Nothing warms and lifts your spirits like a hot toddy. Just take hot water, spice, something sweet and a splash of something medicinal, says Susy Atkins.
As it happens, I’m writing this on a cold, frost-bitten day – clear, bright and sunny, but icy underfoot and lacy around the edges of the windows. On top of that, I’m brewing up a minor cold and have that strange shivery, sneezy feeling. Could there be anything better right now than a warming hot toddy?
The ‘toddy’ is said to be named after a Hindi drink called tari, which is made from the sap of the palm. Nowadays ‘hot toddy’ seems to mean just about any warm, soothing liquid concoction with a base of sweetness, alcohol and hot water. Ask around and everyone has a favourite hot toddy recipe. In our house, it comes from the Northern Irish side of the family, who swear their fearsomely powerful hot toddies can drive off a cold and even an early case of flu.
It’s hardly surprising that many traditional hot toddies hail from Ireland and Scotland. The cold weather dictates a demand for cheering drinks, and a shot of fiery local whisky is the perfect base. An Irish hot toddy is usually made from Irish whiskey, cloves, hot water and sugar.
In Scotland, of course, a decent single malt is used. My Irish relations wouldn’t approve, but I think American bourbon whiskey works well too. I tend to use demerara sugar; others favour white sugar or honey. I go easy on the cloves; others prefer the perfumed oily appeal of a small handful. A shot of lemon juice to kick up some fresh, tangy acidity is optional, too. Just be sure to use good-quality spirits and fresh spices, and always add hot but never boiling water, or the alcohol might evaporate.
Purists can look away now, because I believe the hot toddy can be far more than the basic recipes. For example, tea can make a good mixer instead of hot water. The combination of steaming tea, sugar, alcohol and spices sounds unbeatable, especially when you’ve got one of those sullen colds that really won’t budge.
Brandy sits well with a black tea-based drink. But try using golden or dark rum with chai tea instead of ‘builder’s brew’ for a more aromatic and spicy version. Ginger is the other must-have when concocting original hot toddies. Buy a thick, knobbly piece of fresh root ginger. Ginger is not only warming and peppery but also deeply soothing, and helps prevent nausea.
Some experts believe warm drinks loosen up the nasal passages and soothe a sore throat. We certainly can’t taste a great deal when we’ve got the sniffles, so bear that in mind when making hot drinks, and add extra honey, spice and alcohol for those with a numbed-up, furry mouth! The recipes below can be adjusted to suit each and every patient – or to warm up chilly guests.
Talking of which, there’s nothing like sipping a hot toddy from a Thermos in the middle of a winter walk. So whether you’re driving out your cold or the cold – or both – these recipes should do the trick.