The Right Kind of Liquor To Put in Your Hot Toddy. (Hint: It’s Not Whiskey.)

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
March 7 2013 9:13 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Hot Toddy

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The secret to a great hot toddy.

Valyag via Wikimedia Commons

The worst you can say about getting a cold is that it's a drag. Chances are you're well enough to go to work and can't weasel out of doing chores at home without surrendering your dignity. Your marauding children, if you have been so blessed, have no respect for your diminished condition. Echinacea seems to be a waste of money, and the only drug that can effectively elevate you above your symptoms, ephedra, is illegal in part because of the actions of miscreants.

And yet, your suffering is real. Luckily, one thing can cut through your fug of catarrh. It is called the hot toddy, and unless you are Czech, there's a good chance you've been using the wrong liquor.

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After years of experimentation, I've concluded that a clove-y, gingery, cinnamon-y liqueur called Becherovka is the best scaffolding for the hot toddy. Made in the Czech Republic according to a secret recipe, Becherovka is a minor entry in the catalogue of European decoctions that includes stuff like Chartreuse, Campari, and the artichoke-derived oddity Cynar. Chilled and sipped by itself, Becherovka is a decent digestif, a drink category that's fallen out of fashion, and it's surprisingly good with tonic water. But even a bath of tonic can't dilute away Becherovka's spicy, medicinal sweetness.

In a hot toddy, spicy, medicinal sweetness is what you're after. You really shouldn't be drinking any booze at all when you've got a cold, as alcohol is a dehydrating agent that can worsen your symptoms. Combined with hot water, lemon, honey, some spices, and a splash of the super-medicinal Fernet Branca, Becherovka makes a hot toddy that tastes less like a cocktail and more like the most delicious medicine in the world. It's strong and comforting enough to make you a little fuzzy in the head, but not so tasty that you'll be at risk of incurring the hangover-head-cold double whammy. After an episode (or 13) of House of Cards and a session in your Slanket, you'll be ready for bed.

A final admonition: You must warm the mug first. Fill it with hot water, let it sit for thirty seconds or so, then throw the water out. Otherwise, you might find yourself gulping down tepid dregs at the bottom, which is a crummy finish to the only consolation you're likely to find for the next 7 to 10 days.

Hot Toddy
Yield: 1 serving
Time: 10 minutes

1 whole nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
1 inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 whole cloves
1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
3 tablespoons Becherovka
2 teaspoons Fernet Branca

1. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Fill a mug with boiling water, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then discard the water.

2. Meanwhile, crush the nutmeg and cinnamon stick with a rolling pin or heavy skillet. Put the nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and 1 cup water in a small, heavy saucepan (preferably one with a pour spout) over medium heat. Simmer until the spices have lightly infused the water, about 5 minutes. Remove the spices with a slotted spoon and discard.

3. Add the honey and the lemon juice to the infused water. Stir until the honey is completely dissolved. Add the Becherovka and Fernet Branca, heat just until the mixture begins to steam, then pour into the pre-warmed mug. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more honey, lemon juice, or water. Serve hot.

Benjamin Phelan is a writer living in Louisville, Ky.

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