When the cold and flu season kicks in and you need to feel better FAST, make this soothing hot toddy for sore throat, coughs, colds, or just general winter weather ickiness. It’s a soothing, warm whiskey cocktail that’ll comfort you on the way down.
If you’re feeling under the weather, or just need a warm comforting tipple, whiskey toddy is the cure for what ails you.
Growing up near Louisville, Kentucky, I learned early on the powerful potential healing benefits whiskey. Add in a little bit of citrus, the soothing taste of honey, and the warm aroma of the whiskey, and you have a feel better toddy.
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Hot Toddy for Sore Throat and Cough
At its most basic, a Hot Toddy is a built drink of hot water, a squeeze of citrus, spirit, and a healthy dollop of honey or sugar to sweeten it. The best toddies are piping hot and served in a hot mug you can wrap your fingers around on a cold evening.
The warmth of the drink and the lemon juice in a toddy will soothe a cough and sore throat in no time.
History of the Hot Toddy
Warmed medicinal beverages are common in every culture, and for the toddy, there are competing theories of its origin. As you might imagine from the name, both have British origins.
In one version, British colonialists appropriated the drink from Indian culture around the 1600s via the “taddy” – a cold drink made from fermented palm sap. A few sources said that in the Indian climate the pine sap would begin to ferment from wild yeast within just a few hours. By the late 1700s, the toddy had been recorded as a drink made with spirits, hot water, spices, and sugar, and was known throughout the British empire, including in the Americas.
In the second origin story, the Hot Toddy came from an Irish doctor, Robert Bentley Todd, who prescribed a hot drink of brandy, sugar water and cinnamon for fevers and illness. I want him as my doctor. Really.
By 1837, the toddy was prescribed as a common cold remedy to heal fevers, aches, pains, and nasal congestion,
“If your child begins to sniffle 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…[p]ly him well with hot stimulating drinks, of which hot toddy is the best.”Burlington Free Press – Friday, Feb 3, 1897
Whiskey for a Sore Throat and Cold
Yes, my parents did hand me a whiskey hot toddy when I was fighting off a cold and couldn’t sleep as a child. It’s not much more alcohol than in a dose of Nyquil. Plus, they were from Kentucky, so the hot toddy was a cold cure to them.
Back to the history. According to David Wondrich, in the 1870s, the increased quality of the whiskey available in the states meant the high point of demand for the Hot Toddy – sometimes called a Hot Scotch.
Jerry Thomas and his contemporaries didn’t stray much into using honey, preferring sugar as the sweetener in their toddies. Today, we usually see honey or sometimes demerara sugar used. But the hot toddy recipe was a very popular whiskey cocktail, and all the rage at the time.
Flavors in a Toddy
The classic version from Jerry Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide in 1862 included only whiskey, hot water, and sugar. It was basically a hot sling. But today, the modern classic has a bit of sweetness, a little sour, some whiskey, and plenty of hot liquid.
In today’s version, we find health benefits to the individual ingredients. Warm liquids ease congestion, honey soothes sore throats, and lemon juice bolsters Vitamin C levels.
In the South, we often consider the hot toddy for cough and cold cures. There’s been no scientific study that I know of that sets the overall healing benefit of the toddy, but in their individual roles, elements of the modern hot toddy recipe each have health benefits.
Since it’s been used as far back as the 1700s as a medicinal cure, I’m willing to give tradition the benefit of the doubt. Hand me my toddy.
Tips for a Soothing Hot Toddy for Sore Throat
- Be sure to warm your mug!
That’s the key tip here. A lukewarm hot toddy is worse than a cold toddy.
Heat your mug, either by filling it with boiling water before you add your ingredients, or by heating water in it in the microwave.
- Use a normal-sized mug ~8 to 10 ounces.
We all drink out of huge mugs these days, but to work the best and in a quick fashion, a hot toddy for sore throat needs to be as strong as you can handle it.
If the mug is too large, the whiskey will be too diluted. Also, you want your cocktail to be as close to the rim of the mug as possible. A cocktail that only takes up ½ the capacity of a vessel just looks funny.
- Stir and reheat the whiskey toddy just before drinking.
When I’m at home, I often stir the ingredients again and heat the mug in the microwave one last time to make sure it’s really hot before I sip on it.
- Play with the elements of the toddy to suit the needs of your sickness.
It’s like the ultimate choose-your-own adventure and get-well-soon drink. Choose flavors that appeal to your sore throat or cough, but be sure that they also complement one another. One of my favorite hot toddy recipes uses honey, lemon, hot apple cider, cinnamon and clove. Another favorite includes beer and bourbon.
Hot Toddy Recipe Variations
To me, the beauty of a hot toddy for cough, cold, sore throat, or just a warmer-upper, lies in its flexibility. Various spirits can be used. Different hot liquids can be used as a base for the warm element. You can swap out your sweetener from honey to maple syrup to simple syrup. And you can add spices and herbs to your heart’s content.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Aged rum
- Aged brandy
- Reposado or Anejo tequila
- Apple cider – Try an apple cider toddy cocktail for yourself and see what you think.
- Peppermint tea
- Chai tea
- Hot cranberry juice – cranberries are packed with antioxidants, so they make a fantastic hot toddy for cold!
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- Apple cider vinegar – Although I think lemon juice makes the best tasting hot toddy for a cough or sore throat, doctors and studies show that there are some powerful anti-inflammatory benefits to drinking apple cider vinegar.
- Drinking/cocktail shrub
- Sugar or brown sugar
- Maple syrup
- Sweet liqueur
- Flavored or spice-infused simple syrups
- Star anise
- Citrus peel
Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces usually come from the Cocktail Kingdom section of Amazon:
You may already have these bar essentials, but just in case:
Two Minute Hot Toddy for Sore Throat, Cough or Cold
- 1.5 ounces whiskey 80-95 proof
- ½ oz lemon juice or preferred sour element
- ½ oz honey or maple syrup, more if desired
- 6 ounces very hot water or preferred hot beverage like tea, cider, or fruit juice
- cinnamon stick, lemon wheel, loose cloves
- Fill your serving mug with very hot water while you gather your ingredients.
- Empty the warmed mug, add hot water, honey, lemon juice, and spices and stir. Add whiskey and stir once more. If the toddy has cooled down, microwave it for 20-30 seconds to get it back to piping hot, but don’t let it boil.
- Heat 4-6 ounces of water in your mug in the microwave for one minute.
- Add in the whiskey, spices, citrus, and honey.
- Heat again for 20-30 seconds.
This post, originally published February 2021, was last updated with new content in April 2023.