As January kicks into high gear and the temperature drops, even your drinks may need heating up. It’s time for winter-warmer cocktails, and the granddaddy of them all … the hot toddy.
The term “hot toddy” has become a catchall phrase for a hot alcoholic beverage, but it properly refers to a specific drink. In its simplest form, a hot toddy is a mixture of a spirit, (whiskey, rum or brandy), hot water and honey (or sugar). The most common recipe consists of bourbon, honey, hot water and lemon, often spiced up with cloves or cinnamon. Another variation: using tea instead of water.
The origins of the name “toddy” are unclear, but there are three predominant theories. The first dates back to the British colonial era, when an East Indian drink called the tārī, made from the sap of the toddy palm, became popular. However, this drink was served cold.
Another theory comes from 18th-century Scotland and the Todian spring in Edinburgh. The spring would have supplied the water to make the whisky (Scottish spelling) in the drink. It was common at this time to add honey and spices to make whisky more appealing to women.
The third hypothesis relates to the perceived healing quality of a warm tipple. According to Town & Country magazine, “a story dates back to the days of Robert Bentley Todd, a physician in mid-19th-century Dublin. Dr. Todd was known to prescribe his patients a cure-all mixture of brandy, canella (white cinnamon), sugar, and hot water.”
While its medicinal value is debatable, a good hot toddy might just be the secret to surviving winter. Variations abound and, with D.C. being a cocktail town, mixologists have jiggered the formula to create some inspired concoctions for beating the winter blues.
If you are in a romantic mood, the sophisticated Rye Bar in the heart of Georgetown has a hot toddy for two made from Buffalo Trace bourbon, hot water, honey syrup, lemon juice, rosemary springs, ginger, lemon peel, orange peel and chamomile tea.
For something a little more adventurous, you can venture out to All Set Restaurant & Bar in Silver Spring, where the staff has conjured up a toddy with house-made chai tea syrup, lemon juice, cinnamon-infused whiskey and a splash of falernum. If you’re not familiar with the latter ingredient, falernum is sweet syrup, often used in Caribbean drinks with flavors of almond, ginger, cloves and sometimes vanilla or allspice. If the hot whiskey in this one doesn’t warm your body, the array of tropical flavors will at least transport your mind to a sunny island retreat.
Even if you choose to escape the icy months by jetting off to the tropics, getting to the airport will still require exposure to the frigid air. Legal Sea Foods at National Airport makes a classic toddy with Eagle Rare 10 Year bourbon, honey, lemon and cloves.
Next we move on to the Balkans, where they should know a thing or two about combatting frosty weather. Ambar Capitol Hill is offering a special cocktail from the Sumadija region of Serbia, known for producing some of the best fruit brandies in Europe. The Sumadija hot toddy is made with sugar, slivovitz (plum brandy), Becherovka (Eastern European herbal liqueur) and water, then garnished with a cinnamon stick and star anise.
Finally, Blue Duck Tavern in the West End has gone in a different direction with their toddy, using gin as the main liquor and mixing it with green Chartreuse, toasted cardamom and lime. Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by the Carthusian monks since 1737 from a secret blend of 130 herbs, seeds and spices. The gin is infused with genmaicha, a Japanese green tea containing roasted brown rice.
Perhaps it’s best to avoid going outside altogether, in which case (when the mercury rises above freezing) be sure to stock up on the ingredients to mix a hot toddy at home. Play around with the liquor and spices to suit your personal style.
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup hot water
1.5 oz. bourbon
Strip of lemon peel
Stir honey and water until honey dissolves. Add bourbon. Twist a strip of lemon peel over the drink, then add it to the glass. Stir with a cinnamon stick.