Nothing says winter like a steaming mug of spiced booze, whether it’s cider or the perfect mulled wine. We share our top tips on how to make a festive toddy.

Mulled Wine

You know Christmas is on its way when you have your mitts wrapped around a mug of mulled wine. But while the comforting warmth and slightly stained lips are two happy by-products of supping this glowing ruby tipple, there are pitfalls. Insufficient sugar, a grainy texture and too much spice can all dent festive cheer, so we’ve got some tips for creating the perfect mulled wine.

How do I make mulled wine?

Start with a classic recipe to use as your base. Ours recommends adding a dash of sloe gin to give you an extra warm glow. Alternatively, try our easy mulled wine recipe, which includes a dash of brandy. Be careful not to overheat the wine.

Easy mulled wine recipe (Serves 6)

  • 750ml bottle of red wine
  • 1 sliced clementine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 dried figs
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 50ml brandy

1. Pour the red wine into a large saucepan. Add the clementine, cinnamon stick, star anise, figs, cloves and peppercorns. Heat very gently until simmering, then turn off the heat.

2. Fish out the whole spices and peppercorns with a spoon, then stir in the brandy. Ladle into mugs or heatproof glasses to serve. You could drop in a slice of clementine to each.

What spices should I use?

The more traditional mulling spices are cinnamon, star anise, cloves and nutmeg, but you could try adding allspice, cardamom, bay leaves, vanilla pods or ginger, depending on the liquid you’re mulling.

Use all of these spices sparingly, particularly star anise and cloves, as they become very strong in flavour when left to stew at length. A touch of citrus complements these warm spices a treat. Orange and lemon won’t let you down, but tangerine, clementine and mandarin will add an extra festive kick.

Alternative spirits to try

Ramp up the cheer – it is Christmas after all! Choose a liqueur or spirit that’s fairly low in alcohol to avoid completely incapacitating your guests. Cointreau, Grand Marnier or curaçao work with orange-based mulling blends, while a touch of sloe gin will bring out berry flavours in the wine.

A delicate drizzle of spiced rum, such as Sailor Jerry, ginger wine and cherry or apricot brandy can also work, but be careful not to go overboard. Avoid anything that might curdle, strongly contrasting spirits or anything cloying – while it’s tempting to match the spices with something aniseedy, sambuca mulled wine would kill the party mood in an instant.

Use a sweetener

Lighten up the heavy booze and wintry spices with a sweetening agent. Add sugar at the beginning of the recipe so it gets a chance to dissolve. Stir regularly until it has disappeared. Most of our recipes use caster or granulated sugar due to their fine texture. You can always add a little extra sweetness later but, again, make sure you stir to dissolve.

If you’re going freestyle, honey or a flavoured syrup can be added to taste as the mixture is taken off the heat, but make sure you give it a good stir.

More tips for DIY mulling

It’s worth investing in some muslin so you can create your own spice bag. Fill it with any unground spice such as cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, cloves or ginger slices. This way you won’t end up with floaters. Dot cloves into the skin of oranges and lemons to kill two birds with one stone – it will infuse the mix and it looks pretty, too.

Twists on traditional mulled wine

There are plenty of drinks that are fit for mulling beyond the ubiquitous red wine. Cider works well, but make sure you avoid the sweet, fizzy, bottled variety – try to get your hands on some flat farmhouse scrumpy, perry (pear cider) or dry French cider. Alter your spices accordingly: lift the mix with apple or pear juice, some fresh cranberries, vanilla and apple slices. While it’s usually enjoyed crisp and chilled, white wine can also be mulled.

Team it with light flavours like elderflower cordial, rosemary, vanilla and thyme. And don’t forget any non-drinkers; mulled apple juice with mild spices and orange should fit the bill nicely. Our mulled rosé also makes a festive alternative – be sure to add a generous glug of crème de cassis.

How to get ahead

Keep a pre-made bottle of spiced syrup in the cupboard to avoid a last-minute mulling crisis. Combine sugar and water with the spices of your choice and simmer for 20 minutes. Once cool, strain it through a fine sieve and pour into sterilised bottles.

Our recipe features instructions on how much of the syrup to add to wine, but if you’re adding to your own taste, it’s a good way of controlling sweetness and spice levels. It’ll keep for up to three months, too.

