Drink a Hot Toddy Today
If you want to know more, read on. If you’re just here for a recipe, here it is. Mix away, and Cheers.
- 1.5 oz. Bourbon
- 1/4 orange
- 3 cloves
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp. honey (or more if you like a sweet drink)
- 12 oz. hot water
Add Bourbon and spices to a mug. Squeeze orange slice into the mug. Fill with hot water. Add another small orange slice if you like.
Make this drink with care and it will communicate that care to the person you serve it to.
At some point in the 20th century, the United States designated January 11 as National Hot Toddy Day. It’s fitting that this drink should be revered with its own day, but let’s not restrict goodwill, caring, love, or Hot Toddies to a single day.
I remember a time when I was young. I had a fever of some sort and was wrapped up in a drowsy blanket with mom’s loving arms around me while grandma made noise in the kitchen. Eventually, an experienced hand brought a steaming mug of hot spice served with love’s concerned smile. It tasted strong, but I was able to keep a few sips down while warmth and caring coursed through every fiber.
Drinking a Hot Toddy will warm your body and your soul. You feel like you’ve tapped into generations of goodwill and wrapped yourself in a blanket of familial comfort. Heat soothes cold hands, steam clears a weary mind, and the gently-firm resolve of Bourbon whispers “I got you” for just a few seconds while you close your eyes and sip a mug of subtle spice.
You could be in a million-dollar highrise or hunkered down in a rapidly-cooling tent. Your surroundings don’t matter, it’s just you and a mug of perfectly balanced well-being that invites you to stay until the last drop is drained.
Stay and remember that there are some things that are good and right in the world, that memories will always be there to prop you up when you need it most, and that a well-intentioned drink made with love is good medicine for when things are not at their best. And let’s face it, we have plenty of “not at their best” things to counteract these days.
This is the drink and the experience that we need right now.
Wrap yourself in a blanket or at least go somewhere warm. Turn off your electronics, dim your lights, and think about someone long gone who loves you. It’s okay to feel a little sadness. Remember that in times past things have not always been perfect, but it is the will of the human spirit to protect our future generations and to pass along the knowledge and love that will see the next and the next through the hardships that they will inevitably face.
The Hot Toddy is your heirloom passed down through those generations, gathering the momentum of love and caring with each aging step until it arrives fully ready to share the full force of its warmth at a time when both you and the world are sorely in need of its healing comfort. Hold that mug with caring hands, take its warmth and love to heal your body and soul, and know that someday you will be able to pass it along with your own experience and caring so that it can continue its unabated legacy on its generations-long march through the human experience.
The history on this one is as muddled as any with claimants as far back as the 1600s with India’s word “tadi” which was used to indicate a beverage made from fermented palm sap or the 1700s in Scotland where it is said that spices and sweetener were added to local Scotch to make it more palatable.
I found a written note in the Burlington Free Press of 1837 that mentions giving a “toddy” to children who were afflicted with a cold and a mention of a Toddy as a “punch without acid” in a book called Oxford Night Caps from 1847. But the depth of history that you feel when you drink a well-made Toddy says that a mere 200 years doesn’t even remotely scratch the surface.
Though several places and people lay claim to it, none do so with the fervor or resolve of other hotly-contested recipes like the Negroni or Martini. It’s as if everyone wants to be part of it, but nobody minds sharing. Every contender understands that the main ingredient, love, is unbounded, unpatentable, and impossible to claim provenance while still being the most personal, intimate, and special thing that can be shared between people.
I suspect that the origins of this drink date to as far back as humans have been distilling alcohol and using it as medicine. Like my own grandmother and her ancestors, alcohol was often the only medicine available. Its ability to induce sleep, soothe nerves, cut through a cough, and provide a comforting warmth have been known for centuries. Love is what brings us to the addition of tasteful spices, citrus flavorings, and sweeteners when caring, thoughtful parents had to give this difficult medicine to ease the suffering of those they loved.
This drink has many origins and as and many recipes as it has parents and grandparents who have used whatever was on hand to add that distinctive, caring touch. Oranges, lemons, limes, cinnamon, anise, cloves, tea leaves, anything to bring a little comfort to the hard times and a little gentleness to the harsh taste of alcohol.
This recipe is personal and should be made that way. You’re building something that should remind you of your lineage or at least bring a sense of the place you call Home. If you don’t subscribe to either, find spices that make you feel safe and comfortable. If you’re making it for someone else, do your best and let them know that you’re serving a measure of your own caring along with it.
This is a recipe that is hard to nail down to absolutes. I have put my preferences at the top of this article but those are born of the flavors that make me think of Home and Love when I taste them. If you make that one, enjoy it with my best wishes of good health and the memory of a smile from a strong, grey-haired woman who knew that love, caring, and generosity are things that multiply when you share them.
I like a base alcohol with deep flavors, Bourbon, Scotch, or Whiskey of some sort. You will want something that will enhance the citrus and spice and not hide behind it. Anywhere between 1–2 ounces should be sufficient.
Citrus adds an aromatic element and a little bite. I like orange because it mixes so well with Bourbon, but you might prefer lemon, lime, or grapefruit. You’ll want about a third amount of juice as you have of alcohol. Squeezing a quarter of an orange gives you about a half-ounce of juice.
You can add any spices that make you happy, but most likely they will be spices you’ll find in winter recipes. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and allspice are prime contenders. Using whole spices is okay, but you don’t want to overdo it. I find that 3 whole cloves and half a cinnamon stick are about right for me.
Sweeten it with honey, agave syrup, sugar, or whatever you have handy. Or leave the sweetener out if you like.
Some people like to add tea. I find that the strong flavor of tea overpowers the others, but if you’re a tea drinker make it a very weak cup and you’ll still get some of the tea-leaf softness that you’re looking for without drowning out the Bourbon completely.
Let the heat, love, and legacy fill and comfort you. Breathe the steam, feel the heat in your fingers, and let yourself relax with the first tentative sip. The sweet spot is drinkable heat that doesn’t burn but still delivers a full, comforting warmth. Do not let it get cold. Prevent the inevitable cooling by making a smaller drink, putting it in the microwave, or back on the stove but make sure that every sip has that warmth.
The Hot Toddy is a warm hug from your great-great-grandmother. It has been passed down through the generations as a not-so-secret cure-all and feels like a warm, caring smile in your mug.
Of course, these are one man’s opinions and sanctioned only by me and those who drink at my home bar. I wish you a happy Hot Toddy Day and many mugs full of caring, generosity, and love. Cheers.
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How to Take Cold. (1837, February 3). The Burlington Free Press, 1. Downloaded from: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84023127/1837-02-03/ed-1/seq-1/
Slatter. (1847). Oxford Night Caps (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.