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We Asked 10 Bartenders: What Makes the Perfect Hot Toddy?

The Hot Toddy is, at its core, straightforward: It consists of liquor, water or tea, sugar, and spices. And while its history has a number of origin stories — and a number of liquors involved — we know a few things to be true: It’s often cited and used as a cold remedy, both in reference to illness and weather. It’s been around since the 1700s, and is now served in bars and cocktail lounges all over the globe. And finally: Hot Toddies, no matter what they’re made with, are just plain delicious. But with such a loose origin story and definition, one might wonder: What makes a good one? A perfect one, even? We talked to 10 bartenders to find out their tips and hacks for the optimal Toddy.

What Makes a Perfect Hot Toddy, According to Bartenders:

Quality of ingredients
Dark or barrel-aged spirit
Strong Garnishes
Warming Spices

“A Hot Toddy is perfect for the holiday season. It’s warm, refreshing and boozy — what’s not to love? The cocktail is simple in its recipe and enjoyment, but it can easily be bumbled in execution. The key to a great Hot Toddy is balance. Too much bourbon will make it difficult to drink, while too much honey can make it unenjoyable. Like any cocktail, the ingredients must work in harmony to complement each other. Personally, I always make mine with some sort of tea: usually chamomile [with] hot honey. Chamomile tea adds great mouthfeel, and [you get] another layer of flavor from notes of honey and green apple.” —Frances Leary, beverage curator, The Galt

House Hotel, Louisville, Ky.

“I think Toddies are best around 135 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The thing you have to be careful with is unlike water that evaporates at 212, alcohol evaporates at 173 degrees. So if you make your toddy too hot, you’ll cook off the alcohol. There are [also] a lot of subtle flavors that really get amplified at high temperatures, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different spirits. At high temperatures, sweetness is less pronounced and sour is way more pronounced, so you have to adjust your ratios compared to making cold drinks. I never use more than a quarter-ounce of lemon juice in toddies, compared to a half- to three-quarter ounce of sweetener depending on the size of the mug. ” —Jake Powell, Bar Manager, Death & Co, Denver

“Whether opting for brandy, whiskey, or tequila in your Hot Toddy, the critical factor distinguishing the good from the exceptional lies in maintaining the perfect temperature throughout. My frustration with Hot Toddies often stems from inconsistent warmth; as ingredients mix in, the drink cools down swiftly, and can ends up lukewarm. From using an espresso steam wand to employing an immersion circulator and vacuum sealing, I’ve witnessed various methods used to get that ideal warmth. Embrace tradition or be innovative, but never compromise on one thing: Keep it piping hot!” —Michel Lay, Director of Beverage, Sorelle, Charleston, S.C.

“Heat. One pro tip I have for making a great Hot Toddy: Use an electric kettle and add hot water to [each drink] to order. There is nothing worse than a lukewarm cocktail that is supposed to be hot! You can prepare the whiskey, syrup, and citrus in individual mugs and then top with hot water when ready to serve.” —Jess Stewart, Beverage Director and Bar Manager, Trust Restaurant Group, San Diego

“A Hot Toddy’s recipe uses simple ingredients, so the emphasis is on the quality of the items. Bar167 uses Four Roses Bourbon for added flavor of brown sugar and spices, with good-quality honey, black tea, and fresh lemon juice. It’s garnished with a clove-studded lemon and served in a tempered hot glass mug to prolong the warm winter flavors.” —Juliana Fisher, bar manager, Bar167, Charleston, S.C.

“A good Hot Toddy is warming in every way. Not only do we want the temperature of the drink to be nice and hot, but the spirit should be richly flavored and of high quality. Whiskey is the obvious choice, but any barrel-aged or smoky spirit will do. Hot Toddies also have a unique relationship with their garnish in that it stews over time, and begins to extract certain flavors from the garnish as you enjoy the drink. It isn’t a proper Hot Toddy without the right garnish!” —Oliver Holt, director of beverage at Planta, NYC, Atlanta, L.A., and more

“Any great drink is one where the whole is better than the sum of the parts, but to really nail a Toddy, I think two things are critical. One is using ingredients and not just hot temperatures: flavors that give us warming sensations or activate memories of cozy times, think cinnamon or apple. The [other is] balance, and making sure that the temperature is right and you have enough to drink without over-diluting and losing flavor. No one wants a watery toddy.” —Jenna Rosenbloom, bar manager, Mountaineering Club, Seattle

“The secret to a perfect Hot Toddy is finding the harmonious balance between temperature, strong alcohol, sweetness, acidity, and warming spices. You’ll want to select a mid- to high-quality spirit. My go-to is Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Bourbon, but I also love swapping that spirit out for an aged rum.” —Matt Harding, beverage director, Time Out Market Boston, Boston

“The key to making a perfect Hot Toddy is adding cinnamon, star anise, and juniper berries to your tea kettle or saucer pan when boiling the water. The aromatic qualities and taste tie together the other ingredients.” —Kassandra Laskarides, hospitality manager, Chattermark Distillers, Boston

“We’re trying something that I haven’t seen many other bars do with our Hot Foxy, and the technique has made me reconsider my entire approach to hot cocktails: using the steam wand on our espresso machine. We mix all of the non-alcoholic ingredients (in this case, an upcycled ginger-turmeric cordial and water), steam those using the steam wand until hot, add our bourbon directly to the mug, and top with the steamed ‘tea.’ The use of the steam wand addresses my two main issues with hot cocktails: They aren’t hot enough — or are too hot! — and they have absolutely no texture. Using the steam wand gives us total control over temperature, and perhaps more importantly, introduces texture into the conversation for hot cocktails.” —David Bowen, co-founder and bartender, Easytalk, Winston-Salem, N.C.

*Image retrieved from nblxer via stock.adobe.com

The article We Asked 10 Bartenders: What Makes the Perfect Hot Toddy? appeared first on VinePair.

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