Cocktails and childhood typically don’t mix. Sure, the sound of uncorking a wine bottle might make you reminisce about family dinner parties, or the wafting aroma of a peaty single malt might conjure fond memories of sitting by the fire with your old man. But—for obvious reasons—there aren’t a lot of alcoholic beverages that bring you back to your days as a kid.
The one glaring exception, of course, is the Hot Toddy, a classic cold-weather tipple with a history of somewhat questionable use as a sleep aid for fussy kids. It’s certainly possible (even likely) that us Bevvy staffers come from abnormal families, but most of us can recall an instance where our parents mixed up a toddy for us when we were sick and they were tired. Because, hey, sometimes couch syrup just doesn’t get the job done. (This is the part where we state unequivocally that we don’t suggest giving booze to minors.)
But all things considered, we still experience an undeniable nostalgia each time we bring a steaming mug of Hot Toddy toward our faces. It’s a fantastic drink for warming yourself up in the fall and winter, and though there are probably more overtly healthy ways to take the edge off of a cold, we’ve yet to find one that goes down easier.
Hot Toddy recipes can vary drastically depending on who you ask, and the drink has certainly benefited from a host of creative modifications over the years. But just like the Daiquiri, Martini, or Margarita, the classic recipe is a great place to start. That said, once you give it a try, it’s hard to resist bending those ingredients to your will.
As with most cocktails, the central figure in the classic Hot Toddy recipe is the spirit. Unlike a lot of other drinks, though, the exact type of spirit you use is more or less left up to personal preference.
Another option: try brandy. Whether grape-based or of the apple persuasion, brandy is an excellent companion to citrus and spice.
The Lemon Juice
As always, you should make sure to use fresh-squeezed lemon juice in your Hot Toddy. Each serving doesn’t take much, but the difference between that and the “from concentrate” stuff is pretty drastic.
We decide to use the generic “sweetener” here, because there are seemingly endless options. If you’re looking to relieve a sore throat, a dollop of honey is probably your best bet, but other standard syrups or sugars work great as well.
Because this recipe includes a good deal of hot water, it’s fine to use un-dissolved raw or brown sugar, and you can feel free to play around with some even more creative things like agave nectar or maple syrup.
There seems to be some strangely passionate debate about whether Hot Toddies should be made with boiling water or simply hot tap water.
In our experience, the former is superior when it comes to dissolving the sweetener and simply because it stays hot longer (which is really the whole point of this cocktail), but if you’re looking to guzzle it down as fast as possible you might want to go with the latter.
Now, here’s the part where you can really go wild. Any number of herbs, spices, and other flavors can be introduced to make the Hot Toddy your own.
Classic favorites are cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise, although really anything will enhance the drink as long as it blends well with the other ingredients you’ve chosen.
It’s always fun to experiment with new recipes, and hey—even if it goes horribly wrong, you’ve still got a cocktail in your hands.
Photo: Dinah Pena