The Hot Toddy
Updated: Mar 29
Ubiquitous all over the world of bartending it is usually the first drinks that comes into the minds of drinkers when the cold weather finally sets in during the winter months. As with any mainstream & old cocktail there is a million stories of where it came from, who originally invented the classic or the right way to make one. Lets dive in: Romantic Origin: The Hot Toddy’s name is the biggest mystery. No one knows for certain where it came from, but there are two popular theories.
In 1781, poet Allan Ramsay published a poem called “The Morning Interview” that mentions Todian Spring. This spring, also called Tod’s Well, was the main water supply to Edinburgh, Scotland, so the Hot Toddy may have been named after it. Ramsay’s poem refers to Todian Spring water being used for a tea party. Since Todian Spring existed anyway, regardless of Ramsay invoking its name in his poetry, it is unclear why Ramsay is given credit for the name of the Hot Toddy cocktail by those who adhere to this theory about its naming.
Another theory states that since Great Britain was involved in trade with India at the time the Hot Toddy was invented, the cocktail may have been named for toddy, an Indian drink made from palm tree sap. Whether or not this is true, one thing is for certain: Palm tree sap is not a usual ingredient in a Hot Toddy.
The name itself can vary, being spelled “Totty” or “Tottie” at times, though these spellings are uncommon, and some would say, simply wrong. There are no options when it comes to the hotness of the Hot Toddy, as it is one of the most popular cold-weather drinks, even more popular in ski lodges than in pubs. A Hot Toddy ideally should be made and enjoyed at home, with a good book or a good friend.
Medical Origin: Though one story about the toddy is that it was invented by 18th-century Scottish doctors as a medicament, she writes, in fact the drink was invented to disguise the flavor of raw Scotch. “Sugar, dates, saffron, mace, nuts and cinamon were piled on to hide the foul taste,” she writes.
Still, a hot, spicy drink like the toddy may help if you’re sick. The spices stimulate saliva, helping a sore throat, and the lemon and honey will stimulate mucus, she writes, citing Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University. The Mayo Clinic adds that warm liquids can be soothing and help ease congestion, while lemon water with honey can "loosen congestion and help prevent dehydration." One caveat, though: go light on the Scotch, which isn't good for a cold in large doses (obviously).
More importantly, though, the psychological effect of having a comforting warm drink is important, she writes—especially if you’re coming down with something beyond the usual seasonal post-nasal drip. “Stress and anxiety will have an impact on your immune system and lower your resistance,” Eccles told her. “So if you are worried and stressed, you could take a hot toddy in the way you might take a mild sedative or tranquilizer.” Royal Origin: Follow the path far enough back, and you end up in India. “Toddy” was originally the term for the sap of the Indian coconut tree, left to ferment in the sun. Sir Thomas Herbert, Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King Charles I, described it this way in 1638:
The Toddy Tree is not unlike the Date or Palmeto, the Wine is got by pearcing and putting a Jar or Pitcher under, that the liquor may distill into it…. The Toddy is like Whay in colour, in taste and quality like Rhenish wine, at first draught uncouthly relisht, but every draught tasts better and better, and will easily inebriate; a little makes men merry; too much makes them mad; extreame is mortall: in the morning tis laxative; in the eve costive; at midnight dangerous.
That last assertion was neither license nor euphemism, if one believes John Ovington, who, in his famous account A Voyage to Surratt In the Year 1689, noted the risks of toddy:
Several Europeans pay their Lives for their immoderate Draughts, and too frankly Carousing these chearful Liquors, with which when once they are inflam’d, it renders them so restless and unruly, especially with the additional heat of the Weather, that they fancy no place can prove too cool, and so throw themselves upon the ground, where they sleep all Night in the open Fields, and this commonly produces a Flux, of which a multitude in India die.
An irony, given the hot toddy’s later medicinal reputation. (It should be noted: the appearance of spirits and hot water in an abundance of 19th-century medical journals aside, a hot toddy will not actually cure the common cold, and while it will make the patient feel terrific for a few hours, the chance of feeling worse once the toddy wears off is, alas, all too present, leaving the prospect of a) penitence or b) maintaining a steady dose of hot toddies for the duration of the illness.