Holiday Spirits

Ok, we all have to face the fact that winter is upon us. We have snow to shovel, and antifreeze to buy, and crowds of shoppers to fight in stores, and winter clothes to search for way in the back of our closets. Why can’t we just enjoy the season without all these annoyances? Well, maybe we can’t make the annoyances go away, but we can definitely take the sting out of them. How, you ask? Why, with a wonderful warm holiday beverage of course! A delightful thing to have occurred in winters past is that somewhere along the line people started heating up their potent potables, and passed down a wealth of recipes to those of us in need here in the harried 21st century.

There are literally thousands of recipes for warm winter libations but most fall into two broad categories – mulled drinks and toddies. Both involve heating wine and/or spirits and adding sweeteners and other flavors. The difference seems to have less to do with ingredients (either can have endless variations) than with the strength of the alcoholic beverage and the process used for heating. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, people have been doing this kind of thing to alcohol for about 7,000 years. It happened in many cultures, for numerous reasons ranging from medicine to preservation to just plain taste. Today we usually do it to celebrate, to warm not just our bodies but to enhance the warmth of sharing special occasions with the people we love.

Mulling

We’ll talk about mulling first. To mull something simply means to heat it and add spices and sweeteners. Classic things to mull are cider and red wine, although white wine and a variety of other beverages are sometimes used. Mulled drinks are typically made by simmering the non-alcoholic ingredients together for a short time, then adding the alcohol and heating it slowly. Here is a base recipe for mulled wine:

Base Mulled Wine Recipe

  • 1 bottle red wine -- Any kind of wine will do. Heartier, fruitier wines like zinfandels, cabernets or merlots tend to work best. But the only real rule is the same as the rule for choosing wines to cook with – never use anything you wouldn’t drink otherwise.
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sweetener -- Sugar is the sweetener most commonly found in mulled wine recipes, but you can use any sweetener you like, including honey, maple syrup or maple sugar. Some recipes omit the water and substitute ½ cup of sweet fruit juice, such as pineapple, or an herbal or citrus tea to add sweetness, but this didn’t work well in our taste tests.
  • 1-2 oranges and/or lemons, zest and fruit (optional) -- When using fruit zest avoid the bitter white pith.
  • 1-2 tbsp mulling spices -- Mulling spices almost always include cinnamon and cloves. Others that are common include allspice, nutmeg, mace, cardamom and star anise. Quantities can vary dramatically but if you keep total spices to 1-2 tablespoons it’s difficult to over or under-spice your wine. The important thing is that the spices need to be whole. Ground spices will cause your wine to have an unpleasant taste and texture.

Place water, sweetener, spices and fruit zest in a pot (do not use aluminum or copper in any of these recipes) and simmer gently for about 5 minutes to blend flavors. Reduce heat to lowest possible and add wine. Heat for about 30 minutes without boiling. This is the most important part of the process. If the wine boils it will kill the flavors and the alcohol will burn off. Watch it closely and remove from heat occasionally if necessary. Strain out the spices and then add the fruit at the end. Serve in mugs or glasses with some fruit floating on top and a garnish of cinnamon stick.

  • Yields: 4 to 8 servings depending on your pour

Favorite Mulled Wine

  • 1 bottle zinfandel
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 orange, zest and fruit
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice
  • 8 pieces mace
  • 8 whole star anise

Place water, honey, fruit and zest, and spices in a pot and simmer gently for about 5 minutes to blend flavors. Reduce heat to lowest possible and add wine. Heat for about 30 minutes without boiling. This is the most important part of the process. If the wine boils it will kill the flavors and the alcohol will burn off. Watch it closely and remove from heat occasionally if necessary. Strain out the spices and then add the fruit at the end. Serve in mugs or glasses with some fruit floating on top and a garnish of cinnamon stick.

