Merry Christmas! I hope you are all able to have some fun in yet another strange Yuletide.
At Christmas we often receive bottles of booze we don’t really like as gifts. My most hated alcoholic drink is whisky, but it is delicious in a hot toddy. Well I was recently gifted some and that’s why it is this year’s Christmas boozy drink post.
What do you think of when imagine a toddy? I think of Scotland, whisky. I think of lemons and spices, and its warming effects on those who have just come in from the cold.
There is a popular myth that the drink was invented in the early 18th century at Tod’s Well Tavern, Edinburgh, to warm up the very cold patrons1, but I found that the hot toddy’s history is a little more complicated. The trouble is, toddies were not created in Scotland, not were they hot, and nor were they laced with whisky.
Whenever I am researching the vintage of a recipe, I always visit The Foods of England website – even if the recipe is Welsh, Scots, or Irish. It’s definition is I would say standard: ‘Spirit such as whisky with hot water, sugar, lemon and sometimes spices such as cloves.’ On the webpage is a quote from the 1788 book Grose Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue which states: ‘Toddy, originally the juice of the cocoa tree, and afterwards rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg.’2
Going by that quote, the drink looks like it has its origins in the West Indian plantations. Note it is not a hot drink.
It turns out, however, to have its roots in the East, rather than the West, Indies, or rather the British Raj. There was a Hindi drink known as taddy, which was made from slightly fermented palm sap since at least the early 17th century. During the British occupation of the country in the 18th century, the fermented juice was used to ‘water down’ expensive beer3: expensive because at the time it was difficult to make in hot climates, and therefore had to be imported (this is before the invention of Indian pale ale, or IPA).
By 1820 the drink had evolved into a mixture of alcohol, sugar, ginger and lime.4 It wasn’t hot, but the delicious drink spread through the British Empire, changing depending upon what was available. The palm sap swapped for ‘the juice of the cocoa tree’ in the West Indies, and perhaps the Scots were the first to think of warming it up? Who knows?
However it became the classic whisky-based drink, it certainly became popular as a cure-all for colds and flu. And why not? There’s the lemon with its vitamin C, honey or sugar making the drink viscous and soothing, and hard liquor – nature’s anaesthetic. There may be an element of practical truth to this; those who drink a moderate amount of alcohol are able – on average – to fend off colds better than those who drink heavily, and those who do not drink at all.5
So what should I put in my recipe? I turned to another favourite of mine: the classic and comprehensive Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). Disappointingly, there are just three toddy recipes, and of those only one is hot and contains no whisky (Calvados is the booze of choice) and uses roasted apples. The cold toddies contain whisky only as an option.6 In the end I came up with my own, I had a play around and I think I have the proportions of ingredients just right. I also tried the Calvados toddy, which was also a great success.
Here are my recipes for both cocktails. Let me know if you give them a go.
Whatever you do, be safe, eat and drink plenty, and do as little as possible this Christmas. Thanks for reading my posts, trying the recipes, leaving comments, listening to the podcast, and for supporting me this year. I have the best followers! I’ll be back on 1 Jan 2022 with my usual review of the year.
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A classic hot toddy
1 shot (25-30 ml) whisky (or rum or brandy)
2 tsp honey or sugar
Juice of quarter of a lemon
75-100 ml hot water (or tea)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 slice of lemon
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Put whiskey, honey or sugar, lemon juice and most of the hot water, or tea, into a small glass or coffee cup. Stir with a cinnamon stick, or a spoon, to dissolve the honey.
Taste and see if you need to add more water (I go with the full 100 ml).
Garnish with a lemon slice, the cinnamon stick and a few rasps of freshly-grated nutmeg.
Calvados hot toddy
This is adapted from the entry in The Savoy Cocktail Book. I always buy a bottle of Calvados at Christmastime, but I think rum or brandy would be good substitutes.
1 dessert apple
400 ml hot water or tea
2 tbs sugar
4 shots (100-120 ml Calvados)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Take your apple and make an incision around the apple two-thirds of the way up, cutting just the skin. Place on a baking sheet and roast until, pale brown and the juices have begun to caramelise, around 40 minutes.
In a small saucepan add the hot water, sugar and cloves. Slice the apple in half, roughly chop one half and place in the pan. Keeping the heat very low, allow the flavours to steep in the hot water for around 10 minutes.
Place a shot of calvados in four small glasses, and divide the hot steeped liquid between the four cups, passing through a tea strainer or small sieve.
Garnish each with a clove and a neat piece of roasted apple cut from the reserved piece. Grate a little nutmeg over the top and serve.
- Schofield, J. & Schofield, D. Schofield’s Fine and Classic Cocktails: Celebrated Libations & Other Fancy Drinks. (Octopus, 2019).
- Toddy. Foods of England http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/toddy.htm.
- M., N. Warding Off Jack Frost: The History of the Hot Toddy. Arcadia Publishing https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Navigation/Community/Arcadia-and-THP-Blog/November-2018/Warding-Off-Jack-Frost-The-History-of-the-Hot-Tod.
- Burton, D. The Raj at the Table: A Culinary History of the British in India. (Faber & Faber, 1993).
- Barrett, B. Viral Upper Respiratory Tract. in Integrative Medicine (ed. Rakel, D.) (Saunders Elsevier, 2007).
- The Savoy Cocktail Book. (Constable & Co., 1930).
5 responses to “A Hot Toddy”
Thank you! Merry Christmas from Cincinnati, Ohio:)
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Thank you. Merry Christmas! Xx
My mum always used to give us warm milk with a dash of whisky when we were poorly. Looking back now, was it to help us sleep or give her a break. Lol!
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Haha. A bit of both I think
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