But as we lumber into the final month of this miserable year, when the sun sets in the early afternoon and it’s so cold you wear slippers to bed, who’s come back to save us? That’s right—the Hot Toddy.

As anyone with young kids can tell you, alcohol can be inherently medicinal. This is especially true and especially wide-ranging, of the Hot Toddy, a drink that is recommended almost exclusively for its palliative effects. There are hundreds of recipe sites, for instance, that make the somewhat amusing (and not yet formally disproven) claim that Hot Toddy’s are healthy and can help cure a cold. Many others call it the perfect nightcap: Mark Twain, according to David Wondrich’s Imbibe, took one for years before bedtime, calling it “the only soporific worth considering.”

Mostly, though, it is deployed when blankets and coats just don’t quite do it, the cocktail like an internal medicine, to be taken as needed when the chill reaches your bones. It’s the closest thing to an inner embrace that’s available to us without some kind of religious experience and in this moment, our moment, when the Holidays are mostly/completely canceled and the only safe way to see anyone is to do it outdoors in December, the Hot Toddy has dusted itself off to remind us why we, as a civilization, loved it in the first place.

A Hot Toddy is like whiskey chicken soup, the perfect drink to displace any physical or emotional chill. It is uniquely suited for a conversation with a friend or neighbor on a front porch and in any case can feel like precious comfort, when you prefer your comfort both liquid and silent. And, almost as a bonus (a fact that is often omitted in write-ups of the Hot Toddy): when properly prepared, it’s absolutely delicious.

Hot Toddy

  • 2 oz. whiskey
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. honey/ginger
  • 4-6 oz. boiling water

Boil water. Pour boiling water into a mug, to pre-warm it. After a minute, empty water, add ingredients (see below), top with boiling water and garnish with a lemon or orange slice studded with cloves and/or a cinnamon stick.

Notes on Ingredients

redbreast 12

Photo: courtesy Redbreast

Whiskey: I personally prefer Scotch or Irish whiskey here, but American whiskey works as well. As does Japanese whisky, if you’re made of money. If I could choose any brand, it would be Redbreast 12-year Irish whiskey. It’s pot-stilled, which means it’s fuller and richer. One of the Hot Toddy’s main dangers is being too thin and a single malt scotch or pot-still Irish whiskey helps offset that.

Lemon Juice: Fresh juice. Actually, the original Toddy didn’t have lemon juice at all and was essentially just a Hot Old Fashioned: whiskey, sugar and hot water. That is good but can be a little dull unless you pick a whiskey of some serious character (like a smoky scotch), so making it a hot whiskey sour with some lemon juice adds some much-welcome tension and complexity.

Honey/Ginger: Honey is a great way to add body to this drink. You don’t need to add ginger, but I find it adds a delightful spice. For my honey ginger syrup, I bring 2 cups honey, 1 cup water and about a 4 to 6 oz. piece of ginger (chopped) to simmer in a pan for 5 minutes, before straining the solids out.

Hot Water: You want to do everything in your power to serve this as hot as possible. The only way this drink goes seriously wrong is if it’s a Lukewarm Toddy, so pre-warming your glass is important, as is using boiling water. Additionally, it would be worth your time to preheat your ingredients: If you have 3.5 oz. of room temp ingredients and 4 to 6 oz. of boiling water, it will average out to be tepid, which is not good.

The solution: fill a large shaker tin or bowl halfway with boiling water and then place a smaller shaker tin or metal bowl inside it, creating a kind of bain-marie. Add lemon juice, honey/ginger and whiskey to the smaller vessel and stir to gently heat it for about one or two minutes, before pouring it into your pre-warmed mug and topping with boiling water.

Also, a PSA: Do not heat it on the stove. Direct flame under pure spirits is an exceedingly bad idea.


Every week bartender Jason O’Bryan mixes his up his favorite drinks for you. Check out his past cocktail recipes.

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