Hot Toddies for Cold Nights

January 9, 2021

Cold nights call for warm drinks – and there’s no reason there can’t be a little spirit added to them. Before ice became ubiquitous in the 1830s, alcoholic mixed drinks were served either at room temperature or as hot as one could make them, either with boiling water or by shoving a poker fresh from the fire into the mug.


Back then the names for the drinks were well-nigh interchangeable. Toddies, Slings, Skins and Sangarees all had the same three basic ingredients: spirit, sugar and enough water in which to dissolve the sugar. The spirit would be whatever you had available and the water would be either hot or cold to suit.

An astute reader might note that this is one ingredient shy of the Old Fashioned. In a Toddy, we’re missing bitters, but sometimes nutmeg would dress the top of the drink. Omit the bitters and add mint and you have a julep.

Like the Old Fashioned, fruit can play a role in a toddy but isn’t necessary. You could add a bit of lemon zest to rim the glass then drop it into the liquid, but adding half of a baked apple could work very well, too. Of course, if you go all the way to citrus juice, you’ve got yourself a sour.

Today, though, “Toddy” is the name generally given to the class of simple mixed drinks served hot and the “Sling” is the cold version. (A Bittered Sling becomes the Old Fashioned – see how they all relate?) Individual recipes get fanciful names.

Etymological concerns aside, hot mixed drinks are often just what the doctor ordered for chilly evenings.

A Standard Hot Toddy Recipe:

– 1 ½-oz spirit
– 3 oz boiling water
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– Nutmeg, fresh grated to top (optional)

Heat a glass or mug with boiling water. Dump the water, add the sugar and a fresh three ounces of boiling water. Stir to dissolve. Add spirit. If you have it, grate a little nutmeg over the top. Stir and serve.

For the spirit, the darker and higher proof the better. Rums, brandies and applejacks – especially aged versions – are ideal. All whiskeys are excellent. Skip anything clear.

Hot Toddy


Substitute the water with strong black tea for a pick-me-up version.

All types of granulated sugar work well; Demerara and Turbinado sugars add richness. Honey or even molasses can work, too.

Skip the nutmeg and rim with lemon zest to make a brighter toddy.

You can mix-and-match the substitutions easily with little fear of spoiling the drink. My personal favorite is bourbon + black tea + honey + lemon zest.


One of the named toddies is the delightful “Hot Buttered Rum”. You can construct as above using an aged or dark rum and throw a generous pat of real butter on the top right before serving. But if serving for a crowd, it’s best that you make a “batter” and prepare as follows.

Hot Buttered Rum

For the batter:

– 8 oz (1 stick) butter, softened. If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to batter.
– ½ cup brown sugar or Demerara sugar
– ¼ tsp allspice
– ¼ tsp cinnamon
– ¼ tsp nutmeg

Cream the butter and sugar along with the spices with a wooden spoon or hand-mixer. Batter can be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks until ready to use or the freezer indefinitely. Batter recipe yields 8 drinks.

To build the drink:

Add one tablespoon of batter to warmed mug. Add 2 oz dark or aged rum. Top with 6 oz boiling water. Grate nutmeg atop the drink and serve.

There’s a creaminess and rich mouthfeel that stands in contrast to the sweet, sharp, bitter and sour flavors of most mixed drinks.

Just because the rum version is the only buttered toddy with a name doesn’t mean you can’t use another base spirit. Additionally, try using hot apple cider in place of your boiling water for a nice change of pace. Applejack, hot apple cider, nutmeg and a pat of butter is a delicious, soul-warming drink.


If you live in the south (or Southern Hemisphere), perhaps it isn’t quite cold enough for a warm drink. In that case, we recommend a Sling (aka Cold Toddy). Just use cold water instead of hot and pour the drink over ice. The one major change from the Hot Toddy recipe is reversing the spirit-to-water ratio:

– 2 oz spirit
– 1 oz water
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– Lemon zest to rim (optional)

Note that it takes a little longer to dissolve sugar in cold water; be sure to give it the time or else your drink will be a little gritty. You can also eliminate that worry by using 1 tsp of simple syrup instead.

So pick your poison, your sweetener and your temperature. Top or not as you like. Just don’t let the weather deter you from a delectable mixed drink.

Ready to go hunting for spirits for your cold weather drinks?

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