There are drinks that, as the saying goes, hit the spot, and then there are those like the toddy, the warm concoction for winter nights with a capacity for comfort-making that seems almost erogenous in its acuity at landing in the spots needed to be hit.
A well-made, well-seasoned, well-heated toddy possesses a kind of prodigious restorative power. The heat of the drink and the heat of the spirit seem to combine in a kind of factorial of warmth, flushing ears and noses and limbs and bellies fully down to the cockles (whatever and wherever those are), inducing a chorus of sighs, rendering the eyelids heavy with contentment.
If that's not enough of a sell, consider that the toddy is basically the only drink on earth for which you have an unlicensed permission to drink when you're sick. Nuff said?
The name 'toddy' was thought to have originated in India, where it was the given name for a kind of arrack. More likely the term originates in Scotland — but I say this with reservation, since the given explanation, published in The New York Times in January of 1871, is thoroughly bewildering.
The article describes how Edinburgh's water source, known as “Tod's Well,” served, in a poem, as some sort of metonymic stand-in for whisky (or usquebaugh, or “water of life,” etc.) wherein an allusion to “kettles full of Toddian spring” may or may not be referring to water which does not issue from springs, but potstills. Dubious. Still, the Scots, with their fell weather, their need for warming potions and their abundant stocks of scotch, are likely culprits.
These days a toddy usually consists of honey or sugar, a brown spirit (whisky, brandy, Calvados, aged rum, what have you) hot water or tea, sometimes a bit of citrus, and spice: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, some or all. Though the toddy is traditionally either hot or cold, I can't really imagine anyone serving, or wanting, a cold toddy. It is the warmth of the drink, after all, that among other things volatilizes whatever spice you're employing.
The hot version still resembles what Jerry Thomas laid out in his Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide 1887 (though modern mixology has gussied up the basic recipe considerably — in fact there is a toddy competition most years at Tales of the Cocktail). The reprinted The Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930 includes a handful of “modern” (e.g., 2011) recipes, and displays what it calls a Savoy Toddy. That recipe is below and if you can find Pimento Dram, a marvelous allspice liqueur (it can be purchased at the-bitter-truth.com), your loins will be properly girded for whatever cold an L.A. winter threatens you with, I'm sure.
The Savoy Toddy
Note: “For days when only a hot drink will do.”
Adapted from: The Savoy Cocktail Book.
2 parts aged rum
1 part fresh lime juice
½ part orgeat syrup
1 part cloudy apple juice
2 parts cider
2 bar spoons Pimento Dram
3 drops Angostura bitters
1. Combine ingredients and heat mixture up.
2. Garnish with cinnamon stick and orange peel.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.