The hot toddy is a wintertime staple for one obvious reason and one more important reason.
The first is right there in the name: It’s hot, and is a great way to warm up when it’s freezing outside. But then lots of other heated beverages can do that.
The better reason to drink hot toddies is that they’re delicious, and that doesn’t change at any temperature. In fact, I prefer to drink my toddy cold. It’s a clean mix of flavors—and one that’s very refreshing served on ice. The woodsy, caramel character of the whiskey is brightened up with lemon, and honey emphasizes whiskey’s natural sweetness while smoothing out all the edges. A cinnamon stick thrown into the mix adds an earthy layer of spice—mostly in terms of scent, but it’s welcome.
A cold toddy is a great drink to whip up at home, too, not least of all because it’s rare to find it on bar menus, and requesting it from bartenders has earned me more than a few confused looks. And it’s just a few basic ingredients that are easy to keep on hand.
It’s also a great base to start with, if you want to experiment a little. There aren’t hard rules about what makes a toddy, as Quartz’s Annaliese Griffin recently explained, so there’s no orthodoxy to violate. It’s basically a brown liquor of your choosing, usually some lemon, and sweetener. You can try different citrus, such as grapefruit. Or use different sweeteners, such as agave or maple syrup. Instead of cinnamon, you can garnish with cloves or star anise. Swapping the hot water for tea is one popular way to liven up the hot version, and works cold as well (bergamot-scented Earl Gray is nice). People drink iced tea for a reason, after all.
The version that follows is a fairly standard take, made with my preference, whiskey. Either rye or bourbon will work, though I like rye. Griffin noted when making hot toddies that she found the rye she tested “too thin and acidic to play nicely with the lemon when served warm.” Cold, however, that acidity is part of what makes the drink taste so fresh. I also tend to use a little more whiskey in the cold version than the hot, so the flavor really stands up.
But play around. It’s really about your preference.
Ingredients for one drink:
2 ounces of rye whiskey
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 ounce cold water
Cinnamon stick (optional)
For a more rustic preparation, add the whiskey, lemon juice, and honey to a glass and stir to dissolve. If I’m adding a cinnamon stick, I’ll usually use that to stir. Add the cold water and stir again. Add ice.
Or, to treat it more like a proper cocktail, add the ice and all the other ingredients (except the cinnamon stick) to a cocktail shaker. Shake a good 20 seconds or so, strain, and serve over fresh ice. Garnish with the cinnamon stick.