14 Ways To Elevate Your Hot Toddy

The hot toddy has long been the cold-weather cocktail of choice, and it's no wonder why. This sweet and sour whiskey-forward drink does wonders to warm you from head to toe on a frigid winter day.

Although the exact origin of the hot toddy is up for debate, the drink has been used for centuries as a home remedy to relieve symptoms of a cough or sore throat. Between the soothing honey, the boost of vitamin C from the lemon juice, and the numbing effect of the whiskey, the common cold can't stand a chance to this comforting elixir.

But hot toddies are not only an effective cure for what ails you — they're also a flavorful cocktail that warms you to your core and simply hits the spot during the chilly winter months. The classic hot toddy is made with hot water, whiskey, lemon juice, and honey. This simple recipe is fantastic all on its own, but if you want to spice things up, here are some great ways to take your hot toddy to the next level.

Swap out the whiskey

Although whiskey is the traditional go-to when it comes to hot toddies, there's no rule that says you can't swap it for another liquor of your choice. Other dark liquors such as brandy, spiced rum, bourbon, or cognac can easily be used without changing the flavor of your hot toddy too drastically. To keep things on the lighter side, quality vodka, gin, absinthe, or light rum are all great options as well.

Flavored liquors can also be an excellent complement to a hot toddy. Try a fruit-forward schnapps, a cinnamon whiskey, or any kind of flavored vodka to customize this versatile cocktail to your liking. Using different liquors can also create a great foundation for a drink with some great international flavor. Try mixing a little lime or orange juice and agave nectar with tequila or mezcal for a delicious Mexican hot toddy. Or, for a Japanese-style cocktail, swap the whiskey for sake and flavor with a bit of grated ginger.

Add some spice

It's not uncommon to see a hot toddy garnished with a cinnamon stick, orange peel, or clove. And while these certainly add spice, opting for more unique combinations can really elevate your hot toddy.

For an aromatic addition to this cocktail, try mixing some warming spices like star anise, cardamom, turmeric, or coriander into the drink. If you want to turn up the heat a bit, flavor with a spicy Sichuan peppercorn, cayenne, Kashmiri chile, or Aleppo pepper. Or, if you'd like to keep things more on the refreshing side, add a lighter herbal element such as mint, rosemary, or lemongrass. Savory herbs also blend surprisingly well with the lemon and whiskey aspect of a hot toddy, so don't be afraid to try bay leaves, basil, or thyme in your recipe.

Whichever you choose, the process for infusing these herbs or spices into your hot toddy is the same. You'll want to take your herbs or whole spices (not ground, as they will become grainy in texture!) and add them to a pan of room-temperature water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow it to steep until aromatic and darker in color — similar to making an herbal tea. Once the herbs or spices are fully steeped, remove them with a strainer and complete the hot toddy by adding your whiskey, honey, and lemon.

Use tea instead of water

While a cup of boiling water is the traditional base for a hot toddy, swapping it for a mug of tea can give you a whole new flavor profile to work with and add some complexity to the drink. The good news is that pretty much any tea can replace the water in a hot toddy. That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a tea for your cocktail's foundation.

As a general rule, darker teas tend to taste better with darker liquors, and vice versa. So, when choosing a tea for your hot toddy, your best bet is to look for a dark, flavorful tea that will pair well with your whiskey of choice. Robust black teas, such as English breakfast, chai, or Earl Grey, are excellent examples of tea you can mix into a hot toddy. Darjeeling, in particular, is another excellent choice for this drink, as its fruity notes blend well with lemon and honey. But you don't have to strictly stick with black teas. Green tea is a common mix-in for a hot toddy, as it tastes great with both lemon and whiskey. And, if you really want to use your favorite white or herbal tea, you can do so as long as you opt for a light whiskey to avoid overpowering the delicate flavor of the tea.

Make it a mocktail

If alcohol isn't your thing, you can still enjoy a hot toddy by turning it into a mocktail. There are a number of alternative ingredients you can mix in to create a delicious beverage without any liquor. To keep the taste of your mocktail as close to the classic hot toddy as possible, try substituting zero-proof alcohol. There are plenty of great non-alcoholic whiskey options on the market, many of which are designed to taste similar to traditional whiskeys. These alcohol-free whiskeys are easy to substitute using a one-to-one ratio.

Alternatively, you can omit the whiskey altogether. That being said, whiskey is a critical ingredient in terms of flavor in a hot toddy, so you'll want to use something with a bit of a bite to replace it. Black tea is the most popular whiskey alternative in a hot toddy and is easy to incorporate into this drink by steeping the tea and then replacing it the hot water. Mixing in some lime or grapefruit juice, a splash of ginger beer, or apple cider vinegar can also do the trick.

