What Is a Hot Toddy? Everything You Should Know About the Winter Staple (Plus Our Fave Recipes)

We love eggnog as much as the next girl, but there’s nothing more soothing than a steamy, hot cocktail on a cold winter night. And in our book, the hot toddy—typically a mix of liquor, water, lemon, honey and spices—wears the warm-and-fuzzy crown. But what is a hot toddy anyway? Read on for all the deets on this wintry soul-soother, plus for a few hot toddy recipes that will keep you covered through the holiday season and beyond.

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What Is a Hot Toddy?

Also called a hot whiskey in Ireland, the hot toddy has been around for more than 200 years. The essential ingredients are technically just liquor, sugar and hot water, but lemon and spices (and now honey or another sweetener) are very common additions. calls the hot toddy “the grandfather of hot drinks.” One story states an Irish doctor was the first to prescribe his patients a mix of hot brandy, cinnamon and sugar water. By the early 1800s, the hot toddy was considered a cure-all in the Americas. Despite its boozy main ingredient, it was often given to children suffering from coughs, congestion and fever, since citrus and honey were known to soothe sore throats and liquor was believed to numb pain.

However, VinePair reports that the drink was invented even earlier in British-occupied India, noting that the word “toddy” comes from the Hindi word “taddy,” which originally meant “beverage made from fermented palm sap.” By 1786, the meaning changed to “beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar and spices.”

As the story goes, England and Scotland had long been adding hot water to Scotch during the cold months; the U.K.’s trade routes in India put new spices on their radar, which they eventually added to the elixir. Once the drink made its way to the colonies and Caribbean, rum and brandy were used in place of whiskey and Scotch, as those spirits were readily available there.

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How to Make a Hot Toddy

In simplest terms, this is essentially how you’d prepare a hot toddy at home:

  • Add liquor, lemon juice, sweetener and spices to a mug.
  • Add hot water to the mug and stir to combine and dissolve the sweetener.
  • Garnish and enjoy.

There are endless variations on the drink that you can experiment with. First, what liquor should you use? Whiskey is the universal go-to, although the hot toddy is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of spirits. Scotch, rum (aged or spiced) and brandy are all viable options, but we’re partial to bourbon, due to its oaky flavor and vanilla-caramel undertones.

Once you choose one, determine what flavors you’d like to pair with it. First, decide if you’d like to use plain hot water or brewed tea. Black and green teas offer a caffeine boost and more flavor, but you can go the spiced or herbal route if you’d prefer. Next, choose your spices. Cloves, star anise and cinnamon are traditional winter accompaniments. Fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme and mint, can give the drink a gourmet look and nuanced flavor that’s just right for the holidays.

The addition of lemon is nonnegotiable in our book, since its acidity both soothes the throat and tames the drink’s booziness, but you could use lime or orange if you’d prefer. As for a sweetener, honey is most common, but you could go the route of agave, maple syrup or simple syrup instead.

Whatever you use, you’ll want to preheat your mug with hot water, much like chilling a martini glass before pouring the libation in. Simply fill your mug with hot water while you prepare the drink components, then pour it out after a few minutes and make the hot toddy. This ensures that your concoction will stay warm as long as possible.

Ready to Defrost? Here Are 6 Hot Toddy Recipes We Love:

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Taryn Pire is PureWow’s associate food editor. A former bartender and barista, she’s been writing about all things delicious since 2016, developing recipes, reviewing restaurants and investigating food trends at Food52, New Jersey Family Magazine and Taste Talks. When she isn’t testing TikTok’s latest viral recipe, she’s having popcorn for dinner and posting about it on Instagram @cookingwithpire.

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...