As much as we'd like to believe in the healing powers of smoky Scotch whiskys sipped around a roaring hearth and fiery tequila cocktails on a tropical evening, the science simply doesn't back up the medicinal benefits of alcohol.
Or does it?
Well, it sort of does—and specifically in the case of hot toddies (which are made with whiskey). The curative properties of hot toddies have long been debated by Internet scientists and grandmothers alike. So we spoke to a real doctor—Daniel Allan, M.D., a family physician at the Cleveland Clinic—to get the facts.
“Whiskey can decongest a lot of the mucus in your body, as the alcohol dilates the blood vessels to make it easier for mucous membranes to deal with the infection," Allan tells Men's Fitness. "A higher numbers of immune cells, due to the improved blood flow, are brought into the nose to help fight the infection. Adding spices such as ginger, nutmeg, or cinnamon can stimulate saliva, which helps soothe a sore throat, too."
It's important to note, though, that Allan "wouldn’t recommend any more than 1oz of whiskey, as too much can dehydrate you and inflame the mucous membrane".
But would he recommend one hot toddy to a patient?
"If it was safe for a patient to do so, based on a patient’s health history and medications, I would consider recommending a hot toddy for symptomatic improvement of a respiratory infection," he says. The honey is "also helpful as its thick consistency can soothe a sore throat, and the sweet taste can trigger nerve endings that protect the throat from consistent coughing". The steam from hot liquids will "will help open up your sinuses and ease congestion".
And for the part we already knew to be true: "Plus, the psychological effect of having a warm, comforting drink can lower stress and anxiety and improve your immune system."
So if you're feeling a bit under the weather and want to make a hot toddy at home, you should know it's easier than you think. In fact, you probably already have everything you need in your bar cart and pantry. There are, however, a few tips and tricks you should keep in mind, according to Brad Nugent, beverage director at Center Bar in New York City.
"Preparing the glass is an important step in making a hot toddy," says Nugent, and it's as simple as keeping the glass hot. "Pouring boiling water into a room-temperature glass" before you start prepping the other ingredients "will help keep your finished toddy piping hot".
When it comes to flavor, "put your spice mix (clove, star anise, cinnamon stick, lemon, etc.) into a loose-leaf teabag and let it steep," Nugent recommends. "This allows you to pull out the flavorings when the desired taste has been achieved." It also makes mixing a second drink easier.
Here are five mollifying, soul-warming hot-beverage recipes to help soothe whatever's ailing you this winter season. Doctor's orders.