Beloved is the warm, sweet, and soothing power of the Hot Toddy. It usually has whiskey, brandy, or rum infused with spices—and it’s tasty enough to warrant a holiday of its own.
MICHIGAN—Jan. 11 is Hot Toddy Day. And for those of us living through another Michigan winter, the cocktail can lift spirits, liven up parties and maybe even help quell a sore throat.
The drink—traditionally made from whiskey, brandy or rum infused with spices—dates back centuries, and has origins in the Hindi word “tari,” a palm sap fermented to create alcohol. Some research also traces the drink back to Scotland, where it was used as a home flu remedy. But over the years, Michiganders have certainly adopted (and twisted) the recipe into their own.
And with dozens of local and artisanal spirits to explore from an array of fascinating and upcoming distilleries, Michigan is now leading a bit of a Hot Toddy revolution. To help ring in the holiday and celebrate this classic drink, we asked mixologists from across the state to share their tips and tricks. If you want to play along, you’ll first need to grab a few simple ingredients:
- Hot Water
- Spices (like anise or cinnamon)
The Honorable Distillery (Marquette)
Bourbon may create the most traditional Hot Toddy, but Honorable Distillery manager Lily Van Der Bosch said she often prefers using Rye grain whiskey—which is prized for a spicier, peppery bite, more pungent herbal notes, and far less sweetness than your standard bourbon.
Since it opened in 2022 in downtown Marquette, Honorable has been crafting its toddies with their signature OPW Bourbon—but they’re still happy to mix it up with rye and a splash of cider.
You just have to ask nicely.
Ethanology Distillation (Elk Rapids)
Ethanology Distilliation co-founder Nicholas Lefebre recommends his locally sourced, honey-distilled “Mel Vocatus” for the best Hot Toddies. It’s hard to nail down the precise flavors of this liquor, but notes of ginger, red pepper, banana, pear, cherry blossoms and nettle tea create a delicate warmth and pronounced tingle—which are rounded out just perfectly with hints of lemon and sweet honey. Lefebre likes it so much, he calls the blend the “nectar of the gods.”
Iron Fish Distillery (Thompsonville)
When Iron Fish opened in 2016, it claimed the title of the first “farm-based” distillery in Michigan. That means every step of the distillation process—including harvesting grain, milling, mashing and mashing—is done on site. And that “soil-to-spirit” process makes for one tasty Hot Toddy.
Spokesperson Jesse Den Herder recommends using their signature “Copper Queen Whiskey,” mixed in with hot water, a splash of lemon juice and some brown sugar cinnamon simple syrup—which can be easily made at home with some water, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks.
Garnish it with a lemon slice and a cinnamon stick, sit back, sip and relax.
Coppercraft Distillery (Holland & Saugatuck)
Coppercraft spokesperson Ali Anderson recommends their in-house Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskies to give Hot Toddies the “backbone and spice to shine in a cocktail, but all the finesse of warm baking spices and butterscotch notes to be enjoyed on its own.” The classic Coppercraft recipe only uses lemon, honey and hot water—garnished with a lemon wheel.
Shelly Taberski, head mixologist at the Traverse City Whiskey Co. tasting room, has a classic choice for a classic Hot Toddy: Straight bourbon. She coats the mug with honey, fills most of it with hot water, and then adds 1.5 oz. of bourbon and a drizzle of lemon juice. Garnish it with a cinnamon stick and a lemon wedge, and serve with a stirrer to dredge up the sunken honey.
“This sipper is simple, and so soothing,” she said. “It’s a drink that works for everyone.”
Journeyman Distillery (Three Oaks)
Journeyman Distillery launched in 2011, and its latest line of Featherbone Bourbon offers a distinct flavor profile that seems like it’s designed specifically for Hot Toddies. The nutty, earthy, caramel notes of the bourbon serve as a perfect complement to the classic honey and lemon.
Pro Tips from The ‘Gander
Adventurous home bartenders can infuse their Hot Toddy with butter—and it’s easier than you think. First, slowly melt unsalted butter at a low temperature, being careful not to burn it. Then pour the melted butter into your spirit and put it in the freezer for around 24 hours.
The butter will solidify. Carefully scoop up the top layer, being sure not to mix the butter back into the spirit. Coffee filters can be used afterward to help collect any leftover butter.
Spiced honey can also turn a boring Hot Toddy into something special. Simply add one part water, one part honey, and whatever spices you want to use. Simmer, strain, and enjoy. Common honey infusions include allspice, cinnamon, star anise and a dash of cloves.