There is no cocktail quite like a hot toddy. Just a few sips of this warming blend of whiskey, tea, honey, and lemon, and all your troubles will start to slip away.
Whether we’re sitting around the campfire or curled up under a blanket on a cold winter’s night, nothing gives us that warm and cozy feeling quite like a well-mixed hot toddy! This soothing warm cocktail is a perfect all-season elixir and one of our go-to favorites on camping trips.
As far as cocktail “recipes” go, a hot toddy can be incredibly accomodating. There are such a broad range of mix-in ingredients and no fixed proportions that you can really modify this drink to suit just about anyone’s taste.
In the winter, you might lean heavily into the warming spices. In the late evening, you might switch out the black tea for decaf herbal. If you want to make a mocktail for your kids, you can leave the alcohol out entirely.
But no matter how you decide to make it, a hot toddy should always be a source of warm, soothing comfort. A relaxing drink to be sipped slowly and enjoyed thoroughly.
Below, we share everything you need to know to make your very own personalized hot toddy! Cheers!
Why We Love It:
- This is the coziest cocktail out there! It never fails to give us that “warm and fuzzy” feeling.
- All the different mix-ins options make this drink incredibly customizable. You can be tailored to suit your personal tastes, the time of day, or even the season.
- Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall this drink is good any time of year!
Hot Toddy Basics
There are a lot of different ways to make a hot toddy. We have included a list of the most common ingredients, but you have a lot of “creative liberty” to mix and match them as you see fit. Want to make it non-alcoholic? Leave out the liquor. Don’t want a bunch of caffeine before bed? Leave out the tea. You have a lot of opportunities to personalize your hot toddy.
You have a lot of leeway with the type of liquor you select, but generally speaking, most dark liquor will taste good warm. Additionally, if you want to make this a mocktail, you can absolutely leave the alcohol out – making it kid-friendly as well.
Whiskey: The liquor most commonly called for when making a hot toddy is whiskey. But the type of whiskey you use can be a nice way to personalize the flavor profile. Whether it’s a mellow bourbon, a clean finishing Irish whiskey, or a more assertive rye whiskey – there are a lot of options to choose from.
Scotch: While we’d never suggest an expensive single malt scotch for a cocktail*, there are many excellent (and affordable) blended scotches that work wonderfully in a hot toddy.
*All the delicate characteristics and flavor notes will be overpowered by the added ingredients.
Dark Rum: Another liquor option is dark or spiced rum, which takes on a delightful warming character when used in a hot cocktail. (Light rum doesn’t seem to hold up as well.) While the inclusion of rum does start to blur the line slightly between a hot toddy and traditional grog, we doubt anybody is going to press the issue.
Brandy: If you want something a little sweeter and more floral than whiskey, you can also consider brandy.
Keep in mind the type of tea you select will affect not only the overall flavor of the drink but the caffeine level as well. A little caffeine in an afternoon hot toddy might be nice, but you might want to dial it back for a nightcap hot toddy.
Black Tea: Irish or English breakfast tea has the most robust flavor profile (as well as the most caffeine). Earl Grey is another option, which already contains the citrus flavor of bergamot.
White Tea: Much more delicate and a lot less caffeine, white tea can be a good option if you don’t want your nightcap to keep you up all night.
Herbal Teas: If you want to go with zero caffeine, then there are many great herbal teas to try out. We’re big fans of Ginger, Stress Relief and Egyptian Licorice.
Lapsang souchong: This might be an acquired taste, but Lapsang Souchong is a tea with a very distinct smokey flavor. If you enjoy the flavor of peat-forward scotch, like Laphroaig, then you might really appreciate this tea.
Note: While you are more than welcome to try green tea, we personally don’t think it harmonizes well with the rest of the hot toddy ingredients. But that’s just us!
You will definitely want something to sweeten your hot toddy, but the sweetener you choose can also add a distinctive flavor to the drink. Just be sure to stir it in thoroughly!
Honey: The classic go-to, this is the most common sweetener for hot toddies. However, there are so many TYPES of honey: Mesquite, Manuka, Orange blossom, etc. There are so many incredible varieties to try!
Maple Syrup: A little high-quality, 100% pure maple syrup can add a cozy, Vermont cabin-vibe to any hot toddy.
Agave Syrup: Derived from the agave plant typically used to make tequila, the dark caramel color and flavor of agave syrup pairs wonderfully with any hot toddy.
Granulated sugar: In a pinch, there’s nothing wrong with using some good old-fashioned granulated sugar. Just be sure to stir it in thoroughly so it dissolves completely.
