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This classic hot toddy recipe is easy to make in just 5 minutes with hot water, whiskey, lemon and honey. Feel free to use your favorite type of whiskey, plus any additional add-ins or garnishes that you enjoy.
Chilly nights call for warm drinks. And when you’re looking for a simple cocktail to warm you up, nothing beats a classic hot toddy. ♡
This centuries-old drink has long been one of my favorites to enjoy this time of year. It’s incredibly quick and easy to whip up in 5 minutes with just 4 basic ingredients — hot water, whiskey, lemon and honey. But of course, everyone has their own opinion regarding exactly what ratios, add-ins and garnishes make for the best hot toddy. So I highly recommend tinkering around with the ingredients here to come up with your own signature hot toddy recipe that tastes perfect to you!
My own favorite way to make a hot toddy is to mix one nice and strong, without too much water, and with plenty of tart lemon and a hint of sweet honey to complement a good-quality bourbon. But my “secret” ingredient — which I’m going to insist that you all try! — is adding a few slices of fresh ginger to the hot water, which only require a few extra minutes to steep before mixing into the cocktail. Fresh ginger tea always tastes so cozy this time of year, especially when I’m feeling under the weather, and its flavor pairs perfectly with the lemon, honey and whiskey. And, in my opinion, makes the drink taste far more interesting than using just plain hot water!
That said, though, you do you when it comes to this drink. I’ve included the classic hot toddy recipe below, plus lots of other fun ideas for different variations that you’re welcome to try including different spirits, garnishes or add-ins. Or of course, feel free to nix the spirits altogether to make a non-alcoholic hot toddy that is wonderfully comforting (and also kid-friendly) on its own.
Cheers to cozy drinks keeping us all warm this season!
Hot Toddy Ingredients
So what’s in a hot toddy drink? Well before we get to the full recipe below, here are a few notes about the hot toddy ingredients you will need…
- Whiskey: A classic hot toddy is typically made with some type of whiskey — often bourbon in the States, scotch in Scotland, Irish whiskey in Ireland, etc. Feel free to choose your favorite variety of whiskey, or read on in the notes below for how to make a hot toddy with rum or another spirit you might prefer. (Or alternately, you can skip the whiskey altogether and enjoy a hot toddy without alcohol, which is still delightful.)
- Lemon: I love a good dose of tart lemon juice in my hot toddy to brighten up the flavor. But feel free to add however much or less lemon juice that you prefer, to taste.
- Honey: The sweetener and the amount of sweetener used here is completely up to you too. I love how the floral taste of honey pairs with the whiskey and lemon, but you could also opt to use maple syrup, agave nectar, or whatever type of granulated sugar you love best.
- Hot water: Traditional recipes call for as much as 1 cup or as little as 1/4 cup hot water for a single hot toddy, so please feel free to experiment and decide how much water you prefer in yours. I’ve found 1/2 cup of hot water to be my personal preference, as I like the flavors of the whiskey, lemon and honey to really shine through.
- Ginger (optional): As I mentioned above, I’m partial to steeping some fresh ginger slices to create a fresh ginger tea base for this drink, whose flavor I feel really elevates this drink. (Plus ginger tea also feels so cozy and healing when I have a cold.) That said, you’re welcome to skip the ginger entirely if you prefer and just use straight boiling water. Or you can steep any other type of hot tea (black, green, or herbal) that you prefer.
- Garnishes: A cinnamon stick and a lemon slice/peel are the garnishes most traditionally used for this drink. But please see notes below for more fun garnishes that you can try too!
This also probably goes without saying, but be sure that you use heat-safe mugs when making hot toddies. Many cocktail glasses — while beautiful — are not heat-resistant, so you want to be sure to use mugs that are designed to tolerate high heat. The glass mugs that I used in these photos are from IKEA, but here are some other classic glass mugs available on Amazon.
How To Make A Hot Toddy
So how do you make a hot toddy? Full instructions are included in the recipe below, but here are a few pro toddy tips to keep in mind too…
- Warm your mug ahead of time: In order to make sure that your hot toddy stays nice and…well…hot, I recommend pouring some extra boiling water into your mug ahead of time so that it can heat up. Then just discard the water and add your hot toddy ingredients to the warm mug as directed.
- Use a good-quality whiskey: It probably goes without saying, but since whiskey is the only spirit included in this cocktail, be sure to choose a good one because its flavor will certainly shine through.
- Sweeten to taste: If you aren’t a big fan of sweet drinks, feel free to start with just a teaspoon of honey when mixing the drink. Then you can always add in extra to taste.
