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

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

  • Evan says:

    I found the newer version with the honey-ginger syrup and then found this version without the honey. Will try the honey-ginger version tonight. Seems similar to a Penicillin but warm with allspice :-). I made a regular hot toddy last night…not very good. Glad I found your version!

  • 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?


  • 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.

  • 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 🙂

  • Justin says:

    I’m a big fan of hot toddys so I eagerly tried this one once I made the ginger syrup and pimento dram, wow was it gingery! Overpoweringly gingery, I can’t tasst anything but ginger gingery :s

    Switching to a teaspoon of the syrup instead gave a nice bite of the ginger but now I could taste the other ingredients…and still maintain some feeling in my mouth.

    Tasting the syrup alone it’s all ginger, no mellowing my the simple syrup, no sweetness, just fiery ginger heat…which has it’s place but overpowers this drink tremendously.

    Any ideas where I may have gone wrong?

  • Kathy says:

    I often enjoy a hot toddy at home, for medicinal purposes, but I’m also lazy.

    My method is to use Yujacha, Korean citron tea concentrate (sort of like a yuzu marmalade) which is dissolved in hot water. Then I add a shot of whiskey or rum and call it a day.

  • Joe Fusion says:

    Thanks for the toddy tips! (And for the tasty drinks at CC.)

    We make many variations at home, and we too discovered that getting them hot enough is key. Our solution is to use a heavy mug, preheated with boiling water. This makes a huge difference, and allows us to enjoy the toddy for a few minutes, rather than having the second half be lukewarm syrup.

  • Atalanta says:

    This was an awful winter here in the north east. After I came in from my turn at shoveling, my BF handed me a hot toddy. It was ambrosia!

    As he was taught bartending from a gent who was old when dirt was new, he knew his way around a toddy. Since I am researching pre-1900 cocktails, I’m always picking up something esoteric. On one trip, I had a coupon for a spiced Canadian whiskey, Revel Stoke. I found it to be not to my liking. So the bottle was put away and ignored.

    Come this past winter and the start of the toddies. BF pulled out this nasty whiskey and used that in the toddy. Instead of sugar, he opted for raw honey. No nutmeg. No ginger. Just whiskey, honey, and boiling water. That whiskey now had a purpose. It was wonderful. Tried it with my sippin’ bourbon (Fighting Cock) and it wasn’t as good.

    May have to try it with something like Tennessee Honey.

  • Thank you for sharing this technique for making ginger syrup. It’s wonderful. I was skeptical about not having to peel the ginger, but it worked great. Love how potent this is–much more so than when I’ve used a steeping method to make ginger syrup. I used this syrup to make a penicillin cocktail this evening and it was delicious.

  • Will says:

    Found my way here from your oleo saccharum article and just wanted to say thanks for that for a start!
    I’ve been going tiki-heavy recently and a good oleo saccharum is my secret weapon in those cocktails. I’m loving your vacuum method.

    For the hot toddy, you’ve obviously never been to Scotland. Suggest putting anything other than whiskey, sugar and water in it and you’ll get an earful!

    It the one of the only cocktails where I think a good single malt can be used without wasting it. Something super peaty like a Lagavulin or Talisker Dark Storm is phenomenal as the base – the sugar and water open it up enough to make it great, even for people who don’t like peaty single malts and it’s a sure fire cure for a cold! Well, maybe three or four are. 😉

  • David Herpin says:

    oh good lord, the earliest toddy was in 1862? which wasnt the first cocktail book by the way. My heart goes out to you man.

  • Kasper A says:

    Would this be a viable substitute for the ginger juice in your Ginger Beer? And in that case what should the ratio of substitution be? Would something as simple as 6 oz of the syrup replace 2 oz water, 2 oz sugar and 2 oz ginger juice in the beer recipe?

  • Michelangelo says:

    I extract the juice from the ginger using a juicer, then I make a simple syrup by boiling two parts of white cane sugar to one part water. I then turn off the heat and add the ginger juice, in the same proportion as the water, to the hot mixture. This way the boiling syrup pasteurizes the ginger juice so the syrup lasts for several days in the fridge without losing its spiciness.

  • Chad says:

    Your comment about what goes into a hot toddy reminds me of a time when I was in college and a friend of mine who knew absolutely nothing about cocktails ordered a “gin and coffee” for me when I was in the bathroom. One of the most disgusting drinks I have ever had.

    I like the idea of adding allspice dram to the toddy, by the way.

  • Ginty says:

    @Hugh: By Jerry Thomas’ own recipes “Hot Punch” does NOT HAVE to contain fruit juice, such as the Hot Whiskey Punch and Hot Milk Punch. David Wondrich backs this up in his book “Punch”. There for, couldn’t the Hot Toddy be allowed to contain some fruit juice? It’s only fair the Toddy should be allowed to be as contradictory as the Punch.