Another common way to turn a cocktail into a mocktail is to add some cocktail bitters of your choice. These botanical, herbal, and root-infused extracts add a pungent flavor, making a great whiskey substitute. Be aware that bitters do technically contain a small percentage of alcohol (much like a vanilla extract), but it's such a small amount that they're still commonly used in many mocktail recipes.

Switch up the juice

Hot toddies are known for having a sour flavor thanks to a generous pour of lemon juice. But if you'd like to keep things on the sweeter side, or just want a change from the tartness of the lemon, you can try using a different fruit juice instead. Other citrus-forward juices are an obvious choice for this cocktail. Orange, lime, or grapefruit juice all make excellent substitutes, as they also mix well with honey and whiskey. Other juices, like cranberry, pomegranate, or even pineapple, can also be used to give the hot toddy a completely different flavor while maintaining the desired tartness.

But citrus isn't your only option for a hot toddy — apple is another popular variation. This spicy apple cider hot toddy recipe calls for apple cider, light brown sugar, bourbon, lemon, cinnamon, and fresh ginger, which makes for a tasty winter drink that'll warm you from head to toe.

Use a flavored simple syrup instead of honey

Honey is one of the staple ingredients in a hot toddy, adding a natural sweetness and smooth texture to the cocktail. But it's not the only ingredient that can get the job done. A great way to elevate your hot toddy is to swap the honey for an infused simple syrup to add in some different flavors. 

You can readily buy flavored simple syrup, but it's also really easy to make your own. All you have to do is mix a 1-to-1 ratio of water and your choice of sugar in a pan and bring it to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.

To infuse the simple syrup with your flavor of choice, simply add some fruit, herbs, or spices to the sugar and water mixture before boiling. Aromatic spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and cardamom are excellent simple syrup flavors to add to a hot toddy. Or, try some herbs like lemon verbena, chamomile, or rosemary for a lighter variation.

Slow cook for better infusion

Whether you're planning to make a large batch of hot toddies in advance of a party or you simply want to get the most flavor out of your herbs and spices, using a slow cooker is a great alternative to the traditional method of mixing this cozy cocktail. Not only is it a great time-saver, but slow cooking is an effective way to really infuse any spices you're using into the drink. Steeping your spices, herbs, and fruit peels or slices for a few hours can deepen their flavor in the cocktail, which results in a richer beverage overall.

To effectively make a batch of hot toddies in a slow cooker, combine your water, lemon juice, honey, and choice of add-ins and set the temperature to high. You'll want to leave out the whiskey for now to avoid cooking the alcohol out of your cocktail! Allow it to warm up for two hours before serving or reducing the heat to low. When you're ready to serve, pour your whiskey of choice into a mug or teacup and ladle the mixture over the top. Then, garnish and enjoy!

Make it a cold toddy

Hot toddies are a winter staple, but there's no reason you can't enjoy them during the warmer months. The ingredients in this cocktail can easily go from warm and cozy to cool and refreshing in an instant! To turn your hot toddy into a cold toddy, make it ahead of time and allow it to cool to room temperature before pouring it over some ice, much like you would when making an iced tea or coffee. Garnish with a fresh slice of lemon and a straw, and you're good to go.

You can use the same ingredients in a cold toddy as you would in a hot one, or you can give it a few additions, including a few extra ingredients like orange, Earl Grey tea, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and orange bitters. No matter which recipe you use, one of the best parts of the cold toddy is you can make a pitcher in advance and store it in the fridge for a couple of days.

Incorporate floral notes

Although you can't judge a drink by its garnish, appearances can go a long way in taking a cocktail to the next level. Hot toddies are typically served with a cinnamon stick, lemon wedge, or orange peel, and flowers are a great way to add a pop of color and a bit of freshness to this otherwise simple-looking drink.

But flowers aren't only for aesthetic appeal; they can add a unique flavor as well. There are a lot of great edible flowers to choose from, many of which fit in nicely with the warm and cozy "theme" of a hot toddy. Apple blossoms can add a subtle apple flavor to your toddy, while calendula can add a peppery note and some reddish-orange vibrancy. Chamomile, hibiscus, bee balm, and lemon geraniums are also great options to experiment with and are commonly used in teas. Adding these flowers to your hot toddy is easy. Simply top the drink with a few flowers for a subtle flavor and a bold look, or, to really infuse them into your cocktail, steep dried flowers in the hot water as you would with a tea and remove them before serving.

