Skip the green beer: Class up your St. Patrick’s Day with a hot whiskey

March 16, 2015                 3M read time
Harry Guinness

Whether you spent the day hiking in Ireland or surfing in Northern California, a hot whiskey is the perfect reward after an active day outdoors. Harry Guinness (yes, that's his real name) explains why. 

As an Irishman, I have a couple of strong opinions about whiskey. The first is the spelling: there's an "e" in it. This matter is not up for discussion. The second is the correct way to make a hot whiskey (also known as a hot toddy by uncivilized Americans).

Ireland is whiskey’s home. We began distilling the amber nectar in the early 1400s—almost 100 years before the Scots followed suit and suspiciously dropped the “e.” While always big in Ireland, the popularity of whiskey peaked internationally after WWI. Then Prohibition hit the U.S. and international demand plummeted. The Irish War of Independence, which kicked off in 1919, and the civil war that followed, landed another one-two punch to whiskey’s gut. Finally, in the 1990s, the indefatigable elixir mounted an international comeback. Today, native son Jameson holds the title as the world’s most popular whiskey.

There are two major mistakes people make when it comes to hot whiskies: first, they use poor quality ingredients, and second, they use too much water.

After a day of activity outdoors, hot whiskey is the best cup of comfort around. It is a drink that warms you twice: once with the heat of the water and once with the heat of the alcohol. The ratio of water to whiskey should not be more than 1:1. This is a whiskey drink, not a water drink. The water is there to heat the whiskey without boiling away the booze—that is all. If you can handle it, go for the golden ratio of 0.5:1.

There are two major mistakes people make when it comes to hot whiskies: first, they use poor quality ingredients, and second, they use too much water. 

A cocktail is only as good as its components and a hot whiskey—though I'm loath to call it a cocktail—is no exception. Cheap whiskey and white sugar won't cut it. The only way to get away with cheap whiskey is to drink it at 5 a.m. or water it down to homeopathic levels. 

Want to sip hot whiskey in its home country? Check out our 7 best places to explore in Ireland

Glass of whiskey with a spoon in it Harry Guinness

Glass of whiskey with a spoon in it

Harry Guinness


Almost any Irish whiskey will make a great hot whiskey. But to make an exceptional one, I'd recommend Jameson, Bushmills, or Green Spot. annotation


Jameson is the best liter for liter contender out there. If you are considering putting anything less distinguished in a hot whiskey, stop reading now. Even in the middle of nowhere, you should be able to find someone willing to provide you with enough Jameson for a decent drink.


With a license to distill that dates back to 1608, the Old Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland is the longest running distillery in the world. Bushmills produces some of the finest whiskies on the island. Any bottle from their range will work, but a particular favorite of mine is Black Bush. It’s a little more expensive and a bit harder to find than Jameson, but the extra effort is well worth it.

Green Spot

Green Spot is my all-time favorite and one of the best kept secrets in Irish whiskey. It's surprisingly affordable even though they only release a very limited number of casks each year. Get a bottle for special occasions; just do it with the knowledge that every day is special when there’s Green Spot on your shelf.

brown natural sugar in a glass Harry Guinness

brown natural sugar in a glass

Harry Guinness



Sugar is the other key ingredient. Natural sugar, like that used to make good rum, contains molasses which is removed to make white sugar. For a good hot whiskey, the sugar should be as unprocessed as possible. Raw sugars have more flavor than just "sweet.” The molasses adds a deep richness that complements the whiskey. There are various types available with different names depending on the specifics of how they were produced. I would recommend demerara or muscovado sugar, but any kind sold as natural with a funny name will do. Commercial brown sugar—which is just white sugar with some molasses added back—will not.

The remaining ingredients are harder to go wrong with. You need water, a lemon, and dried cloves. Mix it all together and you’ve got yourself the perfect warm welcome home after a long day outside. Nothing else can take a crew of cantankerous wet sailors—or hikers, or skiers, or ... —and, in a few sips, replace them with eloquent and upstanding members of society.

To make a hot whiskey:

  • Put the kettle on.
  • Cut the lemon into slices about half a centimeter thick. Stud each lemon slice with four or five cloves.
  • Rinse out and warm the glasses or mugs with hot tap water.
  • Put one teaspoon of sugar into each glass.
  • Add about an ounce and a half of boiling water to each glass. It should be more than enough to fully cover the sugar. 
  • Stir until the sugar dissolves.
  • Add some solid measures of whiskey—at least an ounce and a half to two ounces (a minimum 1:1 ratio of whiskey to water).If you and your companions can handle it, feel free to be heavy handed. There’s no one there to judge.
  • Stir the whiskey in, then add the lemon slices.
  • Toast your compatriots and enjoy!


Finding Green Spot and other great whiskeys outside of Ireland can be a challenge. Luckily, the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin, which stocks the largest range of Irish whiskeys in the world, ships internationally.

Harry Guinness

Harry Guinness (yes, that is his real last name) is a writer and photographer from Dublin, Ireland. He suffers from a terrible allergy to what someone with moral character might call “work.”

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