A little bit of acid can go a long way to brighten up a hot toddy. If you’ve ever had a hot toddy before that tasted muted or flat, it probably needed a little citric acid to open it up. This is typically achieved by adding a bit of juice or a slice of citrus as a garnish.
Lemon: Most traditional hot toddy recipes call for lemons. Whether juiced, cut into wedges, or zested, there are a lot of ways to incorporate lemon into your drink. If they are available, consider using Meyer lemons which are sweeter than normal lemons.
Orange: Borrowing the garnish from an Old Fashioned, orange is another great way to brighten up a hot toddy.
Bitters: Don’t have any fruit lying around, a few dashes of bitters can achieve the same brightening effect. While Angostura orange bitters are perhaps the most iconic, there is an entire world of boutique bitters that feature a range of eclectic flavors.
Note: We’ve tried hot toddies with limes before and for whatever reason, it just seems wrong. For us, limes are firmly on the tropical side of our flavor palette.
Spices & Aromatics
This is just a shortlist of the many possible spices and aromatics that can be added to any hot toddy.
Cinnamon Sticks: A cinnamon stick not only imbues your hot toddy with a satisfying warming flavor, but it also makes an excellent stirrer.
Thyme sprig: With an earthy, minty flavor a full sprig of Thyme is a great way to bring out the floral flavor of a hot toddy.
Ginger: There is something about the combination of ginger and tea that we just love. Use a peeler to first remove the skin, then you can peel a long slice of ginger to add to your drink.
Star Anise: Not only does this beautiful warming spice add a lot of great flavor, but it makes for a fancy-looking garnish.
Vanilla Extract: A little vanilla extract can add an unexpected dimension to a hot toddy. It pairs really nicely if you are planning on using a little oat milk.
Allspice, clove, cardamom: These can make great additions to a hot toddy, but their small size makes them difficult to drink around. Consider using a loose leaf tea strainer or cheesecloth to prevent these spices from becoming a choking hazard!
Tips for Making Hot Toddies
- If you want to reduce the amount of caffeine, steep the tea bag in hot water for 30 seconds, dump the water out, and then resume steeping. This reduces the caffeine by roughly half.
- Everyone online photographs their hot toddies in glass mugs because they want to showcase the color of the drink, but if you’re camping, you want to use an insulated mug to keep your drink warm for as long as possible.
- Be sure to thoroughly stir in your sweeteners. Nobody wants a big glob of honey or grainy sugar at the bottom. It takes at least 10 seconds of vigorous stirring to fully dissolve most sweeteners.
How to Make a Hot Toddy – Step by Step
First, start boiling the water.
Meanwhile, in your mug, add your sweetener of choice. You can always add a little more later, but you can’t take any out – so err on the side of caution.
Add the boiling water to the mug, being sure to leave enough headroom to add your liquor. Vigorously stir with a spoon to dissolve the sweetener.
You can now begin steeping your tea. You can also add any hearty aromatics like cinnamon sticks or star anise.
For black teas, a good rule of thumb is to steep for about 3 minutes. Less time will yield a weaker tea (which might be desirable in some instances) but much longer than 4-5 minutes and the tea will start to become bitter and astringent. For herbals teas, you can’t really over steep, so just steep it to your preferred strength.
When the tea is done steeping, remove the teabag and discard.
Now you can add your acid (citrus juice, peels, garnish), bitters if using, oat milk if desired, and more delicate aromatics like ginger peels or thyme springs.
We like to add the liquor to our hot toddies last. The reason is if we added it first, the boiling water would start to evaporate away some of the alcohol. We have no idea how much, but we paid for full-strength whiskey and we’re not prepared to lose any of it to the atmosphere!
With the desired amount of liquor added, you just need to give it one final stir to make sure everything is well mixed, and you’re ready to start relaxing!
7 Hot Toddy Variations
Camp Hot Toddy
- 1 bag black tea
- ¼ lemon
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1.5 oz whiskey
- Boil a cup of water in a pot over your campfire or stove. Once it's reached a boil, remove from heat and add your tea bag of choice to steep for 2-4 minutes, depending on how strong you prefer your tea. Remove bag and discard.
- While your tea is steeping, squeeze a quarter lemon into a cup, being extra careful to avoid dropping seeds into your mug. Drizzle in honey to taste – about one tablespoon is a good place to start. Add a 1.5oz shot of whiskey to the cup, and then top off with tea. Mix if needed and enjoy while recapping the day's adventures around the fire.