Chilly Edinburgh will make a whisky lover out of the most liquor-shy lightweight. For those who cannot take whisky neat, and plan to battle the forthcoming cold season, there’s an elegant, oft-overlook option: the hot toddy.
Classically mixed, a hot toddy is comprised of hot water, whisky, lemon, and honey. With its steam, bracing astringency, and sweet-sour tang, the drink can fortify any imbiber — in Scotland or not — against sub-zero temperatures.
The Scottish affection for toddies, also called “totty” or “totties,” was likely sealed by the beverage’s practical use as a natural remedy and prevention for colds, which dates back to the 19th century. Think of it as a tastier predecessor to NyQuil.
Victoria Moore of the classic guide How To Drink commends toddies: “The vitamin C for health, the honey to soothe, the alcohol to numb.” Meanwhile, in the Victorian era, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Home Management writes out a hot toddy mixture concoction of linseed, sun raisins, licorice, and rum. Mrs Beeton’s personal belief was that the “worst cold is generally cured by this remedy in two or three days; and, if taken in time, is considered infallible.” Indeed, research from University of Cardiff reveals that not only is the physical effect of a hot drink palliative for cold symptoms, but there’s the psychological benefit of simply believing in its powers.
While the toddy’s birth has many different theories, the most romantic sounding Scottish belief is that the drink was named after Tod’s well, a spring found on Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in the heart of Edinburgh which was one of the city’s earliest water supplies. However, others trace the toddy’s origins back to Ireland where the “medicinal” tonic was purportedly invented by a Dublin-based physician Robert Bently Todd back in the 1800s; his “prescription” was a hot drink of brandy, canella, sugar syrup, and water.
Whisky Magazine editor Charlie MacLean posits that the hot toddy was invented to disguise raw Scotch which, in the 18th century, was a far cry from the smooth whiskies available today. Sugar, dates, saffron, mace, nuts and cinnamon were added in to mask the spirit’s unpleasant taste. In a probable unconscious nod to this theory, many modern day toddy recipes include spices like cloves, or juniper berries.
According to bar manager Jo Radford, responsible for the excellent, seasonally-driven beverages at hip Edinburgh restaurant Timberyard, “Hot toddies are not something you’d usually get at a pub [in Scotland], it would be more something you’d make for yourself at home if you felt poorly.” Yet, Radford adds hot drinks to Timberyard’s menu from right now until the end of winter.
Jo advises using a whisky with “soft honey tone notes,” noting that some whisky purists might even refuse to use any single malts, and that more daring mixologists might add peatier whiskies.
Timberyard’s Hot Toddy
1.7 ounces burnt silver birch bark whisky*
3 tablespoons apple and fir soda**
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon of sea buckthorn juice
sprig of Douglas fir for garnish
Add whisky, soda, honey, and sea buckthorn juice to espresso milk steamer. Steam the mixture to bring up the temperature. Pour into mug and drink while warm.
*Add Dewar's 12 to a jar or bowl. Char a piece of birch bark and steep it overnight in the whisky to infuse.
**Timberyard makes apple and fir soda in house. The soda is a blend of juice from seasonal, local organic apples and fir needles strained through a coffee filter until clear.