Create a cocktail fusion

As you've probably picked up by now, hot toddies are incredibly versatile. You can easily customize this simple cocktail by changing an ingredient or two while maintaining the integrity of the drink. And if you're struggling to narrow down the modifications you want to make, gleaning inspiration from your other favorite whiskey-based cocktails with similar flavor profiles can help.

For example, if you're a fan of the old fashioned, you may enjoy making your hot toddy with your favorite bourbon, a dash of bitters, and orange instead of lemon. Or, omit the lemon, use a rye whiskey, and add some bitters, vermouth, and a maraschino cherry or two for a Manhattan spin on the hot toddy. To do this without creating an entirely different cocktail, take the same steps you would with a classic hot toddy and keep as many of the original ingredients as possible. Think about cocktails that contain whiskey and citrus, and make small alterations from there.

Play with different textures

Drink texture is one of the most important fundamentals of cocktail mixology, and by changing the texture of your hot toddy, you can almost re-invent it entirely. The mouthfeel of a beverage makes a huge difference in how a cocktail is tasted and experienced, and the best bartenders will take this into account when crafting a quality drink. Cocktail textures vary from smooth, creamy, syrupy, and thin to foamy, fizzy, slushy, and frothy. You should feel free to experiment to your heart's content, but keep in mind certain textures work better for certain cocktails.

When it comes to hot toddies, adding some tannins like tea, pomegranate, or barrel-aged whiskey can give it more of a "velvety" texture. If you're going for a creamy toddy, adding a bit of steamed milk can give it some added richness. Make a cold toddy with sparkling water instead of regular for a bubbly texture. Or maybe get a little wild by cutting down the water and blending your ingredients with some ice. The texture is all about balance, so play around with your toddy a little until you find the combination you're going for.

Add your favorite berries

What better way to boost the flavor in a cocktail than adding your choice of fresh berry? Fortunately, the vast majority of berries are the perfect balance of sweet and tart and taste great when paired with the lemon, honey, and whiskey found in a hot toddy. The sky is the limit when it comes to your creativity here!

The addition of cranberries is a nice touch if you want to add a bit of holiday cheer to this drink, especially when combined with a traditional cinnamon or clove garnish. Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are a refreshing choice for the warmer months. Similarly, blackberries and mulberries taste fantastic with winter spices. To make sure you get the most flavor out of this addition, muddle your choice of berry in a bowl and mix the juice and a few fresh berries into your drink. If fresh berries aren't readily available, you can also simmer a bit of jam on the stovetop before adding it to your cocktail.

Try an Italian spin

If you're looking to elevate your hot toddy with some international flavor, Giada De Laurentiis's Italian spin on a hot toddy may be just what you are looking for. Her blog, Giadzy, shared a recipe for De Laurentiis' ginger limoncello hot toddy on Instagram, which still uses a combination of the typical ingredients plus a boost of spice and a bit of Italian flare.

Starting with the traditional bourbon whiskey, boiling water, and lemon juice, De Laurentiis then adds limoncello to her toddy for an extra lemon boost and replaces the honey with Fabbri ginger in syrup, which contains fresh, turmeric-infused candied ginger. She tops it all off with a pinch of salt, a slice of lemon, and a few chopped teaspoons of that candied ginger, which the recipe recommends that you "be sure to enjoy all of the chopped ginger at the bottom that has been playing with the bourbon and lemon. It's simply delightful."

Use a new type of whiskey

It's no secret that when it comes to alcohol, not all brands are created equal. No matter if you're a whiskey connoisseur or just starting to dabble in this robust liquor, trying a new bottle of booze can work wonders in elevating your hot toddy. This is especially true if your go-to whiskey doesn't taste right in this cocktail or you're struggling to find something that blends well with the other flavors.

Fortunately, some whiskeys tend to work better in a hot toddy than others, and pivoting to these options can mean the difference between a cocktail that gives you the shivers and one you can't stop sipping. When choosing a whiskey for your hot toddy, you'll want to lean toward something smooth and easy on the pallet.

Irish whiskeys, like Tullamore D.E.W. and Sexton Whiskey Single Malt, are sweet, easy-sipping spirits that both finish with notes of fruit and honey, making them perfect for a hot toddy. If you're looking for something with a bolder flavor, bourbons like Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey 101 both have strong oak and spice flavors that are great options for this cocktail. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey is another fantastic choice here. Made with real honey and a little bit of spice, it adds a little extra sweetness to your cocktail without going over the top.