Origins: The Hot Toddy

Posted by Monika R-F on Feb 01, 2023 at 10:54 AM

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling sick or the weather is cold and gray, there’s only one drink that will chase away the chill – a warm, cozy hot toddy. Nothing says comfort like a mug of bourbon (my fave), honey, and spices, with their toasty goodness.

But what makes the hot toddy the beverage of choice on cold winter nights? Interestingly, the origins of the hot toddy are as varied as the recipes to make it. Maybe part folklore, part fact? You decide.


Our first story starts in British-controlled India in the early 1600s. There, we find a beverage called the Indian tadi, which is a room-temp fermented drink made from the sap of the toddy palm. Brits added spices to liquor to try to recreate the flavor of the tadi, which lent its name to the drink and ultimately became the toddy. One source says that by 1786, taddy was officially written down and defined as a “beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices.”

The next origin story takes place in England in the 1830s begins the use of the hot toddy as a medicinal drink, thanks to Irish doctor Robert Bentley Todd. Dr. Todd is remembered for prescribing his patients the “Potion de Todd,” which consisted of hot brandy, cinnamon, and sugar. Some think the name hot Toddy is a riff on his last name.

Further securing the hot toddy as the widely recognized cure for the common cold, in 1837, the Burlington Free Press ran an article called “How to Take Cold,” which recommended,

“If your child begins to snuffle occasionally, to have red eyes, or a little deafness; if his skin feels dry and hot, and his breath is feverish — you have now an opportunity of doing your work much faster than ever before,” the unnamed writer states. The first step is to avoid calling a doctor. Next, feed the child excessive amounts. Finally, make him drink. “Ply him well with hot stimulating drinks, of which hot toddy is the best,” the writer recommends sagely.

Our last origin story introduces the hot toddy as the premier cold-weather cocktail and takes us to 1700s Scotland. Or the pubs of Edinburgh, more specifically. As it is said, the first hot toddies were made there by mixing Scotch whiskey with a dash of hot water to help patrons ward off the Scottish cold. An important fact, the water in the hot toddy was said to be sourced from Tod’s Well, the largest well in the region, which lent its name to the drink.


Depending on which of the origin stories you believe, the name “hot toddy” comes from a Hindu drink, is the namesake of an Irish doctor, or is named after a famous well. One additional source says that toddy is thought to be derived from the Hindi word “tārī,” meaning “sweet. The earliest printed recipe for a drink named the hot toddy is from Jerry Thomas’ “The Bar-Tenders Guide” of 1862, which included a tiny amount of sugar, a “wine glass of brandy,” some hot water, and a little grated nutmeg.


National Hot Toddy day has passed (January 11th), but it’s still cold outside, so make yourself a hot toddy and let me know if you have any creative twists on this classic recipe!

  • hot water
  • bourbon (or whiskey)
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Start by boiling some water, then pour the water into a mug. Add a shot of whiskey or bourbon, two teaspoons of honey, and two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Include the optional spices if you like. Stir the ingredients and enjoy!

Hot Toddy