The Mix: Hot Toddy Season
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The Mix: Hot Toddy Season

A soothing winter drink to take the bite out of the season.

hot toddy

The clocks have gone back, the leaves have fallen off, and T-shirt weather has been and gone. You probably don’t want to hear this, but winter is here. It might be tolerably mild for now, but we all know that’s not going to last.

Now, any weather is cocktail weather. But on that cold dreary night in the middle of February (you know the one), you’re going to need something special to restore life to your hands and colour to your cheeks. Step forward, the hot toddy.

If you’re looking for a warm drink on a cold night, this is the one. It’s more soothing than a hot chocolate, lighter than an Irish coffee, less festive than mulled wine, and good for you—according to Vine Pair, the alcohol acts as a decongestant and helps you fall asleep while the heat, honey and lemon do their soothing.

Depending on your source, the drink either gets its name from toddy, a popular drink in India made by fermenting the sap of palm trees, or the Todian spring, the source of Edinburgh’s whisky water. Both theories are equally plausible and equally magical. Most experts agree it’s been popular since at 1800 at the very latest, garnering a name-drop in Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers:

“I don’t quite recollect how many tumblers of whiskey-toddy each man drank after supper; but this I know, that about one o’clock in the morning, the bailie’s grown-up son became insensible while attempting the first verse of “Willie brewed a peck o’ maut”; and he having been, for half an hour before, the only other man visible above the mahogany, it occurred to my uncle that it was almost time to think about going, especially as drinking had set in at seven o’clock, in order that he might get home at a decent hour.”

Most restaurants and bars in the city will have the supplies on hand to make you a basic hot toddy. To make one yourself, simply add hot water and honey to a shot of whiskey or brandy. Common recipes usually add lemon and cinnamon, and sometimes cloves.

One of the great things about a hot toddy is how easy it is to modify. Substitute rum for whiskey and you’ve got Grog, add butter and it’s Hot Buttered Rum. The possibilities are practically endless. We tried out a couple of local variants:

A small section of the menu at No-one Writes to the Colonel (460 College Street) is dedicated to hot cocktails. Of the options available, the Sasquatch will particularly appeal to fans of Hendrick’s gin. Served with a base layer of smashed blueberries, this drink has a slight medicinal flavour.

Perhaps due to the heat, this drink feels rather large, and takes quite a while to finish. Hot gin is an acquired taste, to be sure.

“That Ginger El Dorado Thing”

The folks at Linwood Essentials (930 Queen Street West) are well versed in the art of the freestyle cocktail. No surprise then, that when asked to improvise on a hot cocktail, they delivered.

Their impromptu blend of El Dorado 12 rum, house ginger syrup, lemon, chocolate liqueur, and coffee and cacao bitters is heated in a hot water bath so as not to overheat the liquor. If the heat doesn’t instantly warm you up, the ginger will. Rumour has it the drink may be making its way onto the official menu soon.