Techniques

Different Takes on the Toddy

The wintry standard is usually some combination of hot water, spices, citrus and a brown spirit — but it can be tweaked in endless ways.
A Hot Toddy is made up of hot water, spices, citrus and a spirit — but can be tweaked in endless ways.
A Hot Toddy is made up of hot water, spices, citrus and a spirit — but can be tweaked in endless ways.

When it comes to the blank slate of drinks, a hot toddy offers the perfect canvas for experiments in spices and spirits. According to Wonderland Kitchen, a hot toddy is "conversational fuel, a drink designed to be nursed through an evening’s badinage. It also defies formula, encouraging each drinker to adjust to both their own preference and the needs of the moment." The history of the toddy is a debate in and of itself, ranging from a cooling drink popular during the British colonial era in India to a Scottish cold cure in the 1700s.

Joe Stinchcomb, the bartender at James Beard-nominated restaurant Saint Leo in Oxford, Mississippi, knows a thing or two about hot toddies. (If you've ever spent time in the small college town, you'll no doubt hear chants of "Hotty Toddy!" during football season. The origins of that Hotty Toddy are another story altogether.) "A typical hot toddy is bourbon, hot water, lemon juice, and honey," says Stinchcomb. "But I'm taking a few more liberties and am tinkering with some house-spiced rum and bourbon this month, as well as an apple-cinnamon shrub for that fall/winter kick."

Saint Leo's hot toddy will feature a spice-infused rum this winter. After some experimenting, Saint Leo's hot toddy will feature a spice-infused rum this winter.

His "liberties" include currently soaking a festive mix of cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and lemon peel in a bottle of bourbon. For the rum infusion, he also added a half cup of raisins. "If you want it to be really aromatic, you can roast the spices to give it more of a Christmas-y feel," he recommends.

Though whiskey is the most common toddy spirit, there's no stopping you from dabbling in more botanical spirits as well. "Barrel-rested gin is really good in them. It'll give you those caramel and vanilla notes from the barrel, but also that 'holiday taste' from the spices," says Stinchcomb.

No matter how you toddy, one thing's for sure: a little sweetness is necessary to smoothe out the warm, booze-forward drink. Honey is a no-brainer, which is why Bärenjäger's Honey Liqueur is one of the best spirits to stock up on this winter. With a recipe dating back to 18th century Germany, the liqueur is about as old as the word "toddy" itself.

The German honey liqueur is your go-to spirit when it comes to toddy-ing. Photo courtesy of pinimg.com The German honey liqueur is your go-to spirit when it comes to toddy-ing. Photo courtesy of pinimg.com

At the Nurnberger Bierhaus in Staten Island, New York, owner and bartender Robert Kelly likes to use hot tea as his base. “I always prefer using Earl Grey as the tea of choice in my hot toddies. The hints of citrus and bergamot really add to the flavor profile.”

Kelly's also a fan of the German liqueur: “Adding Bärenjäger in a hot toddy is as easy as it gets — it’s a natural fit,” he adds. “To kick your toddy up a notch, you can also infuse your Bärenjäger with Earl Grey tea ahead of time, in a mulling spice ball. Give it a day or two and you will really get something delicious.”

Consider using the honey liqueur whenever you'd usually add simple syrup or honey, or in place of bourbon if you'd prefer a lower-ABV drink. At 70 proof, it adds just the right amount of kick without getting you too toasty.

When it comes to tweaking your toddy, consider this advice from bar director David Shenaut at the British Isles-themed Raven & Rose: "Winter cocktails should be kept simple, and the devil is in the details. A hot vessel and freshly grated spices are the most important things. Also, don't be shy with adding dilution — a shot of hot water or your favorite tea will do wonders."

Classic Honey Toddy

  • 2 ounces boiling water
  • 2 ounces Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 slice lemon
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg

Directions: Pour boiling water and liqueur into a mug. Add the cloves and cinnamon, and put in the slice of lemon. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes so the flavors can mingle, then sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg before serving.

Apple Hot Toddy

  • 2 parts Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur
  • 4 parts apple cider
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

In a sauce pot, heat apple cider with star anise and cinnamon sticks until boiling. Remove from heat and cover with lid, allowing spices to steep for 10 minutes. Strain spices, pour in BHL, and garnish with an apple slice and two dashes of bitters.

Hot Tea Toddy

  • 2 ounces Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 black tea teabag (or tbsp of loose tea)
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 wedge lemon

Directions: Combine water and spices in sauce pan. Bring water to just below boiling, remove from heat and add tea bag. Steep for four minutes, then strain into large mug. Stir in BHL, squeeze lemon into mug and garnish with lemon peel.

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