Ask for a Hot Toddy today, and you’re likely to get a warm drink with whiskey, lemon, and spices. But if you ordered one in the earliest days of American history, that drink would have likely come with rum.
The Hot Toddy originated in British-controlled India. The Hindi word “taddy” meant “beverage made from fermented palm sap.” Brits claimed the drink by 1786, when “taddy” was officially written down and defined as a “beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices.”
Note how the early Hot Toddies never specified which type of alcohol should be used. In America, rum from the Caribbean was one of the most popular and prevalent spirits until around 1800. Those early Americans did just fine without warm whiskey in their mugs; the classic Hot Toddy ingredients (hot water, lemon, sweetener, and whatever spices you have on hand) are just as good a match for rum as for whiskey.
So if you want to drink the original American Hot Toddy, reach for the rum. The best part is, you can use any Hot Toddy recipe. Spiced rum from brands like Sailor Jerry, Don Q, and Sugar Island blends nicely with traditional Hot Toddy ingredients like lemon, cinnamon, and cloves. Aged rum adds a slightly oaky quality, while white rum increases sweetness without adding any competing flavors.
Kenneth McCoy, the chief creative officer of Public House Collective, which owns The Rum House, tells me that, above all else, be creative.
“When making a Hot Toddy with spiced rum, throw out the traditional recipe and play,” McCoy says. “Add some fresh ginger, cloves, and a lemon wedge or orange wedge, a dash of honey or cherry syrup, muddle that in a mixing glass, and add 1.5 to 2 ounces of your favorite spiced rum.”
It’s also important to strain the drink until its clear before adding hot water and garnishing.
There you have it. Consider this your blueprint to exploring the distinctly American world of rum-based Hot Toddies.
How to make a basic Hot Toddy (with rum or other spirits)
As McCoy says, one of the delightful things about Hot Toddies is that you can experiment with different recipes. Start with the base recipe below, then build from there to make a drink that fits your taste preferences.
1 1/2 ounces rum, whiskey, or other liquor
1 spoonful honey
1/2 ounce lemon
4 ounces boiling water
Combine ingredients in a mug, then garnish with lemon peel, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, or other spices.