I’ve always believed that one has to had to live through a few winters to truly enjoy and understand the sublime pleasures of the hot toddy. When cold weather finally rolls around, a cranky old man’s voice inside me demands that I switch from the youthful, easy-sipping summer drinks to the more mature enjoyment of a toddy.
Over the years, “hot toddy” has become a catch-all for any sort of steaming boozy drink. At the risk of sounding like that cranky old man, a true hot toddy does not include a tea bag, a dollop of cream, or a cinnamon stick.
The beauty of the toddy lies in its simplicity: spirit, sweetener, hot water, lemon peel. David Wondrich, in his cocktail history Imbibe, describes a toddy as “a simple drink in the same way a tripod is a simple device. Remove one leg and it cannot stand, set it up properly and it will hold the weight of the world.”
I like a ratio of 2 ounces spirit, plus ½ ounce sweetener, plus 3 ounces hot water. It’s a drink you can’t mess up. Just remember to use enough water – dilution can be your friend, embrace it. You’ll also want to remember to swirl a little hot water in the mug before you start so the cooler spirit doesn’t bring the temperature down to lukewarm.
Beyond that, there is plenty flexibility for experimentation. Will you use Islay scotch or Irish whiskey or rye? Or how about changing up the whiskey with aged rum, cognac, or even gin? Will you sweeten your toddy with basic white sugar, honey, or maple syrup? Or perhaps you will use a liqueur such as Benedictine or Chartreuse or Grand Marnier as your sweetener?
One of my favorite spirits for a toddy is Calvados, the famed apple brandy from Normandy — mixed with little yellow Chartreuse or a ginger liqueur like King’s Ginger of Domaine de Canton. This Apple Ginger Toddy will cure just about anything.
Which brings us to the age-old question: Was your drunk old aunt right? Will a hot toddy cure the common cold? Well, yes and no. There are certainly benefits to drinking hot drinks when you have a cold, to open up the nasal passages and such. And the alcohol can’t hurt to relax you and help you sleep in the same way that Nyquil does.
But I like to think that it also cures more existential ills. For instance, as I was writing this, I started to fear I was becoming that cranky old man inside me. And that bummed me out. But once I poured myself a steaming hot toddy…well, everything was OK.
APPLE GINGER TODDY
2 ounces apple brandy, such as Calvados
½ ounce ginger liqueur such as King’s Ginger or Domaine de Canton.
3 ounces boiling hot water
Warm a cup or mug with a little boiled water, swirl and discard. Add the apple brandy and the ginger liqueur. Stir in the hot water. Twist the lemon peel over the cup to release its oils then drop it in. Drink. Be cured.