  • Yields: 4 to 8 servings depending on your pour

That’s really all there is to mulling, but here are a few additional tips:

  • Never mull in pots made of aluminum or copper. The can impart a metallic taste to your brew.
  • Be sure to let the wine cool down a bit before pouring into glass to avoid cracking it. If serving in a mug you can serve as hot as you like.
  • For those in a hurry, you can prepare mulled wine by the mug in the microwave. Cut the recipe to one fourth, mix all ingredients except fruit in a mug, microwave on high in 20 second increments until heated through and fragrant. It should take about a minute but do it in increments to avoid boiling. Strain and add fruit and garnish at end.
  • For those who want to mull the old fashioned way but not fuss with spice mixes, there are a variety of premixed mulling spices that you can find in many stores this time of year. Williams Sonoma makes a good one.
Glogg

Scandinavian countries are partial to a variation on mulled wine called glogg, which is distinctive for several reasons. For one thing they add liquor to the mix, usually vodka but sometimes brandy or aquavit (a caraway flavored liquor from that part of the world). Glogg always includes cardamom in its spice mix, and has the interesting addition of raisins and almonds, which are served along with the drink. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it makes for interesting holiday party conversation!

Glogg

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 cup vodka
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 cardamom pods (white are preferred but green are ok)
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Zest of one orange
  • ¼ cup peeled, slivered almonds
  • ¼ cup raisins

Place all ingredients except almonds and raisins in a pot and bring to just below boiling. Warm gently for half an hour, being careful not to boil. Strain, add almonds and raisins and serve. Some recipes insist this is better if left to steep for an hour or even overnight, then gently reheated. Some replace the vodka with brandy and caramelize the sugar in the brandy before adding to the wine mixture. Still others light the whole concoction on fire but we’re not recommending that!

  • Yields: 4 to 8 servings depending on your pour

Mulled Cider

Another popular mulling beverage is cider, which can be perked up by the addition of a little spirit. Here is a nicely spiked mulled cider recipe:
  • 1 quart apple cider
  • 1 cup brandy
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 6 whole allspice
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ground nutmeg
  • orange slices

Combine all ingredients except brandy, orange slices and nutmeg in a pot and simmer for half an hour. Add brandy heat gently until just warm. Do not allow to boil once you have added the brandy. Strain and serve with floating orange slices and a dash of nutmeg as garnish.

  • Yields: 4 servings
Toddies

What makes a toddy different from a mulled beverage is that a toddy is made with liquor only, no wine, and it is typically made hot by simply pouring hot water or other hot liquid into the liquor. Here is a base toddy recipe.

Base Toddy Recipe

  • 1-2 oz liquor -- The most commonly used are rum and brandy, including flavored varieties. Irish whiskey is also popular, but there is no rule. You can even combine two liquors.
  • 1 cup hot liquid -- Most recipes use hot water, but some use tea or coffee. Technically the standard Irish Coffee could be considered a toddy.
  • 1 tsp – 1 tbsp sweetener -- An advantage of the toddy is the sweetener can go in at the end and you can add a bit at a time until desired sweetness. Any favorite sweetener can be used.
  • Spices to taste (optional)
  • Lemon or orange zest, juice or fruit (optional)

To make, place all ingredients into a mug and stir to combine. Add garnish as desired.

  • Yields: 1 serving

Favorite Toddy Recipe 1

  • 1 cup hot tea
  • 1 shot (1.5 oz) brandy
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1 clove

Mix tea, brandy, and honey in a mug until honey is dissolved. Spear the lemon wedge with the clove and float on top.

  • Yields: 1 serving

Favorite Toddy Recipe 2

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 shot (1.5 oz) bourbon whiskey
  • 1 tbsp dark amber maple syrup
  • Dash of nutmeg

Mix water, bourbon and maple syrup in a mug and stir to combine. Top off with a dash of nutmeg.

  • Yields: 1 serving

And now for what is probably the most famous hot toddy, the Hot Buttered Rum. After snowball fighting or shoveling the driveway, nothing warms the body, heart and soul like this classic. Hot buttered rum often calls for mixing a “batter”, which can be made in large quantity and stored for use whenever you need some warming up.

Hot Buttered Rum

  • 1 lb brown sugar
  • ½ lb salted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • Dark rum
  • Boiling water

Put all batter ingredients (brown sugar through ground cloves) into a blender or food processor and blend until you have a creamy batter. This batter can be refrigerated for several months. To make a toddy mix together 2 tbsp of the batter, ½ cup boiling water and 1 or 2 shots of rum, depending on just how warm you want to get. Yum!

  • Yields: enough batter for many servings

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