Hot Toddies Suck – Long Live the Hot Toddy

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Here’s a fun little game you can play. Go ask someone – preferably someone not wearing arm garters or quoting Jerry Thomas – and ask them what’s in a Hot Toddy. The more people you try this game with, the better, because you’re going to get a lot of varied answers. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’re gonna hear a few of the following ingredients: Lemongingerhoneycinnamon sticksclovescayenne pepper.

The funny thing is that if you look at the earliest Hot Toddy recipe as it appears in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 Bar-Tender’s Guide, it contains none of these things. Here’s the recipe:

1 tea-spoonful of fine white sugar
1 wine-glass of brandy
Dissolve the sugar in a little boiling water, add the brandy, and pour boiling water into the glass until it is two-thirds full Grate a little nutmeg on top.

Water, sugar, brandy, nutmeg. Not even a lousy lemon peel. If you can’t think of anything less interesting or appetizing to drink, take a look at the recipe for the Hot Gin Toddy sometime. Anyway, as I was trying to standardize our Hot Toddy recipe for the bar a few years ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to stay true to the historical recipes while still offering a drink I felt our guests would enjoy. In the end, I decided to tell Jerry Thomas to take a flying leap and came up with something much more reflective of the style of cocktail we serve.

So, sure. We came up with a nice recipe that uses ginger and lemon, big deal. But during recipe testing something consistently came up that I felt was a common problem with Hot Toddies offered in many bars these days: they’re never hot enough. So I devised a solution: enter the Bartender’s Bain-Marie.

The technique is simple: fill a shaker tin halfway with very hot water, and build the drink sans water in a second tin nestled in the bottom shaker. Stirring the ingredients for a minute will raise the temperature to the point where we’re no longer serving cold or room temperature ingredients mixed with hot water. The now-warm drink is added to a preheated glass and finished with piping hot water.

Easy to do, and a hell of a lot safer to do at home than heating alcohol on the stovetop (note: do not heat alcohol on your stovetop). The recipe is below for those who want it.

Ginger Syrup

I always refer to this as the “San Francisco Ginger Syrup” method, as I stole it from Jon Santer, who I believe learned it from Thad Vogler, who probably didn’t steal it from anyone because Thad is a genius. At any rate I’ve rarely heard of bartenders in other cities doing it this way and when I have, it’s because they’ve learned it from someone from San Francisco. It’s easy to make, and delicious to use.

Simply combine cleaned (no need to peel the ginger) and roughly-chopped ginger (each piece should be about the size of your pinkie-tip) in a blender with equal volumes of sugar and boiling water. For this I’ve used 8 ounces of chopped ginger, 8 ounces of sugar, and 8 ounces boiling water. Blend on high until mixture is smooth, and then fine-strain through a sieve.

That’s it. Enjoy, and stay warm.

Update: The awesome illustrations I’ve added to this post are from my pal Shea Satterlee, whose work can be found at her website. Reach out to her for more, and support artists!

Hot Toddy Print Me

  • 1½ oz bourbon
  • 1 oz ginger syrup*
  • ¾ oz lemon juice
  • 1 tsp allspice or pimento dram
  • 3 oz boiling water
  1. Stir bourbon, ginger syrup*, lemon juice and allspice or pimento liqueur in Bartender’s Bain-Marie until warmed through. Transfer to preheated mug and top with boiling water. Garnish with orange peel.

Recipe printed courtesy of

38 Replies to “Hot Toddies Suck – Long Live the Hot Toddy”

  • Charlie says:

    The first ingredient I thought of for Hot Toddy was whisky. Nothing too expensive, mind. I use Whyte and Mackay and the amount I use depends on how bad the cold is!

    In a mug, pour just-boiled water over a couple of slices of peeled root ginger and a generous wad of lemon. Mix in a good tea-spoonful (or more) of honey to sweeten and add a dram or two of whisky.

    Enjoy. Repeat as necessary 🙂

  • John Campbell says:

    We keep things simple here in Eire for hot toddies, pre-heated glass mug, a shot of house whiskey (35.5ml of Jameson, usually) 1-2 teaspoons brown sugar, lemon slice with at least four cloves piercing the rind (and left in to infuse as you drink) topped up with boiling water from the kettle, stir until sugar is dissolved and water is cooled down enough to drink and bobs ur uncle fannys ur aunt. This will cure all ailments and warm any chills.

  • Chris Lee says:

    You changed the ginger syrup recipe!!!

    I came here for quick validation & it’s now ginger, water & sugar instead of honey. I made it that way but think we all liked it better with honey here.

    I know in your video and I think here before it was ginger, water & honey (equal parts).

    Is there a reason you updated the ginger syrup to sugar?


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