Hot Toddy Recipe & History

The hot toddy is the cozy drink to rule them all. Equal in comfort to the glow of a wood stove or the cuddling embrace of a blanket, this perfect marriage of booze and schmooze is everything you ever wanted from a hot drink.

Read on to learn about its Far-East origins and how to make one of your own.

Table of Contents

The Origins of the Hot Toddy

The hot toddy has been around for centuries. In fact, it goes all the way back to the days of the Raj, that dubious historical period in which Great Britain controlled India for nearly 100 years.

In India, there was a popular drink made from fermented palm sap. In Hindi, it was known as “taddy” — a word that made it into official terminology by the 1610s. However, it wasn’t formally defined until 1786, when an author wrote that it was a “beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices.” When the British discovered the drink, they quickly claimed it as their own.

Unsurprisingly, the British weren’t particularly generous with attributing the drink to its true creator. In the cold English winters, nothing went down quite like a hot toddy. At first, this consisted mainly of Scotch whisky mixed with hot water, but as the British Empire’s trade routes began ferrying exotic spices westward, pubs began tossing in all sorts of aromatic delights.

The Curious Case of Dr. Todd

As you might expect, there are some differing accounts of how the hot toddy came to be. One such variation tells the story of an Irish doctor, Dr. Todd. A quintessential 19th-century medical practitioner, he prescribed a mixture of hot brandy, sugar water, and cinnamon to ailing patients.

This is likely true. However, the most probable scenario is that both stories were true simultaneously. Doctors heard about Indian hot toddies and realized the value of their warm comforts.

Journey to America

The toddy quickly found its way over the stormy seas to the American colonies. Because rum and brandy were so abundant, Americans subbed them out for whiskey. The drink also left plenty of room for creative interpretation, allowing the colonists to experiment freely with local ingredients.

Read: the hot toddy is not medicine. But 18th-century Headline Science was a powerful phenomenon, and the hot toddy was soon heralded as the cure for the common cold. A Burlington, Vermont newspaper championed its use in 1837 as a magic cure for just about anything:

“If your child begins to snuffle occasionally, to have red eyes, or a little deafness; if his skin feels dry and hot, and his breath is feverish — you have now an opportunity of doing your work much faster than ever before.” The work? Simply don’t call the doctor, feed the child until they can take no more, and force hot toddies down their unhappy gullet.

Ever since it gained a foothold, the hot toddy has been a staple of American holiday drinking. Below, learn how to create that warm cup of holiday cheer in your very own kitchen.

a cup with hot toddy

How to Make the Perfect Hot Toddy

Enjoy one of our favorite cocktail recipes:

  • Prep Time 10 Minutes
  • Cook Time 5 Minutes
  • Total Time 15 Minutes
  • Serves 6 People
  • Calories 268 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 piece dried red chili pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Use 3-4 tbsp. of above mixture as sweetener
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • Enough hot water to fill glasses
  • Garnish: lemon wedge and cinnamon stick

Instructions

  1. Start by making the sweetener. Add together the maple syrup, water, chili, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove this heat and let it steep for a half-hour to one hour.
  4. Use a strainer and pour this into a glass jar.
  5. Next, add half a lemon’s juice, 3 to 4 tbsp of the aforementioned sweetener, and 2 oz. of bourbon to each glass.
  6. Top it off with hot water.
  7. For garnish, use a cinnamon stick and a lemon wedge.

Notes

The longer the mix sits, the stronger the cinnamon and lemon taste will be. Enjoy your glass of holiday cheer!
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Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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