    @Gregory: Ditto. But J.T. also said that Toddies DON’T have aromatics, adding nutmeg and lemon peel turn them into Slings and Skins, respectively.

    Mr.Morgenthaler seems to be on the same page as Mr.Wondrich and Prof.Thomas, so let’s just enjoy the delicious drinks he creates.

  • Steve says:

    Yummmm. A rainy day in SF motivated me. I’m loving the lingering heat from the ginger. Maybe a bit more pimento dram (I’m using the St Elizabeth) on the next one though for a bit more warmth on another dimension.

  • Toby says:

    Ps not to be braggy but that’s how we do ginger syrup too (after many hours of grating it like a chump). A grate of nutmeg, a pinch of salt and pepper and some lemon zest in the blender really bring out the ginger as well.

  • Toby says:

    Ha awesome I thought I was the only one who did the double shaker kettle.

    I too make a toddy as basically a hot bourbon (or Scotch) and fresh ginger beer for this is delicious and old style toddies are not.

    Great article as always!

  • TK says:

    This ginger syrup method is alive and well in Minneapolis as a few savvy bartenders are using this SF method.

  • Gareth Evans says:

    Nice to see someone else recommending the ‘blender method’ – we make pretty much all our syrups the blender. Best investment ever. Also – blended banana daiquiris.

  • Gregory says:

    Sounds good, but the only problem is you’ve made a hot punch. I love hot punches. Sour, sweet, strong weak. But it’s not a toddy. There are cold toddy’s too, like jerry thomas described, but a toddy by the definition of all of the pre-prohibition drink books is sugar, water, spirit, and some sort of aromatic (like nutmeg or lemon peel). It’s weird how often this is done these days. You wouldn’t make a drink like this and call it a flip right? Of course not, because a flip has an egg in it. Your drink is much more similar to something like the Japanese Punch (From George Kappeler’s 1895 book Modern American Drinks) than anything that was called a toddy back then. The point is, once you start adding sour and sweet, and taking the spirit from the foreground and balancing it with the other flavors, it’s no longer the same drink.

  • Dan says:

    Hmmm, every hot toddy I’ve ever seen or had and was given when I was sick was hot black English tea, bourbon, honey, and lemon.

  • J bird says:

    thanks for specifying jeffrey. just out of curiosity have you ever tried making ginger with the oleo saccharum method? It’s labor intensive (obvs) but I finally gave it a whirl and it comes out with some serious bite.

  • I made one of these this afternoon. Very tasty and an easy preparation. Even my wife liked it, and she generally doesn’t like whiskey or ginger. 🙂

  • Gregory Rodriguez says:

    Hey Jeff

    I was wondering if you can use the Bartender’s Bain-Marie when it comes to chilling a drink?

    Also what Shakers do you use they look different then the one you find on cocktail kingdom.

  • Tokyo Tea says:

    I’ve found that the steam valve rod on an espresso machine works pretty good on getting your toddy hot enough while mixing up the ingredients as well. Not that all bars have this kind of equipment though.

  • Charles says:

    #1 so stoked this blog is active again

    #2 peeling the ginger yields a less barky taste

    #3 Am I reading you in Playboy now too?

  • Damn right on hot toddies never being hot enough.

    My solution (not very attractive) has always been to give the drink a brief zap in the microwave before enjoying.

  • Adam says:

    Jeff, I’ve tried Ginger Syrup several times, several different ways, and eventually landed on a very similar recipe in which I boiled the ginger in the water for an hour or so and then basically followed the same procedure you’ve outlined here. My problem is, the syrup tends to lost its vibrancy very quickly, like in a day. We were using it in a cold cocktail and decided that no iteration of the syrup could possibly match the flavor of freshly muddled ginger, so much to my chagrin that’s how we make the drink…. Do you find in the hot toddy that the temperature brings out the ginger flavor more? Or do you go through your syrup so quickly it doesn’t matter. I guess this isn’t really a hot toddy question, but still very curious to see what you have to say.

  • Thiago says:

    I also use this “lazy method” for my ginger syrups, based on your ginger beer recipe I add a little lemon juice too.
    Maybe you also got the inspiration for the ginger beer from here?

    Nice piece! Saúde!

  • ScottyB says:

    HOTT TODDY…check it and seeeeee…!

  • Steve says:

    A perfect post from snowy Portland. Sad that I don’t have any ginger in the house as I prepare for a raining weekend near San Francisco. Sounds excellent.
    Still trying to find an excuse for another trip up to Portland for another dinner with cocktail pairings.
    Have to settle for a Rittenhouse Manhattan to finish the day.

  • J bird says:

    Are you doing your 8oz solids by weight or volume?

  • Hugh says:

    This recipe sounds more like a hot punch than a toddy. I’m not typically one to quibble about nomenclature, but I happen to prefer a hot toddy to hot punches, and now that the word has been appropriated I’m left out in the cold.

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