- Consider a garnish: Garnishes are technically optional with this drink, but they add so much great flavor and make them look so much more festive! Feel free to use a cinnamon stick or lemon slice (or peel), as shown in the photos here. Or consider any of the other fun garnishes suggested in the notes below.
Hot Toddy Recipe Variations
As I mentioned above, this recipe is flexible and endlessly customizable, so feel free to have fun with it! Here are a few other recipe variations that you’re welcome to try…
- Make it alcohol-free: This drink will still be incredibly cozy and soothing when made without alcohol. So just skip the whiskey and enjoy!
- Use a different spirit: Instead of making a bourbon hot toddy, feel free to swap in whatever kind of whiskey you love best. (I love making mine with some good peaty scotch.) Or you can make a brandy hot toddy, rum hot toddy, or use any other spirit that sounds good.
- Use a different kind of tea: Instead of using fresh ginger to make ginger tea, feel free to steep any kind of tea that you love best in the boiling water before adding in the whiskey, lemon juice and honey.
- Use different garnishes: Feel free to twist lemon or orange peel to make some fun garnishes, or rim a lemon wheel with cloves. Or you can add in fresh cranberries, thinly sliced fruit (apples, pears or persimmons), a sprig of rosemary, or a vertically-sliced piece of fresh ginger (as shown above) for a festive garnish.
- Make an apple cider hot toddy: If you happen to have some apple cider on hand, you can swap that for the water (or tea) to make a cozy apple cider hot toddy.
- Make it spicy: I also love adding in a pinch of cayenne to give the drink some extra heat.
Hot Toddy FAQ
What is a hot toddy? Traditionally a hot toddy is a drink made with hot water and whiskey, usually with a hint of sweetener and lemon mixed in and often some spices too.
What does “toddy” mean? According to Wikipedia, the name of the drink was inspired by the Indian toddy drink, which is a fermented palm wine. Or other sources say that it may have been named after a 19th-century physician named Robert Bentley Todd, who prescribed a hot brandy drink for his patients.
Is a hot toddy good for you? For more than a century, hot toddies have famously been considered a “cure” for the common cold. But while many of its ingredients indeed have health benefits — lemon has vitamin C, cinnamon is an anti-inflamatory, spices have antioxidants, ginger can help calm nausea — alcohol dehydrates, can decrease immune function, and can interact negatively with some medications. So please consider the non-alcoholic version if you are sick or on medication.
How do you make a lemon peel twist? If you would like to add a lemon twist instead of a slice as garnish, use a vegetable peeler (either a Y-peeler or a straight swivel peeler) to carefully slice off a strip of lemon peel. Then just give it a good twist to release some of those lemony oils and add it to your drink.
How do you make a clove-studded lemon wheel? First, be sure to slice your lemon into rounds that are thick enough (at least 1/3-inch thick) to fit the cloves. Then if the peel is thin and soft, you can poke the cloves directly into the lemon peel. Or if the peel is too firm, you can pre-poke the holes using a skewer or toothpick first, and then insert the cloves.
More Favorite Hot Drink Recipes
Looking for more warm drinks to cozy up with this season? Here are a few of my faves…
This classic hot toddy recipe is easy to make in just 5 minutes with hot water, whiskey, lemon and honey. Feel free to use your favorite type of whiskey, plus any additional add-ins or garnishes that you enjoy. (See notes above for more ideas.)
- 1/2 cup boiling water*
- 1 inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced (optional*)
- 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 to 3 teaspoons honey
- 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) whiskey
- optional garnishes: cinnamon stick, star anise, whole cloves, lemon slice/peel, or fresh ginger slice
- Brew the ginger tea (optional): Pour boiling water into a separate mug or measuring glass and stir in the fresh ginger slices. Steep for 5 minutes, then strain out the ginger slices. (If you do not want to use ginger, just skip this step completely.)
- Heat the serving mug. While the fresh ginger tea is steeping, pour some extra hot water into the mug you are going to use for the hot toddy and let it rest for 1 minute to warm up the mug, then pour out and discard the water.
- Mix the hot toddy. Add the lemon juice and honey to the hot mug, pour in the ginger tea, and stir together until the honey is completely melted. Add the whiskey and briefly stir to combine. Taste and add extra honey if you would like a sweeter drink.
- Serve. Serve hot, topped with any of your desired garnishes, and enjoy!
Hot water: Traditional hot toddy recipes call for a range of anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 cup of hot water. So please feel free to experiment with whatever quantity of water tastes best to you.
Ginger: Feel free to omit the ginger if you prefer. Or alternately, you are welcome to steep any other flavor of tea in place of the ginger tea.