Picture this:

A crisp winter’s eve announces itself with plunging temperatures and softening light. The fireplace is roaring, beating back the forces of frost outside. You curl up on the couch with a mug of warm milk to watch your favorite — hold on. Warm milk?

No. No, that won’t do.

You need something bracing; something warming; something that can double as a cold medicine in a pinch.

You need a Hot Toddy.

There are countless recipes for the classic toddy. But they mostly revolve around a dark spirit like whiskey, rum or brandy, some sort of sweetener, some variation of warm spice and citrus. Some classic recipes call for the drink to be lengthened — a fancy way to say “topped off” — with fresh-brewed black tea. Others call simply for freshly boiled water. We say there’s no wrong way. And frankly, after this year, you’ve earned a chance to settle down and warm up.

Let’s look at what you’ll need:

Whiskey, rum or brandy: Any brown spirit will do, really, but each will bring something different to the party. Bourbon whiskey — we’re partial to Old Dominick — will yield a balance of spice and sweetness. Scotch whisky will impart a subtle malty, cereal note with light hints of smoke depending on which bottle you choose. When brandy is warmed it gives off sweet, plummy, toffee-esque aromas. Or, if you want to experience true bliss, use Calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region of France which, when heated, is utterly ethereal.

Fresh-brewed black tea or freshly boiled water: This is your heat source, and dilutes the drink so that you don’t get a high-octane dose of sugar, lemon juice and whiskey right down your throat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Citrus: You could use orange here, but lemon is more traditional. You’ll need a little juice, and a peel you can twist up for garnish. To make a lemon twist, simply cut a slice (not a wedge) of lemon, and carefully cut the thin peel from the outside of the lemon wheel. Cut the peel so that it becomes a long strip. Twist it, holding it for several seconds until the shape is kept, and you’ve got yourself a fancy lemon twist!

Sugar: This can come in a lot of forms in a toddy. The hot drink gives you the benefit of using honey or maple syrup, ingredients that don’t play as nicely with cold cocktails. You could also use granulated sugar, brown sugar or simple syrup. Again, play around and find what you like, just note that each variable you change will contribute new flavors to your toddy.

Spices: A few cloves and a stick of cinnamon will totally transform your drink into a holiday in a mug. Alternatively, you could use cocktail bitters to add some spicy depth to your toddy.

INGREDIENTS

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add spirit, syrup or sugar, lemon juice and cloves into your favorite mug and lightly stir.
  2. Top with your tea or boiled water.
  3. Drop in a cinnamon stick, and garnish with your beautiful lemon twist.

Alcohol-Free Toddy

If, for whatever reason, you choose not to drink alcohol, never fear! You can still enjoy the cozy comfort of a toddy. Simply ditch the alcohol. If you do forgo the spirits, we suggest you use tea rather than water — you can even experiment with your favorite herbal tea — and use a richer sweetener like maple syrup to add a little complexity to the drink.

The important thing, no matter which version you choose to make, is that a Toddy is essentially a template that can be manipulated across any number of variables to create something truly delectable.

As you enjoy your beverage — responsibly, of course — we’ve taken the liberty of composing a toast:

To all the friends we’ve missed,
To all the kindness you’ve shown,
To all the love we’ve felt,
And to the holiday spirit that brings us near when we are still so far apart,
We raise our glass.
Here’s to better times ahead.
And, most of all, here’s to you.