Hot Toddy

A hot toddy make with The GlenlivetToddy, or hot toddy, is a Scots drink of whisky, sugar, and hot water.

I’ve read that the name refers to Tod’s Well, an ancient spring that once gave Edinburgh its water.[1]  In other words it is yet another instance of the charming tradition of referring to whisky as water.[2]

Ancestral wisdom tells us that taking a mug of toddy in bed before sleep will cure many ailments.

The traditional toddy recipe I have calls for equal parts whisky and water.  Modern recipes are more likely 2 parts whisky to 3 parts or more of water.  They also typically use citrus and spices.  Though not traditional, I think the citrus is essential, as the sweet, boozy cocktail absolutely requires acidity to remain balanced.

I debated for some time whether it was sinful to use single malt Scotch in a drink like this.  Blended Scotch is the norm, but I think you choose your whisky for a toddy the same way you choose your whisky on any other night.  Is it a Tuesday?  Then Famous Grouse is just fine.  Is it a long, dark January night, with no chance of friends calling?  Maybe something a bit peaty.

Here is a recipe adapted from Alton Brown.  I have dialled back his alcohol concentration and added lemon juice directly (instead of just steeping sliced lemons) to better control the acidity.

A Hot Toddy


  • 1 qt water
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 fl oz lemon juice
  • optional: 6 whole cloves
  • 12 fl oz Scotch whisky.  I typically use blended Scotches like Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walkie, et c.  Though I don’t think it’s a sin to use single malts.
  • to garnish: thinly sliced lemon or orange


  1. Combine the water, brown sugar, lemon juice, and cloves in a heavy pot.  Simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  2. Stir in the Scotch, reduce the heat to low, and hold until service.
  3. Ladle the drink into pre-warmed mugs and garnish.

Notes.  Important Notes.

  1. Do you remember that scene in Good Will Hunting when the boys go to a Harvard bar and Will calls out that douche-bag for plagiarizing something to impress a girl?  Well, the same thing just happened to me, sort of.  To prepare for writing this post I thought I’d have a cursory glance at the Wikipedia “Hot Toddy” page to make sure I wasn’t missing some salient piece of information on the drink.  I started reading, and I got to a long passage that I recognized.  Whoever wrote the Wikipedia page on hot toddies ripped a large section of text from The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian MacNeill without referencing it at all.  The only difference between what just happened to me and what happened in Good Will Hunting is that the plagiarist wasn’t around for me to castigate, and there weren’t any girls around to admire me.
  2. I can’t remember if I’ve written this before on Button Soup, but “whisky” is an Anglicization of the Celtic words uisge beatha, which mean “water of life”.  A nice little parallel with the continental terms Eau-de-Vie and Akvavit.