Winter Warmer

The Hot Toddy is more than just good medicine

By Micah Drew
Hot toddy from The Ritz Lounge in Kalispell. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

If cocktails could speak, the hot toddy would soothingly whisper: “Get well soon.” 

The drink, traditionally made with whiskey, lemon juice, honey and boiling water, is a classic go-to during the doldrums of winter, and has long been touted for its medicinal qualities, as well as it’s delicious ones.  

“It’s the classic cure for the common cold,” says Cole Emmons, a mixologist at the Ritz Lounge in Kalispell.

Like many classic cocktails, the hot toddy has as many origin stories as a comic book character, many revolving around its curative prowess. Some bartenders cite the story of Dr. Robert Bentley Todd, an early-19th century physician in Dublin who prescribed a drink of hot water, brandy and cinnamon for sick patients.

A newspaper article in the Feb. 3, 1837, edition of The Burlington Free Press in Vermont includes drinking a hot toddy in an article on “How to Take Cold.”

One of the first inclusions of a hot toddy as a cocktail comes from the “Bartenders Guide,” penned by New Yorker Jerry Thomas in 1862, which lists a toddy recipe made with a “wine glass of brandy,” some hot water and grated nutmeg. 

The oldest legend of the drink’s genesis, however, dates back to British-occupied India. The Hindi word “taddi” has its origins in the early 1600s, referring to a beverage made of fermented palm sap. By 1786, the definition had evolved to describe a drink made of an alcoholic liquor, hot water, sugar and spices. 

No matter the true beginning of the hot toddy, it’s safe to say humans have long enjoyed mixing spirits and sugar as a winter warmer. 

Hot toddy from The Ritz Lounge in Kalispell. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

While many bars will put a hot toddy on their seasonal winter menu — the “Ritzy Toddy,” $14, includes Four Roses Bourbon, Barenjager Honey Liqueur, lemon juice and a house-made ginger syrup — all bartenders can whip one up to ward off the cold. 

“I enjoy developing a twist on the toddy to cater to the tastebuds of each person who comes in,” Emmons said. “As long as you don’t stray too far from the basic framework, our opportunities for crafting a unique hot toddy are pretty endless.”

The easiest modifier is the base spirit. In the early American colonies, Caribbean rum was a more popular spirit, and remains a common alternative to whiskey. Spiced rums or whiskeys boost the warming nature of the drink. For a fruitier profile, Emmons suggests using a cranberry or pomegranate syrup, or mixing whiskey and amaretto for a nuttier take on the drink.  

For a visual and aromatic flair, top your hot toddy with some grated nutmeg, whole cloves or a stick of cinnamon.

Emmons said that while he enjoys experimenting with variations on the drink, his go-to hot toddy recipe at home is always the “good old simple classic.” “

“You just can beat that sometimes,” he said. “I’ll drink them whenever I’m sick, and it works every time.”

Traditional Hot Toddy

2 oz whiskey

0.5 oz honey

0.5 oz lemon juice

8 oz boiling water

Cinnamon stick


Fill a mug about halfway with boiling water. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Add the lemon juice and whiskey and stir again. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. 

Localize It

Spice up your hot toddy with these offerings from local distilleries.

Moonshine Whiskey — Whistling Andy Distillery, Bigfork

Trapline Rock & Rye — Glacier Distilling Company, Coram 

Rum with Spices or Cranberry Moon Whiskey — Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits, Evergreen

Cinnamon Whiskey — Spotted Bear Spirits, Whitefish

Spirited Discourse

National Hot Toddy Day is Jan. 11.

As a medicine, there may be some validity to drinking a hot toddy. Heat is helpful — drinking warm liquids and inhaling steam can help ease congestion and sooth nasal passages. Honey can also help sooth a sore throat. Spirits, in moderation, can cause drowsiness, helping you rest and recover from a sickness.