We’ve hit that time of year when hours spent trudging the streets buying last-minute Christmas presents can leave us chilled to the bone, with toes that feel as if they're about to drop off. It's at this particular point that we find only a hot, alcoholic drink will do to thaw us out.
There's something disproportionately cheering about walking into a room to be greeted by the heady aroma of mulled wine gently stewing with cinnamon sticks, before someone pours you a large, comforting glass. The festive goodwill it fosters is second-to-none.
The popularity of hot drinks has surged in recent years, with a whole plethora of options on offer in bars and pubs up and down the country.
“During the winter months anything hot and sweet helps you warm up and cheers you up,” says Aoife Halliday, operations manager at Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, whose pop-up rooftop bar WigWamBam is offering a menu of five toasting hot concoctions.
“We try to turn recipes on their head to make it a little bit more interesting, and we like to spike things - so a lovely rich hot chocolate with a shot of rum or whisky always goes down a treat and add double warmth.”
Cloudy apple juice, oranges, dark spirits and spices such as cinnamon sticks, freshly grated nutmeg, cloves and even chilli can all come in handy when you're stirring up a warm Christmas cocktail. We've listed six to try out below, from traditional mulled wine to hot buttered rum and even a flaming punch. Stock up, invite a group of friends around, and get mixing!
1. Mulled wine
It’s not officially winter until you’ve had your first mulled wine. The heady aroma of wine, orange and spices is the perfect antidote to bitterly cold weather. The whizzes at online drinks retailer Master of Malt have just launched their very own concoction to take the faff out of making decent mulled wine by launching a Christmas Mulled Cup (£25.95, masterofmalt.com). Created from a mixture of cognac, port, distilled citrus peel and tinctures made from spices, all you need to do is add red wine and sugar, heat it and serve. It’s the perfect answer to creating a big, steaming bowl of mulled wine when you’ve got a household of guests coming and a million things still to do.
Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Mulled Wine
Glass: Hot toddy
Garnish: Not required, but try some orange peel
- 1 bottle of fruity red wine (such as Merlot)
- 50ml Professor Cornelius Ampleforth Christmas Mulled Cup
- 65g granulated sugar
Method: Mix ingredients in a pan, heat and serve.
2. Mulled cider
Mulled cider has exploded in popularity across the country’s pubs in recent years but quality can be hit and miss. Common mistakes include using sweet ciders (such as Strongbow and Magners), and going overboard with the cloves – cloves are incredibly powerful, and obliterate all other flavours when not handled carefully.
In order to make a really successful mulled cider, you need to find a decent dry cider to which you can add some sort of sugary, boozy element; spiced rum can be a great addition. This one comes from The King’s Ginger pop-up bar at the Hoxton Hotel:
The King’s Mulled Cyder
Glass: Hot toddy
Garnish: Cinnamon stick, grated nutmeg and a star anise
- 50ml The King’s Ginger liqueur
- 150ml Aspall Suffolk Cyder
- 150ml cloudy apple juice
Method: Mix ingredients in a pan and heat, serve and garnish.
Bowls of punch are the best answer to serving large groups of people at a party, as you put the effort in at the beginning, and then guests can help themselves to whatever delicious concoction you’ve made when their glasses run dry.
Cocktail historian David Wondrich has published the definitive guide to this most convivial category of drinks; imaginatively titled Punch, it’s a compendium of the best bowls to be made. Within it is the below drink, a recipe that was created by Charles Dickens. Yes: as well as being a wordsmith, Dickens took the business of crafting an excellent bowl of punch very seriously.
Wondrich sourced this recipe from a letter that the A Christmas Carol author wrote in 1847, and it’s a showstopper to say the least - seeing as it involves pyrotechnics. Setting fire to a large vat of alcohol in front of a party of friends is great fun, but be careful, do it sober, and take the necessary precautions!
