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

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

You’re Doing It Wrong: Hot Toddy

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.


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.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.