History of mulled drinks
In medieval times, mulled drinks denoted prosperity. Mulling also likely hid a great deal of rough booze, by warming the alcohol and flavouring it with spice and sugar.
Later, the Victorians made mulled drinks a favourite festive pastime, and warm fiery drinks remain popular in winter. Scandinavian glögg and German glühwein are standard fare at Christmas markets, but why not give your festive gathering a twist with these traditional British – and fantastically strangely named – hot spiced drinks?
It’s a great touch to accompany your tipples with tantalising baked morsels. Use seasonal ingredients and choose bold savoury flavours to complement the sweet fiery booze. Having one sugary option to serve those with a sweet tooth is also good idea. Cheers!
Recipe: Smoking Bishop
‘I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family,’’ it’s the part in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when Scrooge comes good and Bob Cratchit’s fortunes change for the better. Meant for sharing, Scrooge rustles up some Smoking Bishop and begins to make amends.
The smoke in smoking refers to the steaming tendrils of smoke as the drink warms – but never boils, lest any alcohol evaporates. Bishop was the 19th century code name for port. There are other versions of the drink, all of which signify a drink enjoyed by those with a certain largess.
3 Seville oranges or use 1 lemons and 2 oranges
30g Demerara sugar
½ bottle red wine (not too dry nor too sweet)
½ bottle Ruby port
2 dried green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp of stem ginger syrup (or use a slice of fresh ginger and an extra tbsp of sugar)
- Preheat oven to 160C.
- Wash and dry the fruit, then stud each fruit with 5 cloves. Roast in the oven for an hour in a non-reactive tray, and then transfer the fruit to a glass or ceramic bowl.
- Add the sugar, stem ginger syrup and the red wine to the roasted fruit, cover and leave it in a warm spot in the kitchen overnight, or anywhere up to 24 hours.
- After macerating for enough time cut the fruits in half and squeeze them through a sieve into the sweetened wine mixture and strain again. Discard any solids and the squeezed fruit skins.
- Gently heat the sweetened wine mixture, the port, the cinnamon and the cardamom pods in a non-reactive saucepan, until it “smokes” taking to not let it boil.
- Turn off the heat and serve in warmed heatproof glasses, removing the cinnamon stick and cardamom pod as you serve.
Recipe: Mulled Ale / Flip
Mulled ale has the reputation of being a drink more commonly served to the poor with mulled wine favoured by the rich. In Britain and other beer drinking countries, warming the ale and sweetening it with sugar and or honey was thought to be more beneficial to the health. Again, spices likely masked some pretty rough beer making the end drink more palatable than its original form. A shot of something stronger, whatever spirit to hand, but mostly rum or brandy, mulled ale then takes the name of a flip. Flips were popular on both sides of the Atlantic, associated as they were with sailors and much raucous, seafaring revelry.
1lt golden ale
1 cinnamon stick
¼ - ½ whole nutmeg freshly grated
The peel of 1 lemon with no white pith (un-waxed are best if possible)
A pinch of salt
60ml brandy, rum or whisky (optional)
- Mix all of the ingredients apart from the brandy (or rum or whisky) in a non-reactive pan
- Bring to a simmer quickly then remove from the heat and add the brandy if using. Ensure you don’t leave the pan on the heat for too long, as this will alter the flavour of the ale.
- Leave for a few minutes to cool slightly then pass through a fine sieve, then add a bit more grated nutmeg to taste and serve in warmed glasses.
It may come as a surprise to some that eggnog is actually British in origin and not American. Eggnog bears a striking resemblance to Shakespeare’s character of Falstaff’s favourite tipple of beaten egg yolks, milk, sugar and fortified wine known as a sack posset. Recipes for eggnog vary wildly, but most will agree that brown strong liqueur, anything from sherry, madeira, whiskey, rum or brandy is the lynchpin for this most Christmassy of drinks. Rich and satisfying, beating the eggs separately gives an especially elegant and creamy finish. A blizzard of grated nutmeg on top is essential.
4 eggs, separated
75g sugar, plus more to taste (I prefer mine a little less sweet)
350ml whole milk
300ml double cream
200ml dark rum
Whole nutmeg, freshly grated and to taste
- Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar and a small pinch of nutmeg until thick and pale, then whisk in the milk, cream and spirits
- In a very clean separate bowl, beat egg whites to form very soft peaks, then fold in the remaining sugar.
- Carefully fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Serve in cups or goblets, grating fresh nutmeg over the top of each serving
Recipe: Wassail Cup
To go the whole hog and serve a wassail punch in all its glory, the drink should be fired in steaming measures through the branches of the most prolific apple tree in the orchard. The tree must also be adorned with cubes of cider soaked toast hanging from the branches. Pots are banged, songs are sung and yet more cider still is poured on the roots of the tree. Evils spirits are warded off and a bountiful harvest is henceforth ensured. Wassailing is an ancient pagan custom most common to the West Country. To this day, mulled apple juice or cider (with or without additional spirits) remains a popular warming drink all winter long.
1.4 litres apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole star anise
1 tbsp sugar
Juice of one lemon
Bourbon or whiskey (optional, but highly recommended)
- Pre heat the oven to 200C
- Stud the pear skins with the cloves and roast with 200ml of the apple juice in a baking tray for 20 minutes, then put to one side.
- Bring the remaining ingredients to a low simmer. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then strain and keep warm.
- Chop the roasted pear into small pieces, taking care to remove any of the cloves and distribute between heatproof glasses. Pour over the hot juice and serve piping hot (spiked with a splash of booze if you want?)
As with most sorts of drinking, providing some tantalizing morsels to chomp as you go about pouring drinks to your guests is essential. That these bites don’t come out of a packet will set your Christmas gathering apart from so many others. Use seasonal ingredients and choose bold savoury flavours to compliment all that sweet fiery booze. Having one sweet option to serve any younger guests or those with a sweet tooth is also good idea.
Alternatively, why not make your own mulled spice bag
Main image: Getty
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