A hot toddy is a classic winter cocktail that can warm you up on a cold day. It is typically made with liquor, hot water, honey and lemon. Hot toddies are often associated with homemade remedies for colds and the flu. But can you actually order one at your local bar? Let’s take a closer look at what a hot toddy is and whether bars serve them.
What is a Hot Toddy?
A hot toddy is a hot cocktail made with liquor, hot water, honey and lemon. The combination of warm liquid and alcohol is soothing and can make you feel warm from the inside out. Traditional hot toddy recipes call for:
- 1-2 ounces of liquor such as brandy, whiskey, or rum
- 1 tablespoon of honey, maple syrup, or other sweetener
- 1/2 lemon
- 8 ounces of hot water
The lemon adds a burst of citrus flavor while the honey sweetens the drink. Some recipes also include a slice of lemon and spices like cinnamon or cloves. The mixture is stirred together while the water is hot to allow the flavors to infuse.
Hot toddies trace their origins back to Scotland in the 1700s. The Scots drank them to ward off chill and respiratory illnesses. The hot drink was considered medicinal and the alcohol helped numb any aches and pains. Hot toddies migrated over to England and then to the Americas, maintaining their reputation as a restorative wintertime beverage.
Are Hot Toddies Only for Colds?
While hot toddies gained fame as a home remedy, they don’t need to be relegated solely to the sick bed. A hot toddy can be enjoyed by anyone looking to warm up after time spent out in the cold. The cozy combination of citrus, spice, sweetener and liquor makes a perfect apres-ski or sledding warmer-upper. Toddies offer more robust flavor than plain hot cocoa or cider.
Some people associate hot toddies strongly with treating colds and flu. But modern doctors generally don’t recommend alcohol as a treatment for illness. Drinking can interact with medications and dehydrate you when fluids are important. Any medicinal benefits are questionable.
That said, if you do want to sip a hot toddy made with lemon, honey and spices, it can temporarily alleviate congestion symptoms and soothe a sore throat. The enjoyable ritual of preparing a hot drink and relaxing with it may have psychological benefits too when you’re under the weather. Just take care not to overindulge if you are sick.
How is a Hot Toddy Made?
To make a hot toddy from scratch, you just need 4 main ingredients plus a mug and stove or kettle to heat up the water.
Start by boiling water and letting it cool slightly so it won’t burn your mouth. Add 1-2 ounces of your preferred liquor to a mug or heatproof glass. Good options are whiskey, brandy, rum or scotch. Next, stir in 1 tablespoon of honey until it dissolves into the liquor.
Squeeze half a lemon into the mug, dropping in the mostly-squeezed lemon half too. This adds citrus oil and allows more flavor to infuse. Finally, pour in 6-8 ounces of the hot water. Add a cinnamon stick to the mug for extra spice and let it steep for a minute or two before drinking.
Be cautious at first in case the water is still too hot. Blow on the toddy or let it cool briefly if needed. Stir well before enjoying to evenly distribute the flavors.
If preparing a larger hot toddy for 2 or more, simply double or triple the ingredients. An oven-safe pitcher works well for batch toddy making. You can also add cloves, star anise, orange peel or other spices to the mug for extra accent flavors.
Do Bars Serve Hot Toddies?
While hot toddies are an easy homemade drink, some bars do serve them on request. Usually hot toddies will be listed on a bar’s winter cocktail menu or daily specials board. Here are some tips for ordering one at a bar:
- Look for hot toddy or winter cocktail listings on the menu or chalkboard specials.
- Ask your bartender if they can make you a hot toddy with your liquor of choice.
- Pick a base spirit like bourbon or scotch and specify if you want any extra flavors added.
- Expect to pay $8-$12 depending on the liquor used and the bar’s prices.
Note that not all bars will provide hot toddies since they require hot water and extra preparation. Many bars don’t serve any hot drinks at all for safety reasons. Cocktail bars that offer specialty drinks are more likely to accommodate a hot toddy order.
You’re especially likely to find hot toddies at ski resort bars, lodges and cafes located in cold weather climates. Après-ski spots cater to chilled patrons coming inside after time on the slopes. They expect orders of hearty hot cocktails like toddies.
Signature Hot Toddy Recipes
While the basic hot toddy formula is liquor, honey, lemon and hot water, bartenders often add creative mix-ins. Here are some popular signature recipes for hot toddy cocktails:
Classic Hot Toddy
- 2 oz bourbon
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 4 oz hot water
- 1/4 lemon
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
Apple Cider Hot Toddy
- 2 oz spiced rum
- 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
- 4 oz apple cider
- 1/4 lemon
- Dash apple pie spice
Cranberry Hot Toddy
- 2 oz brandy
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 4 oz cranberry juice
- 1/4 orange
- 2 whole cloves
Bartenders get creative with hot toddy recipes by using fruit juices, fall spices and varied liquors as the base spirit. Popular additions include apple cider, black tea, cranberry juice and chai tea. Spices like nutmeg, ginger and allspice add extra punch.
How to Make a Hot Toddy at Home
While a bar hot toddy is a nice treat, you can easily replicate the experience at home. Mix yourself a mug whenever the mood strikes using ingredients you likely have on hand.
