A turmeric hot toddy is a mellow mid-winter cocktail to sip and savor

Have it your way.
Have it your way.
Image: AP Photo/Matthew Mead
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The cocktail world is obsessed with origin stories—which bartender, at the behest of which famous regular, whipped up which now-legendary drink. When it comes to the hot toddy, the warming, liquor-spiked winter drink has not just one but three origin stories: One suggests the brew was first medicinal (plausible to anyone who has sipped one to ward off a cold); another traces it to the sweet tooth of 18th century Scottish women; and a third finds the drink’s roots in India, where “toddy” describes a range of fermented drinks.

Thankfully, the vagueness of its origins allows the hot toddy to escape the authenticity police that patrol the world of cocktails. Unlike drinks that have been established with precise proportions of spirits and mixers, a hot toddy is largely about personal preference and what brown liquor is on hand.

It’s essentially a cup of hot water spiked with liquor (bourbon, scotch, brandy, or rum are common choices), sweetened with honey or sugar, and sometimes flavored with some combination of lemon, cinnamon, star anise, clove, or nutmeg. Sometimes there’s even tea in the mix. There’s no orthodoxy to run afoul of here.

For my hot toddy, I tested a bourbon against a rye—both Woodford Reserve. The bourbon made a better hot toddy by far, with warm, round notes. The rye was too thin and acidic to play nicely with the lemon when served warm. Maple syrup and honey are equally delicious here—maple brings out the woodsiness of the bourbon, whereas honey makes the citrus sing.

Tea was the real revelation. Brew a stiff cup of tannic black tea and use that in place of the hot water and the drink suddenly has a backbone, and you have a jolt of caffeine alongside your whiskey. (Some variation on cold-brewed tea, honey, citrus, and whiskey over ice could make a delicious summer afternoon drink, but that’s a subject for another season.)

Spices, which felt a bit out of place with hot water, honey, and lemon, blend nicely with tea, just as they do in a masala tea or chai. You could also steep whole spices like a cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, or cardamom pods in the hot tea for a more subtle effect. Slices of crystalized ginger could be great additions, too—it’s your toddy.

Inspired by a delicious turmeric, lemon, and honey spritzer I make sometimes in the summer, I added pinches of turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon to a tea-based hot toddy and felt warmed and relaxed by the brew on a frigid February evening.

It makes some sense to add turmeric to a hot toddy: Both the spice and the drink are seen as health elixirs by some. Turmeric, once relegated mostly to bright yellow curries and India moms’ “haldi doodh,” is now an annoyingly buzzy “wellness” ingredient. But it’s also bright and sunshiny—and perfect for a mid-winter pick-me-up, or mellow-me-out.

Turmeric tea hot toddy

This spiced hot toddy will definitely not prevent, diagnose, or cure any disease, but it’s very delicious.

Ingredients for one drink:

1/4 cup freshly brewed black tea

A tiny pinch (or a 1/8 teaspoon) each of turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon

1 ounce bourbon

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons lemon juice


Add the spices, or your own variation (anise, or a little cayenne might be nice here), to 2 ounces of hot black tea and stir. Add the remaining ingredients and stir again. You could strain through a coffee filter (as with the one below)—or not, if that feels like one step too many on a cold winter’s night.

Image for article titled A turmeric hot toddy is a mellow mid-winter cocktail to sip and savor
Image: Tom Mylan

Classic hot toddy

This recipe is really just a starting point. Play around with the balance between sweet and tart and don’t be afraid to mix it up with rum, or throw a cinnamon stick in there. This isn’t a particularly boozy drink, but you can always add an extra slug of bourbon if you like.

Ingredients for one drink:

1 ounce bourbon

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup hot water or freshly brewed black tea

1 slice of lemon (optional)

1 cinnamon stick (optional)


Add bourbon, honey, and lemon juice to a mug and stir to dissolve. Add hot water or tea and stir again. Garnish with a a lemon slice and a cinnamon stick, if you’re using them.