Warding Off Jack Frost: The History of the Hot Toddy

By Nicky M. | Arcadia Staff
When the cold weather demands a stiff drink, the perennial go-to is a Hot Toddy. A mixture of whiskey or rum with spices and hot water, this winter beverage has always been popular in the United States. But where did the Hot Toddy first come from? Today, we’re exploring the history of this favorite cold weather drink, and offering two recipes to try this winter season!

A Cold Day in Scotland… Or Maybe India?

The story of the Hot Toddy begins within the dampened streets of Edinburgh. As legend has it, the first hot toddies were made within Edinburgh’s pubs by mixing Scotch whiskey with a splash of hot water. This water was said to have been sourced from Tod’s Well, the largest well in the area, and giving the drink its name. These drinks were very popular during the 18th centuries, when they were used as a way to ward off the unrelenting Scottish cold.

Although this version of the legend seems quite plausible, it’s more likely that hot toddies truly began in British-occupied India. The word “taddy” in Hindi, which referred to a beverage made from fermented palm sap, actually dates back to as early as the 1610s, long before the Scots began serving the drinks in their pubs. By the mid-18th century, a taddy in India had come to refer to a “beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices.”

A modern Hot Toddy.

Whatever the actual origin may be, by the time the colonists were forced to brave the blustery New England winters, a Hot Toddy was considered the only acceptable remedy. The drink was typically served in large bowls to be shared by multiple patrons, and piping hot. In the colonies, the traditional recipe morphed slightly, combining rum, sugar, and spices with water, rather than whiskey. And in some pubs, the recipe even featured a combination of egg yolks and rum.

Serving Up the Modern Hot Toddy

Today, there might just be as many Hot Toddy variations as there are bars. Chances are good that if you ask two bartenders for a Toddy, you’re bound to receive two different versions of the classic drink. And in the newest additions to the recipe, you might even find a spritz of lemon juice.

As the cold weather slowly gears up across the country, consider serving up a bowl of Hot Toddy at this year’s holiday party – whether traditional or modern!
 

Traditional: Hot Toddy

Hot water
2 ounces rum or whiskey
½ teaspoon sugar (or more or less to taste)
Scrape of nutmeg (optional)

Heat water to boiling in a saucepan or kettle. Measure rum or whiskey 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.

A Hot Toddy with lemon slices.
 

Modern: Hot Buttered (Maple) Rum

A combination of fresh ginger, cardamom and cinnamon makes this hot toddy irresistible on a frigid night. It takes very little fuss, too—the drink comes together in as much time as it takes to boil water. A pat of butter delivers silkiness, and the spices taste as though they are actively repelling viruses. Using maple rum lends sweetness that allows you to go easy on sugar.

2–3 cardamom pods
1 pat of unsalted butter (cultured butter works especially well)
A few slices of peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of light brown sugar, or more to taste
Pinch of orange zest, or an orange twist
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon, or a cinnamon stick
1 dram of maple rum, to desired strength
hot water
A few drops of vanilla (optional)

Add cardamom pods to bottom of a tall mug and muddle slightly with pestle or other blunt kitchen tool. Add butter, ginger, sugar, orange zest and spices. In a separate mug, combine rum and hot water and then pour over spice mixture. Stir to dissolve butter and sugar, add a few drops of vanilla if desired and serve.
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