This Hot Toddy Recipe Saved My Sanity

A very easy hack will make this your favorite winter drink

best hot toddy made with scotch
A classic Hot Toddy, pictured. One hack can make this truly memorable.
bhofack2 / iStock / Getty Images

Until recently, I found the hot toddy to be little more than a winter necessity. Hot water, whisky, lemon, honey: The classic recipe isn’t necessarily a “tasty” drink, but it clears the senses and provides warmth.

But utilizing a spur-of-the-moment hack, I think I cracked the code to elevating the drink and offseting a severe case of winter/Covid malaise. One warm glass and I felt alive.

So let’s start with the basics: The hot toddy is possibly the easiest drink you’ll ever make, and you can pretty much do what you want with it.

“One of the best parts of any classic cocktail is they’re so customizable,” explains Samantha Casuga, bartender at NYC’s award-winning The Dead Rabbit, as we’re discussing the hot toddy.  “So once you have a template, you can go from there. You should have fun with it.”

The key to this variation on the hot toddy relies on a few key elements.

Aberlour 12

Your whisky: We’re using Aberlour 12. It’s not my go-to from the Speyside distillery — that would be the Single Malt Scotch A’bunadh Alba. I’m not usually a fan of the sherry element that a lot of whisky brands swear by, but it’s not overpowering here; this expression is double cask matured in American oak and ex-sherry barrels, giving it a rounded character. And the sherry elements provide some much-needed fruit and spice notes (particularly cinnamon).

Whatever you use, don’t be precious about the whisk(e)y you’re using. “I’m a huge, huge fan of using single malts more frequently in cocktails,” says Casuga. “It’s been a crazy year, and a long winter. Treat yourself.”

Your water: “When we talk about hot cocktails, the biggest key is the hot water,” says Casuga. “It sounds crazy, but we forget temperature, especially when it comes to ingredients.” So you’ll want to pre-warm your mug — a hot water rinse is good. And recognize if your other ingredients are room temperature, refrigerated, etc., because that’ll alter your final product.

Your hack: It’s Port. You know, the bottle you have lying around that you don’t know what to do with. Port toddies are a thing, with port in lieu of whisky. My suggested hack to Casuga was combining the traditional whisky toddy with the port.

My spur-of-the-moment hack is Croft Reserve Tawny Port, only because it was near me. But the final result was excellent, with fruit and baking spices bursting out of what normally is a rather colorless cocktail. I didn’t even need to add spices or a garnish.

If you’re going to add port to your toddy, “start by tasting the one you’re going to use, and think about what flavor profile it’s imparting,” says Casuga. “Is it on the fruitier side? Are those fruits bright and fresh, or are they more cooked or dried? From there I would try to find a whisky that would complement those flavors. Additionally, determine whether or not you’d like to be more spirit forward, or wine forward. I would guess I would enjoy a 2:1 ratio of Port to whisky. This way would lead to a more ‘mulled wine’ type drink.”

Since I’m more of a whisky drinker than a Port fan, I’m gonna go 1:1 in my variation of a classic hot toddy recipe, shown below.

Speyside Scotch Toddy

1 parts Aberlour 12 Year Old
1 part ruby (for sweeter notes) or tawny Port (for nuttiness)
.5 part lemon juice
8 parts hot water
1 tbs honey

Combine all ingredients into a warmed mug. Garnish with lemon wedge and cinnamon stick.


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