Follow this simple hot toddy recipe:
- 2 oz whiskey, bourbon or rum
- 1 tbsp honey
- 6 oz boiling water
- 1 lemon wedge
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks or cloves (optional)
- Heat water to boiling on the stove or in a kettle.
- Pour liquor into a heatproof mug or glass. Add honey and stir until dissolved.
- Squeeze lemon wedge into the mug and drop it in.
- Pour in boiling water and add spices if using.
- Let steep 1-2 minutes before enjoying.
For an extra soothing sip, you can float a pat of butter on top along with a dusting of nutmeg or cinnamon. Keep a batch of homemade toddy mix handy by combining the lemon juice, sweetener and spices in a flask. Add boiling water and liquor whenever the craving strikes.
One of the great things about hot toddies is how customizable they are. You can play around with your favorite ingredients to create unique flavor combinations. Try these tasty hot toddy variations:
Mexican Hot Toddy
- 2 oz tequila
- 1 tbsp agave nectar
- 1/2 lime
- Dash chili powder
Chamomile Tea Toddy
- 2 oz amaretto
- 1 tbsp honey
- Chamomile tea
- Lemon wedge
Spiced Apple Toddy
- 2 oz whiskey
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Apple cider
- Dash apple pie spice
Change up the base spirit or swap in your favorite sweetener like maple syrup or agave. Herbal tea, fruit juice and fall spices all lend nice accent notes. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a hot toddy combination you love.
Can Hot Toddies Be Made Without Alcohol?
Absolutely! The cozy warmth of a hot toddy can certainly be enjoyed alcohol-free. Simply omit the distilled liquor and replace it with more heated liquid. Some great toddy options without booze include:
- Apple cider toddy – Made with plain or spiced apple cider, lemon, honey
- Chai tea toddy – Chai tea concentrate, honey, lemon
- Cranberry ginger toddy – Cranberry juice, ginger syrup, lemon
- Pomegranate toddy – Pomegranate juice, honey, orange
Kids will love a virgin toddy made with apple juice or cocoa. Adults can enjoy the ritual of preparing a steaming mug of fruity or herbal goodness. Add a cinnamon stick and use mugs decorated with seasonal motifs.
Are Hot Toddies Good for Colds?
Hot toddies have a reputation as a home remedy for cold and flu symptoms. Drinking one can temporarily relieve congestion and soothe a sore throat when you’re under the weather. However, its medicinal effects are limited.
Inhaling the steam vapor from any hot beverage can help moisturize and clear nasal passages. Hot liquids provide comforting warmth that makes you feel better. The honey and lemon have antioxidant and vitamin C benefits.
However, alcohol causes dehydration which counteracts any good. And drinking can interact negatively with cold medications. Any benefits are temporary at best. Don’t rely on hot toddies as a treatment without checking with your doctor.
Best Hot Toddy Liquors
One of the nice things about hot toddies is flexibility – you can use most liquors. But some varieties work especially well. Consider these top choices:
Whiskey’s warm flavor notes pair perfectly with hot water, lemon and honey. Bourbon, rye, Irish and Scotch whiskey all make excellent toddy base spirits.
The rich, rounded flavors of brandy complement hot toddy ingredients. Opt for regular brandy or apple brandy for a fruitier sip.
Rums infused with vanilla, caramel or winter spice taste delicious when heated. They lend natural sweetness too.
|Calories per oz
|Oaky, vanilla, spice
|Rich, fruity, nutty
|Sweet, vanilla, cinnamon
Try using a flavored liquor like cinnamon whiskey or honey bourbon for built-in extra taste. Just go easy on adding more sweetener if your liquor is already sweet.
Pro Tips for Making Hot Toddies
Once you get the basic toddy formula down, try these pro tips for taking your drink up a notch:
- Use freshly boiled water for the hottest and most flavorful toddy.
- Let the liquor and honey dissolve for a minute before adding water.
- Briefly warm the mug first by swishing with hot water.
- Try infusing your own spiced honey for a homemade syrup.
- Simmer apple cider with spices to make a concentrated mix-in.
- Float an extra lemon or orange slice for a pretty garnish.
- Shake spices like nutmeg, cocoa or cinnamon on top.
Play around with your favorite combos of liquor, citrus, sweetener and spice until you find that perfect hot toddy for you. Sip your creation while snuggled under a blanket for ultimate hygge.
Are Hot Toddies Good for You?
While hot toddies make a healthy comfort food in moderation, they should be enjoyed responsibly. Here are some pros and cons of drinking hot toddies:
- Provide temporary congestion and sore throat relief
- Warm you from the inside out
- Honey and lemon contain antioxidants
- Pleasurable ritual can lift your mood
- Alcohol causes dehydration
- Easy to overindulge as drink tastes mild
- Should not be given to children
- Frequent consumption can impact health
An occasional hot toddy made with quality ingredients is fine for most people. But be cautious about regular or excessive consumption due to the alcohol content. Pregnant women and anyone on medication should avoid alcohol.
While not as ubiquitous as margaritas or old fashioneds, you can request a hot toddy at many bars during the winter months. Look for cocktail menus touting seasonal specials to find bars shaking up creative spins on the classic toddy template. Or easily make your own batch at home using liquor, lemon, honey and spices for a comforting cold weather sipper that warms you from head to toe.