The Mixologist-Approved Whiskey To Use In A Hot Toddy

Whether you're fighting a cold or just looking for a way to wind down in the evening, a humble yet delicious hot toddy can do the trick. A standard hot toddy recipe typically calls for a combination of warm water, honey, lemon, and whiskey, though tea and spices are often added. The whiskey can help you unwind and may even be good for a cough, but with so many other ingredients at play, does the type you use matter much? To find out, we turned to expert Molly Horn, Chief Mixologist and Spirits Educator at Total Wine & More.

Horn believes that some varieties of whiskey work better than others for this drink, especially if you enjoy tea in your toddy. "Shoot for Canadian or Irish [...] something a little more gentle than bourbon or rye to not overpower the bold flavor and bitterness of the tea," she says. While bourbon and rye whiskey are delicious in many applications, rye is spicier and better suited for strong, spirit-forward cocktails. Bourbon tends to have sweet vanilla and caramel undertones, but it can be bold and oaky due to its barrel-aging process, which might dominate the flavor of a gentle hot toddy. 

In contrast, Canadian whiskey is very mild, while many Irish whiskeys – particularly blended varieties — lean toward a lighter and sweeter profile than bourbon or rye. For a softer whiskey that complements honey, tea, and spice flavors, lower-proof Canadian or Irish labels are the way to go.

More tips for the best hot toddy

If you're looking to branch out from the traditional whiskey in your hot toddy, Molly Horn suggests trying a spiced rum like Largo Bay. She notes that "it kind of cuts out some of the work by adding honey and those nice kitchen spice notes (and even a touch of caramel and vanilla) that play really well with black tea." Swapping in rum will definitely add an extra-comforting flavor to the drink, possibly without the need for extra sweetener. If you do choose to mix in some honey, Horn recommends a lighter style, like Manuka, to create a balanced beverage that isn't overpowered by the "funky, earthy notes" in darker honeys.

If you like to add tea to your toddy, nearly any variety will work, especially when you're using a lighter Canadian or Irish whiskey that won't clash with other ingredients. If you're not concerned about caffeine content, opt for your favorite black tea, or reach for green tea, which pairs surprisingly well with whiskey. If you're trying to sip yourself to sleep, or you're just looking to relax, use decaffeinated tea or a calming herbal tea like chamomile. Finally, you can experiment with flavored teas to boost your beverage — try using varieties that incorporate citrus or licorice root, or spice it up with a ginger and apple cider take on hot toddy.