Charles Dickens’ Punch
Glass: Tea cups
- 170g demerara sugar cubes such as Billington's
- 475ml rum (it's possible to use a combination of Navy-strength rum and lighter rum: 225ml Pusser’s Blue Label and 250ml Brugal Anejo)
- 300ml Courvoisier VSOP
- 1.2l boiling water
- 3 lemons
Method: Take a cast-iron enamel pot with a lid and peel the lemons into it, taking care not to remove to much of the pith. Add the sugar cubes and then the alcohol. Take a metal spoon, place some alcohol in it and then light the spoon carefully, allowing the alcohol to catch light. Gently lower it to the pan and let the flame catch. Leave the pan to burn for three minutes, then take the lid and put the fire out. Squeeze in the juice of the lemons, add the boiling water, stir and cover for five minutes, then stir again. Keep it on a low heat, and remove the lemon peel if it is going to sit for a few hours before being drunk.
4. Hot Toddy
A homemade ‘remedy’ that many of us turn to when the sniffles start to set in, the Hot Toddy is a simple, comforting drink that anyone can make.
Traditionally consisting of whisky, hot water, honey and lemon juice, Soho-based bar Floridita is serving the drink with rum rather that whisky. "Rum is a spirit that works well in everything, because it has so many different types of rum and different flavours," says Massimo Bosio, bar supervisor at Floridita.
Rum's natural sweetness and depth of flavour augments the Hot Toddy below, resulting in a fruity, rounded drink that’s great to sip while curled up on the sofa.
Recipe courtesy of the Hot Rum Shack at Floridita
Glass: Hot toddy
Garnish: Cinnamon stick and lemon peel
- 50ml Plantation Rum 5yo
- 15ml Pink Pigeon Rum
- 25ml honey syrup (mix 1 part honey with 1 part hot water)
- hot water
Method: Build ingredients in the glass, filling to just below the top with hot water. Garnish and serve.
5. Hot Buttered Rum
Racing up the hot drinks charts, from relative obscurity to the coolest warm drink on the block, Hot Buttered Rum is the cocktail du jour.
"Hot buttered rum has become popular due to the increase in the popularity of rum as a spirit," says Halliday. "Due to the natural sweetness of rum it’s such a durable spirit to cook with and holds up its powerful flavour. Heating and spicing it and adding a rich unsalted butter makes a warming winter treat."
Hot Buttered Rum
Recipe courtesy of WigWamBam at Queen of Hoxton
Glass: Dimpled mug
Garnish: A quarter orange studded with a few cloves
- 1.6 litres clear apple juice
- 90g brown sugar
- 25g unsalted butter
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 2 pinches black pepper
- 200ml Appleton 8 yo rum
Method: Melt the butter and sugar in a pan, taking care not to burn the mixture. Add the spices and apple juice, and simmer. Pour into cups and add a 25ml measure of the Appleton to each. Makes 8 portions of 200ml.
6. Spiked hot chocolate
Boozy hot chocolate is the ultimate indulgence. Comforting, delicious and warm, it’s a hug in a mug (sorry, Cup-a-Soup). We're not talking about spiking powdered hot chocolate that tastes thin and watery, however - in order to make the most rewarding, indulgent concoction, you need to make something with real chocolate. Who better to look to for such a mixture than Paul A Young, chocolatier extraordinaire?
A shot of most brown spirits would work with this recipe. Cognac and bourbon are popular additions - the cognac provides a rich, earthy note, while the bourbon is slightly more fruity, with an extra kick.
Paul A. Young’s Aztec Hot Chocolate (with a kick)
Glass: Hot toddy
- 500ml water
- 25g light muscovado sugar
- 20g dark cocoa powder
- 100g Caribbean 66% dark chocolate
- Spice to taste: chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger
- 25ml Courvoisier VSOP or Four Roses Yellow Label
Method: Heat the water, sugar and cocoa powder in a pan and simmer for 3 minutes. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the pan. Pour into glasses and add the shot of alcohol. Mix and serve.
Words: Laura Foster, Photos: Rex Features