The recipes for a Hot Toddy seem to be as numerous as the legends telling the tale from which it originated. One suggestion is that it began in Edinburgh, Scotland where pubs began mixing Scotch whisky with a splash of hot water. The water was said to have come from the largest well in the area, Tod’s Well, thus supposedly giving the drink its name. This form of Toddy was very popular during the 18th century when it was often used to help counter the cold weather.
The English from the times of Charles Dickens also seem to lay claim to the origins of the Hot Toddy, with images of cozy firelit parlors in Dickensian London, as well as flu remedies being conjured up by little old grandmothers in shawls.
Yet another theory is that the Toddy was invented by an Irishman, Dr. Robert Bentley Todd, who, according to legend, had a cheerful view of medicine, prescribing his patients a mixture of hot brandy, water, cinnamon and sugar as a general cure-all. If nothing else, his patients were most likely a happy lot.
Although these all make for great stories, the history of the toddy can be traced to India and a 17th-century Hindi drink called “taddy” that is made from fermented palm sap. The oldest record of the recipe is from 1786, where it was described as liquor mixed with hot water, spices and sugar. British Food History suggests that taddy was used by British officials in India to water down expensive imported English beer. Over time, spirits, sugar, ginger and lime were adapted into the mix. The recipe then seems to have traveled to Scotland and England, ever changing along the way.
Today there are many versions of the Hot Toddy. Here are a couple to consider:
Traditional Hot Toddy
- Hot water
- 2 ounces whisky or rum
- ½ teaspoon sugar (or more or less to taste)
- Scrape of nutmeg (optional)
Heat water to boiling.. Measure whisky into a tall mug. Fill to the top with hot water and spoon in sugar, stirring to blend. Grate some nutmeg on top if desired. Drink hot.
Classic Hot Toddy
- 1 shot (25-30 ml) whisky (or rum or brandy)
- 2 tsp honey or sugar
- Juice of quarter of a lemon
- 75-100 ml hot water (or tea)
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 1 slice of lemon
- Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Put whiskey, honey or sugar, lemon juice and most of the hot water, or tea, into a small glass or coffee cup. Stir with a cinnamon stick or a spoon to dissolve the honey.
Taste and see if you need to add more water.
Garnish with a lemon slice, the cinnamon stick and a few rasps of freshly grated nutmeg.