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Why hot toddy is like chai

The warm cocktail with spices and honey offers a ready-made template for recipe experiments

Use tea or experiment with the citrus element. (Photo courtesy: JW Marriott, Juhu).
Use tea or experiment with the citrus element. (Photo courtesy: JW Marriott, Juhu).

If you have never made hot toddy at home, think of it as masala chai,” says Nitin Tewari, mixologist and co-founder of Together At 12th in Gurugram, Haryana. Just like chai, it needs hot water and spices, adjusted to taste. You can add a hint of ginger too for extra zing, and honey to sweeten.

The basic recipe for hot toddy has warm water, honey and Irish whiskey—a formula ripe for experiments.

In Ireland, the base spirit is Irish whiskey. It’s replaced by cognac in France, bourbon in the US and Old Monk or brandy in India, says Bensan Varghese, beverage manager, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu. A dark spirit complements the spicy notes and matches the winter mood.

Tewari shares a standard recipe: Boil a cup of water and add a cinnamon stick, two cloves, one star anise and two sliced orange wheels. As the water boils, you will see the colour change. Remove from heat and allow it to cool a bit. You can strain the mixture or let the spices remain, so that they continue to impart their essence while you are sipping the drink. Now, add 30ml dark spirit of your choice—brandy, rum, bourbon or whisky. Stir in some honey and serve. Remember, if the water is too hot, the alcohol will evaporate. “The water should be warm enough so that you can comfortably hold the drink in your hand, like a cup of hot chocolate,” says Tewari.

Ingredients like honey, spices and orange zest, believed to have medicinal properties,imbue the classic hot cocktail with a comforting flavour and aroma. You can even replace hot water with green tea. Varghese, for instance, uses green tea steeped with one cinnamon stick, one cardamom and one clove for his version of hot toddy. He suggests garnishing with dried or fresh rose petals for a romantic touch.

When Tewari makes hot toddy at home, he substitutes water with packaged apple juice, giving the apple juice one boil, adding spices, orange zest and a brandy or cognac. “Because it is apple flavoured, I call it Himachali toddy,” he adds.

One can play around with the citrus element too. Stir in orange liqueur instead of using fresh orange, or add a dehydrated orange wheel for some drama. If oranges are unavailable, fresh lemon zest will do the trick.

Warm orange juice can be used instead of water too, says Tewari. He recommends spicing it with ginger instead of the trifecta of cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. Here, the dark spirit must be switched with gin, for its botanicals bloom when paired with orange.

The ultimate hack, says Tewari, is using a masala chai tea bag. Steep it in water, spike it with alcohol, add a fresh orange wheel and label it hot toddy instead of black tea.

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