At its heart, a hot toddy is a pretty simple drink—some sort of spirit, a sweetener, maybe some citrus or spice, and hot water. No shaker. No fancy bitters or liquors. No special talent required. Just pure comfort in the dead of winter.
“Toddies are fun, because the recipe is really only a guideline,” says Ian Hunter, co-founder of Deacon Giles Distillery in Salem. “You can make them with hot water, or tea, or even try it with cider.”
While toying with the hot liquid, it’s easy to change up the spirit as well. Toddies can be made with everything from port to vodka, but for that true cure-what-ails-you warmth that a dark day demands, brown spirits should prevail. While the history of the drink is unclear, it is thought to have its origins with Scotch—some historians say mixing the peaty spirit with water and honey was intended to make it more palatable for ladies. While whiskey is classic, a fine toddy can be made with tequila, lime and agave nectar.
“The spirit choice in a toddy is very region-specific,” Hunter agrees, adding that in colonial New England, if anyone was drinking a toddy, it would most likely have been with rum. Molasses—a cheap byproduct of refining sugar—arrived by the shipload here, where it was often fermented into liquor.
“If there was a port in New England, there was also a rum distillery,” Hunter says, adding that Salem at one time boasted seven.
Deacon Giles, which became the first distillery to operate in the city in more than a century, will soon augment its tasting room with a cocktail lounge called Speakeasy Lab. The company is clearly enamored with recognizing Salem’s history, starting with is name. Deacon Giles refers to a temperance tract, written around 1835 in Salem, that tells the story of an impious distiller who accidentally hired a gang of demons to make his rum, branding it with secret messages of eternal damnation.
Even more important than the branding are the ingredients, says Hunter, who points out that Deacon Giles uses molasses to craft its rum, just as Salem’s forebears did. “Molasses is historically what was used to make rum in New England, and makes a rum with much more flavor and aroma than sugar,” Hunter says. “Given our backstory about a rum-making deacon right out of Salem history, using a traditional recipe was a must for us.”
Drinking at the modern day distillery doesn’t carry the threat of hellfire—and in fact the rum maker’s newest release bears a much more convivial historic name. Friendship’s Bounty, the brand’s seasonal winter offering, is named after Salem’s tall ship, Friendship, and pays homage to the flavors that people prized at the time.
“We use a combination of spices that might have been found in the Friendship’s holds, including cacao, orange peel, vanilla bean, and long pepper,” Hunter says.
With its complex mix of flavors, the rum is a perfect sipper for the chilly days ahead—and an ideal addition to a toddy. To spread the warm feelings a bit further, Deacon Giles will be donating a dollar for every bottle of Friendship’s Bounty sold to support the maritime activities of Essex Heritage, an organization that works to preserve the unique history of Essex County. As Hunter says, “Supporting our community is a key part of our business.” That’s something everyone can drink to.
In this pure New England-inspired toddy, Friendship’s Bounty Spiced Rum contributes warm flavors, while the tea adds a layer of complexity. And as Ian Hunter notes, “You can’t get much more New England than locally made rum and maple syrup,” although, he adds that swapping honey for maple syrup is just as delicious, and all the proportions can be adjusted to taste.
The Derby Wharf Toddy
> 6 oz. Hot Black Tea
> 1 1/2 oz. Deacon Giles Friendship’s Bounty Spiced Rum
> 3/4 oz. Lemon Juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
> 3/4 oz. Real Maple Syrup
Brew your favorite black tea (typically steeping about 4 minutes). Stir in lemon juice and maple syrup. Add spiced rum and garnish with a lemon twist and/or grated nutmeg if desired.
Deacon Giles Distillery
75 Canal St., Salem, 978-306-6675