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A Tale of the Toddy

January 4, 2013

The Rebirth of Rum: A Tale of the Toddy

The Rebirth of Rum series reports on the vast and intricate world of one of the most storied spirits categories in the entire world. The world of Rum spans all seasons and borders and it’s that time time of year again when we look back on the past year and forward to the year ahead. As the cold winds blow in and we contemplate, we tend to bust out the aged stuff, changing the landscape for Daiquiris, Yacht Clubs and Hemingways and making way for Old Fashioneds and Toddies on cocktail menus.

Rum has alway been a true all-purpose spirit. It’s ingrained in American history (and so many others) since the beginning of our ‘modern’ societies, and for some even longer. ¬†Paul Revere took a dram of it to stay warm and ascertain courage on the night of his famous ride. ¬†Cocktails and Toddies were prescribed for everyday imbibing in Colonial America, where rum distilleries were common enough to put a heavy demand for molasses being imported from the Caribbean.¬† See The Molasses Act for the ending of that story. ¬†Before whiskey took over as the most popular base ingredient in the king of hot drinks, The Hot Toddy¬†or Rum Toddy was as pedestrian in taverns, saloons, and even at home as a drink that could be made with three base ingredients like¬†spirit, sugar, and water.

Right up until three or four generations ago, it was still common in some parts of the U.S. to find a dusty old bottle of rum tucked away in a cupboard or under the stairs of many homes in our little part of the country.¬†Rum has since gone through something of an identity crisis and came out the other end to find its rightful place on some of the world’s finest menus during the first part of the 21st century, choosing to show off the funky underbelly that is its essence.

There was a time when The Toddy was one of six or seven drinks that you would have encountered in any well respected tavern.  Some of these Toddy recipes have lost traction over time which could altogether be due to the fact that their definition from Sling to Cocktail to Toddy might have been as slight as the addition of a little more or less (hot or cold) water or the addition / omission of bitters.  Some have altogether recovered their reputation and then some.


¬†“Before the Cocktail, there was the Toddy-or the Sling-or the Julep-or the Sangaree. Or anything else you wanted to call a glass of beverage alcohol with a little sugar in it, a little water if needed, and maybe a scrape of nutmeg over the top or a sprig or two of mint stuck in the glass.”

-excerpted from Imbibe  by David Wondrich


Nowadays there are Toddies in all sorts of varieties using different sweeteners, liqueurs, spices, fruits and, much like the cocktail, it has become a generic term for any drink served hot. Hot water has long been associated with health and longevity across cultures but here it also does something magical to spirits with the addition of a little something sweet.¬†This is wherein the beauty of The Toddy and the Old Fashioned are held. For ages, bartenders have all chimed in with their interpretations of this drink and it appears in many forms. It may seem unthinkable today but 200 years ago there was a time when adding the rind of citrus to the drink would have rendered an entirely different drink known as a ‚ÄúSkin‚ÄĚ.¬†The drink, when done properly stays true to form as spirit, sugar, and water (Hot). That‚Äôs it.¬† Today the differences are not so subtle and a lot of different ingredients in the form of fruit, spices, etc are all fair game in a ‚ÄúToddy‚ÄĚ.

One easy way to trick out a Toddy and stay true to form is using tea as your water component. Chai tea, for example, tends to pair nicely with aged spirits and can be incorporated by quickly steeping into your boiling water before serving. In many places, especially those influenced by English culture, black tea is a very common substitute in this format and worth trying.

We’ve mentioned one of our favorite variations on this method, The Baked Apple Toddy, featuring our own rum, this time last year in Maxim Magazine.



While they deserve a post all¬†their own, worthy of mention this time of year are other traditional Rum winter-warmers like the Tom & Jerry¬†and hot Punches which we’ve touched on in past posts. These drinks illustrate a clear connection between the past and present of Rum Mixology.

This post was inspired not only by the cold, but by new creative interpretations on the Toddy popping up on menus¬†in¬†renowned cocktail bars like¬†Apotheke in New York City.¬† The bartenders there have shrugged the Toddy for a presentation more akin to a mulled beverage steeping fresh Bartlett pear, apple, and guava with sugar cane and water in a crock pot and bringing this mixture up to a boil before adding our aged white rum in their very own ‚ÄúCorazon de Fuego‚ÄĚ.

Chime in and tell us what your favorite winter Rum drinks are.


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