Slipping Into A Hot Toddy

A cold-weather classic brings warmth and comfort.

Special to the Jewish Week
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With this winter’s constant assault of cold and snow, we think now is the perfect time to revisit a classic curative cocktail: the hot toddy.

The hot toddy hails from Scotland, and relies on a combination of Scotch or other whisky, hot water and a sweetening agent like honey, sugar or syrup.

This basic formula can be augmented — often to great effect — with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg. A classic addition that also brings some citrusy freshness is a lemon wedge studded with whole cloves.

Generally enjoyed in cold weather, and often sipped late in the evening to facilitate sleep, the hot toddy is a versatile potion, and can be enjoyed in much the same fashion as an evening tea or after-dinner coffee. On a particularly cold or gray morning you could suck one down with breakfast, if you are so inclined, but we suspect this won’t escape the attention of coworkers or supervisors and, therefore, don’t recommend it.

The precise history of the hot toddy is unknown. But one poetic theory comes to us from the 18th-century Scottish poet Allan Ramsay.

In his 1721 poem “The Morning Interview,” Ramsay depicts a grand tea party. He describes various items by their national identity: tea from China, sugar from the West Indies, and

Scotia does no such costly tribute bring
Only some kettles full of Todian spring.

Ramsay elucidates this mysterious term in a footnote: “The Todian spring, i.e. Tod’s Well, which supplies Edinburgh with water.”

In Scottish folklore this is readily understood as a reference to whisky, which is derived from the Scottish Gaelic term “uisge beatha,” or “water of life.” Sure enough, the 1786 publication of the poem “Holy Fair” by Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous bard, employs toddy as slang for whisky—and the now mostly unread (and largely unreadable) Robbie Burns is most assuredly the final word on Scottish authenticity.

Despite its Scottish roots, well over 200 years ago the hot toddy was already being made with other brown spirits, such as Irish whiskey, dark rum, American whiskey, and brandy.

Another source of basic recipe variations calls for using tea instead of hot water. Doing so offers a plethora of flavors to toy with. A chef’s pantry of herbs and spices offers yet another fertile pasture for positive invention and variation. As in all things, be guided by your senses.

Here then we offer a classic Scottish hot toddy recipe for you to slip into.

Ingredients: 
2 ounces Highland single malt Scotch whisky, such as Dalmore 12-year-old or Macallan 12-year-old
1 to 3 ounces boiling water
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey (or brown sugar)
3 drops Angostura bitters
1 slice lemon, studded with cloves
A sprinkle of ground nutmeg
Recipe Steps: 
Into a heatproof glass or large coffee mug put the sugar, bitters, lemon juice, and clove-studded lemon slice. Add the whisky, pour in one third of the boiling water, and stir gently until the honey or sugar dissolves; add more boiling water to bring it back up to temp and fill your cup to the desired level. Dust lightly with nutmeg and serve.