The Cure for Cold Weather (recipes included)
Updated: May 18, 2019
Hot. F*cking. Toddy.
If you, like us, happen to spend most of your winters in a part of the world where frozen water falls from the sky, encasing your vehicle and subsequent plans for the weekend in an impenetrable crystalline fortress (as it did ours) then this is the drink for you (put a kettle on right now). The rest of you can—and should—make one as well, it’s just not as immediately critical to your emotional/spiritual/physical survival. More a vitamin than an EpiPen.
As with most cocktails that are old as time and have no hard and fast recipe, the origins of the hot toddy are...murky. I wont get into too many details here, as the theories that have been put forth thus far—involving poets, town wells, etc.—are generally quite boring. Suffice it to say that humans have been making something pretty similar, perhaps even calling it “toddy” or some derivation thereof, for around 300 to 400 years.
One of the more compelling tales involves an ancient Indian beverage of fermented palm sap called “tārī” pronounced with a hard “r” (think “pero” in Spanish if you don’t know what I’m talking about) that was purportedly mixed with spices and served warm as a medicament. In any case, by the end of the 1700s a hot drink called “taddy” was all the rage in Western Europe, particularly Edinburg where it was made with (you guessed it) scotch. Did "taddy" voyage across the sea in the memories of British East India Company sailors, en route from India with the same then-novel spices that continue to regularly share the glass with this venerable winter warmer? We don’t know, but if you put a gun to my head (please don’t) that’s the only story that doesn’t put me immediately to sleep.
My grandparents were mostly teetotalers, but they made an exception when anyone was under the weather (or a baby was particulalry fussy). A little tuck of whiskey stirred into hot water, or a toddler's pacifier dipped into the stuff, did not violate their vows provided it was for treatment and not recreation. Their abilitiy to psychically seperate the two speaks to the efficacy of the former use (perhaps the latter use as well).
The toddy was considered medicine from its inception, an opinion with which I whole-heartedly agree. The same prescription was given regardless of age (ditto that sentiment as well). Just take a gander at this 1837 article in the Burlington Free Press titled “How To Take Cold.” Don’t bother calling the doctor, the unnamed author suggests:
“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…[p]ly him well with hot stimulating drinks, of which hot toddy is the best.”
The medicinal qualities of warm liquids, honey, lemon, and other common toddy ingredients such as ginger, cider vinegar, etc., etc. are well established. What seems to have fallen out of favor in the medical community in the last 50 or so years however, is the key ingredient.* Yes, alcohol (ethanol to be precise) is a poison, but just as the great Swiss physician Paracelsus knew nearly 500 years ago “sola dosis facit venenum.” What’s that? You don’t speak Latin? Ahem, “the dose makes the poison.”
Point is, don’t overdue it.
If you've got the snuffles, a tuck of the old brown stuff is not going to kill you.** I’d even go as far as to suggest that the relatively minor bodily stress caused by a single drink is more than accounted for by the incredibly-good-for-you reduction in emotional stress likely suffered as a result of being sick and therefore not optimally productive while your to-do list just keeps getting bigger. Have a drink and call me in the morning.
"Isn't a hot toddy just anything that's alcoholic and warm?"
You'd be forgiven for thinking so.
From the beginning regional variation was rampant and it continues today. The Brits and Scots likely stuck to scotch. The Irish mostly used...can you guess? American colonists would likely have reached for Caribbean rum or local apple brandy (or might-actually-make-you-blind freeze-distilled*** "applejack"). Today, toddies in the states are often made with bourbon, unless you’re in Wisconsin that is, where they’re often made with brandy (old fashioneds as well for that matter).
For my money though, a hot toddy is the simple combination of two-fingers worth of brown liquor, a spoonful of something sweet, a squeeze of something acidic, and plain ol’ hot water. Anything more is potentially nice but most of the time probably not worth the trouble (outside of making better Instagram pics that is). In some cases you actually do more harm than good (looking at you cranberry juice—why is this a trend?). I really think tea-based Toddies should be called something else (punch?) but I'm not willing to fight you on it.
Anyhow, here’s a beta-version of Rotten Journal’s soon-to-be-patented Hot Toddy Generator (who out there builds apps?…for free?):
Combine in heatproof mug approximately…
2oz BOOZE (single or in combination)
1/4oz-1/2oz (1tsp-1tbsp) SWEETENER
1/4oz (1tsp or a nice squeeze) ACID
Top with HOT LIQUID
Garnish (or not) to your HEART'S CONTENT
whisk(e)y of any kind
reposado or añejo tequila
whatever you want
sweet liqueur, amaro, cordial, etc.
anything else that is sweet
lemon or lime juice
something else acidic, duh
hot water (preferred)
tea (if you must)
hot ginger ale (a Midwestern thing)
All bets are off. Nothing matters. Buy bitcoin.
dash of Angostura bitters
citrus twist (spiked with cloves for cuteness overload)
Okay, y'all, hope that was instructive and entertaining. Please share with friends who you think could use a warm up. And if you make something particularly sexy from the Hot Toddy Generator be sure to tag us. #gobad
*A least when it's not supporting the pharmacutical industry. Formulations of NyQuil, Benadryl, Robitussin, Tylenol, etc. (and many other presciption-only medications) contain alcohol, up to 25% ABV!
**This claim has NOT been evaluated by a physician but this footnote means you’re not allowed to sue Rotten Journal or its affiliates in the event that a hot toddy makes your cold last longer.**** How could you even prove that though, really?
***A rudimentary method of concentrating alcoholic content by leaving a barrel of fermented apple cider in the cold and then skimming off the ice, thus "jacking" its ABV (water freezes more readily than alcohol). Unfortunately, in addition to concentrating ethanol (the good stuff), this method also concentrates methanol and fusel alcohols (the very bad stuff), compounds that are seperated out during the process of conventional evaporative distillation.
****This claim has not been evaluated by an attorney. Just be cool, okay? We don’t have any money.