Hot Toddy Season

empty shot glass
Everyone who cooks has comfort zones:  pasta with tomato and basil, roasted chicken with potatoes, soup, chili, fish tacos, Thai curry, whatever.

We also have our uncomfort zones, those food-and-beverage subjects that we’ve avoided out of fear, disinterest, distraction, or lack of opportunity to dig deeper. My friend Susie wrote about trying to become a better baker on her blog recently. For me, it’s cocktails.

I know next to nothing about cocktails.

I do know that this topic is a complicated one that continues to get more complicated. In 2006 when visiting with friends in New York, I ordered a cocktail at Employees Only, one of those trendy speakeasy-themed establishments. The bartender wore a chef’s coat; my drink was a grassy concoction comprising strips of ginger and perhaps gin. Its heritage, whether it was a remake of a Tom Collins or a Gin Fizz, or something else entirely, was largely lost on me.

Part of my lack of focus on cocktails relates to the start-up costs: I lacked a well-stocked bar. I never had the right glassware or ice cubes or shakers/stirrers. It was always easier to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack–or go to a bar for a cocktail. There was never any shame in that.

Hot Toddy Ingredients
So, for the longest time, I didn’t know bourbon was the same as whiskey, that whiskey could be made with barley, rye, corn, or wheat, that whiskey could be spelled with or without an e, depending on where you were from, that I actually liked the stuff at all.

But I do. A month or so ago, spirits writer Kara Newman shared this quote from Dan Dunn: “Whiskey doesn’t care. That’s what makes it cool.” Whiskey is, apparently, the honey badger of spirits.

And then I became acquainted with the hot toddy. Last winter I sampled some warm cocktails around town, which are just about the best things to drink on festive, snowy evenings. So I looked up a couple of recipes for making hot toddies.

That’s when I discovered that these things are dead-easy to make. I didn’t have to worry about lighting an orange rind on fire or freezing spherical ice cubes. I didn’t need any equipment at all—just whiskey, honey, hot water, a lemon, and a mug. Cocktailing for beginners, like me.

In subsequent experiments, I found both bourbon or whiskey worked well.  I also learned that some folks like more honey, some like less, some like more water, some like less. In other words, this is also a very flexible formula. Tailor it to your tastes. Add a cinnamon stick if you’re feeling festive; use hot tea instead of hot water if you want more flavor.

But drink it hot. After pouring boiling water into the glass and mixing it with the whiskey, the drink cools down unexpectedly fast. (Maybe it’s a reaction with the alcohol?) While I wait a couple of minutes to drink hot tea to avoid scorching my tongue, waiting to drink a hot toddy only guarantees lukewarm results.

Like all trends, though, whiskey has had its moment. Kara predicts that rum will be the spirit to watch in 2012. That means my next forays in drinks will definitely be of the hot buttered rum variety. Stay tuned!

Hot Toddy

5-6 ounces boiling water
1 1/2 ounces whiskey
1-2 teaspoons honey
1 wedge of lemon

Mix the water, whiskey, and honey in a small mug. Squeeze the lemon over the toddy and taste, adding more water or honey (or whiskey!) to your taste.

4 comments… add one
  • Thanks for the shout-out, Kate! You toddy sounds awesome. I could go for one right now!

    Just a heads up- the “whiskey doesn’t care” quote – credit is due to Dan Dunn for that one, I was quoting him.

    Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in hot buttered rum!

  • Thanks, Kara — I could go for one now, too! Thanks for the clarification. I just made the correction.

  • Thanks so much Kate, for referencing my post about becoming a better baker.

    I never had such fear about cocktails though…maybe it’s because my mother would serve me a mini version of the hot toddy in your post when nothing else would help a bad cold. In our house a bit o’ Irish whiskey would cure a variety of ailments!

    Looking forward to your hot buttered rum recipe for when the snow starts flying!

  • I guess everyone has their weak spots, Susie. Your family had it right about colds, though. In fact, I think it was a cold last winter that might have kick-started my hot toddy explorations.

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