The Hot Toddy is the most famous of wintry drinks, which means it is typically the most poorly made. That watery sort of lemony concoction with whiskey poured into a glass too hot to hold turns out to be not all that satisfying. But the hot toddy is actually a delicious chameleon-like drink that has the unusual ability of appealing to palates meek and bold.
Originally called a Whiskey Skin and made with whiskey, boiling water and a lemon peel, the drink was a catalyst for William “Bill The Butcher” Poole's demise. A typical tale of the eighteen hundreds when men stepped into other men's taverns and, challenged, retorted with things like, “I'm to sweet for you.” Come a day soon when these trigger-ready men meet again at another tavern, throw scalding drinks in each other's face (get it – whiskey skin?) And this goes and on and on until someone's shot dead.
When people stopped wasting good liquor on people's faces, it was time to improve upon the drink. In his book, Imbibe, David Wondrich calls for Redbreast Irish Whiskey and adds a teaspoon of Demerara sugar.
Naomi Schimek of R Bar makes her hot toddy using “an old Belgian cough remedy of lemon and saffron.” Cutting a lemon in half, she fills it with saffron, ties the two halves together with a string, puts it in a pan with a little water and cooks it. When all's done she squeezes the lemons into a glass and adds brandy and hot water.
Marcos Tello makes a recipe inspired by a man named Williard – the first American celebrity bartender of The City Hotel in New York. He cores one apple per drink, fills them with cinnamon and bakes them. Then he places one baked apple inside a wide cocktail glass and smashes it with maple syrup and applejack then adds hot water.
Whether you use whiskey, brandy, honey, sugar, ginger, cloves, star of anise, cinnamon or substitute chamomile tea for water, there really is no end to the wonderful adaptability of the hot toddy.
Below is a recipe that is delicious as is, but leaves room for your own creative touch.
Makes: 1 drink
1 oz. Jamaican rum
1/2 oz. cognac
1 brown sugar cube
1/2 oz. honey
2-4 dashes of bitters
1. Mash all of the above ingredients together in a glass.
2. Fill with boiling water.
3. Top with an orange peel.
4. Let sit before serving, both to steep and cool to the touch – the drink will remain hot.