[Ed.: We’re glad to see Sage could still operate the keyboard after guest blogging about today’s boozy goodness…]

“Toddy… is a simple drink in the same way a tripod is a simple device: Remove one leg and it cannot stand, set it up properly and it will hold the whole weight of the world.”

-excerpt by David Wondrich from Imbibe!, which contains a fabulous essay on the topic of Toddies.

The Hot Toddy is mainly a winter drink, which makes Hot Toddy Day well timed for rained-in Vancouverites such as myself. On a chilly night a hot, boozy drink is about as good as it gets. Ignoring the most generous definitions (which are so broad as to include the likes of mulled wine and hot cider), a Hot Toddy basically breaks down like this:

Hot water or tea

Honey or sugar

Lemon juice


The most commonly featured spirits are Scotch, Whisk(e)y, Bourbon, Rum or Brandy.

Other common additions are cinnamon sticks and cloves, and of course spiced butter in a Rum Toddy will give you the classic Hot Buttered Rum.

You might think that a warm, cozy drink, perhaps shared around a fire, (and featuring purported medicinal properties to boot!) would be the kind of drink that would bring people together. And perhaps, if the people are actually drinking the toddies together, this would be true. When it comes to talking about toddies, however, I can’t think of a more divisive drink. Its history is contested, its recipes are contested, and its role as a cold and flu remedy is contested.

Wow. Some people get really passionate about the “right” way to make this drink. I’ve seen insults fly on many a comment board after one recipe or another was posted. One guy in the scotch/hot water camp proclaimed that the brandy/tea version he was commenting on was an “effeminate imitation”. In fact, the scotch-toddiers throw the world “girly” around a lot when discussing other recipes, which is kind of ironic because according to some, the Scotch Toddy was actually invented to make scotch more palatable to women, and is therefor a “girly” drink in and of itself. I’ve also seen many a fine rebuttal from the much-maligned brandy camp asserting that they drink their scotch neat, and their toddies brandied, and why would these scotch- toddiers be spoiling their scotch in such a fashion?

From what I can infer, the original Hot Toddy did use scotch, but many other versions have come into their own and gathered devoted followings. I’ve seen recipes featuring unlikely spirits (Tequila Toddy, anyone?) and some altogether unlikely combinations. See two sample recipes below, submitted in comment streams*:

“For a maega [sic] dose of vitamin C and all the relief of a hot toddy heat one cup orange juice, 1/4 cup cranberry juice and a [sic] 1-2 shots coconut rum. Tastes great, works quickly. Soothing and restorative!”

“I mixed tea with lemon and Brandy, Patron, Whiskey, Jaggermeister, NyQuil, Theraflu and a little Listerine. When I woke up in the hospital 5 days later my cold was completely gone.”

Commenter No. 2 is obviously poking fun at the medicinal reputation Toddies hold, as well as the dangerous (but seemingly common) practice of mixing booze with acetominophen-based cold remedy products.

Many people hold Toddies to be medicinal, the idea being that booze is a cough suppressant, honey is antibiotic and soothing on the throat, and lemon clears mucus and the sinuses. Of course, booze and sugar are also dehydrating and alcohol is often considered an immunosuppressant. While I can’t make any claims as to the effect of a toddy on symptoms or recuperation, I’m sure sipping one under a nice blanket will help you get to sleep, and be the most pleasant part of your ill experience.

On New Year’s Eve, after an invigorating session of snow-shoeing, a classic Brandy/Earl Grey/Lemon toddy went down very nicely. On Saturday night L and I celebrated an anniversary dinner at db Bistro Moderne, and after a lovely meal L was inspired to do some research on the blog’s behalf. So I can report that the bartender there created a delicious take on the toddy using:

Black Tea

Black Rum

House-made Ginger Syrup




It was wonderful, if a bit sweeter than I make my versions. The ginger syrup was an inspired addition.

Tonight’s version was intended to include Cointreau, but the neighbourhood liquor store had no orange liqueurs whatsoever. So we returned home with a bottle of Limoncello and hoped for the best.

It broke down like this:

1.5 oz Brandy

.5 oz Limoncello

1 Orange Pekoe tea bag

1 Tbsp Honey**

1 star of star anise

1 cinnamon stick

Orange for garnish

Hot water

Brew the tea with the star anise. Let the anise steep even after the tea bag is removed. Pour the spirits into the glass, top with tea, stir in honey and garnish with orange and cinnamon stick.

I thought it was pretty darn tasty. Post-photo I actually added more orange wedges into the glass which was nice too.

Conclusion: However your prepare it, a Hot Toddy is a lovely beverage for a January evening. Using caffeinated tea lends a nice balance to soporific booze, and is a much lighter option than rich specialty coffees. A decaf toddy makes for a relaxing hug of a drink. Enjoy!

** I didn’t use the honey in mine, but recommend it for most palates.

* Comments found here: http://www.drinkstreet.com/searchresults.cgi?drinkid=1063&drinkname=category:12