In the midst of last week’s snowstorm, the crud was creeping up on me. A scratchy throat and incessant cough signaled that the sniffles were soon to come. So when local restaurants started posting pictures of hot toddies on Instagram, I decided to brave the icy sidewalks to investigate this drink and hopefully calm my cough.
Hot toddy seems to be a generic description of a warm shot of whiskey sweetened with honey and lemon used to ward off colds, warm you up on a cold day and generally help you drift off to sleep — and that’s pretty much right. Most histories trace it back to Scotland where warm whiskey was used as a cold remedy. At its most basic, a hot toddy is a spirit (rum, whiskey, whatever) with honey and sugar. Other spices, sweeteners or liqueurs can be added to your taste preference.
In our coastal climate, bartenders don’t often get to bust out their cold-weather cocktails, so it was fun to see The Grocery’s Nick Kokonas, who hails from Chicago, playing around with a hot toddy recipe. He used an aged bourbon and added Bitter Truth Pimento Dram, an allspice liqueur; along with Cointreau, brown sugar simple syrup and a slice of lemon dotted with cloves.
As I sipped on this soothing cocktail, I remembered my grandmother’s country cough syrup. She’d mix up some clear grain alcohol, honey and lemon in a Mason jar and spoon it into any mouth nearby that let loose a cough.
It was essentially a cold toddy, and drinking this hot version, I wished my grandmother had used a nice sweet bourbon instead of grain alcohol, but as a devoted Southern Baptist, my grandfather had strict rules about alcohol. He’d buy her what she needed for medicinal purposes, but he wasn’t going to be keeping bottles of bourbon around the house.
By the time this is published, the snow will have melted and the temperature will be back to the 60s, but a hot toddy is a good drink to keep in mind if your throat gets a little scratchy this winter.
As Robert Moss, co-host of The Post and Courier's podcast The Winnow, details in his book Southern Spirits, "precise recipes aren’t necessary, for toddy was something mixed to each individual’s taste. A host would provide the sugar and water, plus a 'toddy-stick' to be used to mix the beverage. ... Rum and brandy were the leading toddies and slings in the South. This simple formula — a generous dose of rum or brandy cut by a little sugar and a little water — became the foundation for an entire generation of great liquor drinks of the South."
— Stephanie Barna