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For much of the country, the temperatures are beginning to dip below freezing (if they haven’t already). There have already been a few epic snowstorms in the Northeast and it’s barely December. The Farmer’s Almanac tells us that this is going to be a bitterly cold winter and technically it hasn’t even begun yet. This is going to be a rough few months. Luckily, booze is here to save us from the winter doldrums. Specifically, warm booze cocktails like the iconic hot toddy (a mixture of hot water, lemon juice, honey, and usually whisky).
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Not only is the classic cocktail a warming, delicious elixir, but it’s also been enjoyed for its medicinal properties (whether or not they actually exist) for more than a century. Instead of grabbing for the Dayquil this year when you start to feel a case of the sniffles, make yourself a hot toddy instead. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll have a nice buzz to help you drift off to nap-land.
One of the most difficult aspects of hot toddy creation is figuring out just what spirit you’re going to add to it. We asked a handful of bartenders to list their favorite spirits to add to a hot toddy and they didn’t disappoint.
“Bourbon, for sure. GBOD Hospitality Group’s restaurants and bars like to use Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bourbon, which we picked out while in Kentucky this past summer. We bought three barrels, and all three are unique in their flavor profiles and make killer cocktails, as well as drink fantastically on their own.” – Ryan Andrews, lead bartender at Prohibition in San Diego
“My favorite whiskey for a Hot Toddy has everything to do with my preferred style of Hot Toddy—the ‘Irish Hot Whiskey.’ It’s a ‘Toddy’ by traditional standards but has a tasteful twist that really hits the spot when a hot whiskey cocktail is in order. As for the whiskey, I prefer Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey. The same building, built on the banks of River Brosna, has been in whiskey production for 256 years and has been pushing out tots, nips, and drams from the same pot still for over 180 years! Its medium body and rich aroma play perfectly in this application.” – Lucas Swallows, corporate bar director at Momofuku
“I am not a traditionalist by any means, but a hot toddy to me should always be made with whiskey. The region doesn’t matter, so I’ll throw in my favorite Rye, Sagamore Spirit, and call it a day, or rather night.” – Joe Masse, beverage director at The Woodstock in New York City
“If you’re looking for something a little different in your Toddy, I’d recommend Plantation Pineapple Rum. You won’t quite believe that you’re sitting in the Caribbean when you drink it (at least not in the northern parts), however, it will give you a little tropical punch to go with the warm comfort of your Toddy. Plus, if you run out of lemon, honey, and hot water, you can always drink it straight.” – Brice Peressini, lead bartender at The Victor at Parq in Vancouver, Canada
“When it comes to Hot Toddys, I’ve recently been using Woodford Oat Grain Bourbon. It’s a limited release featuring 18% oat in the mash-bill. The oat lends notes of cinnamon, peppermint, and ripe apples…all those seasonal flavors pair well with the honey…and the 4 percent rye adds a great spicy characteristic.” – Rustyn Lee, beverage manager at Momofuku
“I like to add a good Rye Whisky. Bulleit Rye pairs well with the honey and really complements the spices well. It doesn’t add the smokiness that a Scotch would and really makes for a smooth finish for those long, cold winter nights.” – Sean Fiori, assistant general manager at Buddy V’s Ristorante in Las Vegas
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“Oh man, the new Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is one of my favorites to use in a Hot Toddy right now especially with this cold chilly weather we’ve been having recently. Its sweet aromatic notes kick it up a notch and make it stand out above the rest, giving the Hot Toddy a really nice festive holiday touch. And with the beautiful vanilla and dark caramel notes that come out from the twice-barreled Woodford Bourbon, you can’t go wrong with this one for the holiday season. It makes for one exceptionally smooth and delicious cocktail.” – Jason Rodriguez, beverage director at HALL in New York City
“I like using Slow & Low Rock and Rye as my go-to spirit in a hot toddy. It has a sweetness to it that provides great depth to not only a hot toddy but to other cocktails as well. We serve a cocktail called the ‘Low Rider’ with Slow & Low Rock and Rye and it’s the perfect cocktail to sip on during the winter months.” – Allison Villarreal, beverage director at South House in Jersey City, New Jersey
“I’m a rye person, generally, so that would be my personal preference, and my go-to is Wild Turkey 101º. That being said, a Hot Toddy is a fun format with which to play, so, really, any brown spirit will make a very enjoyable, warming cocktail, if a bar is equipped to easily make hot drinks.” – Jim Kearns, corporate beverage director at Golden Age Hospitality in New York City