The blustery cold front passed through leaving an icy glaze over the flagstones.  The forecast was calling for three to six by the end of the week. Winter was settling in.

A trio of cozy hot toddies (l to r) rum and cinnamon; cranberry tea and brandy; and bourbon and clove with an extra dash of lemon.

My response: mix up a hot toddy!  A well-made example can’t ward off Covid, but it is reputed to be the cure for many other conditions, including January weather. 

The soothing properties of spiced hot water mixed with some booze and sweetener are well documented.   The sense of warmth and well-being brought on by a toddy was familiar to our ancestors. They even prescribed toddies for a variety of complaints ranging from the grip to toothaches.

The recipe is simple but has almost infinite variations. 

Flavorings can include a cinnamon stick, cloves or even tea. A generous squeeze of lemon is a must.  Spike some whole cloves into the used wedge and then drop it in for more flavor.  For something different, try a section of two of grapefruit.  

Part of the magic of a toddy is the balance of tart and sweet. Honey is the old-time favorite. Go easy.  It’s sweeter than sugar.  If sugar is your preference, use one that will add flavor: brown (either light or dark), or the demerara sugar sold as Sugar in the Raw. 

I have a friend who sweetens his coffee with molasses. I wonder if that would work in a toddy?  Agave syrup would add another dimension.  Maple syrup blends well, and it’s great with the spices. 

Add the hot water and give it a good stir to mix in all the sweetener. 

Now it’s time for the liquor. Whiskey is the place to start. All-American bourbon is traditional – the unmistakable flavor and vanilla overtones a good fit.  The British favor Scotch whisky, while on the Emerald Isle, Irish is preferred.  

Brandy has a long association with the toddy.   I’ll bet a tequila or smoky mezcal would be good with the grapefruit-agave combo.  Rum, the favorite spirit of colonial America, mixes well with fruit. Use amber or dark rum for the most flavor.  Applejack is a natural with the maple sweetener.

Any combination creates fragrant steam that is part of the pleasure.  A deep breath is almost as curative as drinking it down.

Over the course of the predicted weather, we tried a few flavor combinations at home. 

“This is just what I would want if I had a cold,” Marsha said while sipping on a toddy made with Harney and Sons Cranberry-Autumn black tea. Sweetened with maple syrup and fortified with brandy, it was soothing under any circumstances. 

Toddy’s are the result of experimentation and innovation.  Use what you have on hand and keep tinkering to find the best flavor. 

We learned that a mix of dark brown sugar and honey gives the richest flavor and best color.  With lemon, Jamaican Exodus rum and a cinnamon stick the toddy was warming. We let it steep for a few minutes so that the spicy cinnamon flavor would develop. 

The classic combo of bourbon and clove was a winner. An extra dash of Meyer lemon juice lent a distinctive fruity, citrus character to balance the rich Maker’s Mark bourbon. 

Sal Baglinvio, manager at Bailey’s Backyard in Ridgefield said that demand for toddies goes up as the mercury goes down. Their signature version is made with Berkshire Bourbon, local honey, English Breakfast tea and a clove studded wedge of lemon. 

At the cozy Fife and Drum in Kent the toddies are based on local Harney’s English Breakfast tea with lemon, honey, and a cinnamon stick. Manager Alyssa Potts explained that they offer a choice of bourbon or, for more spice, rye. 

“We sell a lot of toddies,” Angela Grogran at the Bruxelles Brasserie in South Norwalk told me. The most popular version is based on a famous Irish recipe with John Powers Irish Whiskey and brown sugar, flavored with a full-round slice of lemon pierced with a clove in each section.  Very pretty.  

I understand there’s a frosty Alberta Clipper on the way – I’ll warm the mugs. 

Frank Whitman can be reached at