How to serve mulled wine

Serve in style, going off-piste with your cups. While fragile glass is a no-no, sturdy dimpled half-pint glasses look good and have a useful handle. Garnish with whole cinnamon sticks and pared orange or lemon peel. You could also add a wedge of citrus studded with cloves – it’s best to make one fresh rather than fishing a soggy slice out of the mulling pan.

The history of mulled wine

The most wonderful time of the year hasn’t truly started until you’ve indulged in your first cup of mulled wine. It’s a winter darling enjoyed by mankind since Antiquity. People continued knocking it back throughout the Middle Ages and it remained a Yuletide fixture in Victorian England. We still can’t get enough of the stuff, especially once it’s time to deck the halls.

Wine has been a major part of human culture since we first figured out how to make it. Unfortunately, weather can be fickle. Sometimes a bad harvest hits that lovingly tended vineyard and the grapes are underwhelming. Heating wine and infusing it with spices is a long time favourite strategy for masking flavours from spoiled wine or weak vintages. Thanks to the rise of trade along the Silk Road during the Roman Empire, new spices like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg flooded into Europe and improved food and drink across the Continent.

The practice of mulling survived the fall of the Empire and medieval Europeans took to it even more than the Romans did. Like their predecessors, Europeans found that steeping herbs, spices and a host of other ingredients in wine for medicinal purposes made a pretty potent health potion. Heating it was an effective way of fighting off winter chill, at least for a little while. So it’s no surprise that mulled wine took off in a massive way in countries like Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries once the practice appeared to wane in the more southern countries. The German’s glühwein is still a staple in Christmas markets and the ever-popular Nordic glögg is often taken to the next level with the addition of more spirituous stuff like akvavit, brandy or vodka.

At what point did mulled wine become equated with Christmas? We have one Charles Dickens to thank for that; the writer included a passage which mentioned Smoking Bishop, a popular mulled wine of the day, in his classic ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Christmas cocktails & mocktails

Whether you want to experiment with mixology or need an easy festive drink, our favourite Christmassy cocktails and mocktails will provide much merriment.

Toast the season with a glass of something special. Deck the halls and fill them with the aroma of mulled wine, or how about a drop of Christmassy fizz, with our without booze. Either way, you’ll offer the perfect welcome for guests arriving in from the cold.

Classic snowball

Serve up a classic snowball filled with creamy advocaat, sweet lemonade and plenty of ice. This retro party classic, garnished with a kitsch maraschino cherry is rich and boozy, just how we like our Christmas drinks.

Winter whisky sour

For fans of the dram, mix up our winter whisky sour. This classic bourbon cocktail uses fresh orange and lemon for a sweet and sharp citrussy edge. A sprinkling of gold edible glitter around the glass adds some festive cheer.

Amaretto fizz

Combine kitsch canned cherries, sweet syrup and almond-flavoured amaretto to create a Christmas-cake-inspired amaretto sour. The sharp lemon cuts through the sweet, marzipan flavour of the amaretto, making a perfectly balanced drink. If you’re hosting, try pairing your sours with salty nibbles like Spanish skewers.

Dark & stormy coffee cocktail

Dark & stormy coffee cocktail is one for caffeine fans who like a touch of warming ginger. This layered highball drink will look suitably impressive on your table and takes just minutes to make. Add a final squeeze of lime for a refreshing tropical twist.

Spice 75

Spice 75 screams “class” and is a quintessential taste of Christmas. This aromatic version of the French 75 uses allspice and a measure of rum. Garnish with an artistic twist of orange for an eye-catching pre-dinner drink. It’s a strong combination, made to be sipped at leisure.

Grapefruit spritz

Take a break from super-rich eggnog and creamy cocktails and try a fresh grapefruit sprtiz. Serve up a taste of warmer months with a dash of Aperol and zesty grapefruit, topped up with prosecco. Put your bottle of fizz to good use with even more easy prosecco cocktail recipes.

Christmas cream liqueur

If you’re a fan of creamy Christmas drinks, this glassful of deliciousness will be right up your street. Our easy Christmas cream liqueur, made with lashings of dulce de leche, makes a great homemade gift, (if you manage to restrain yourself from trying a snifter). The dulce de leche adds a deep toffee flavour we can’t get enough of. Serve over ice for an after-dinner treat.

Clementine martinis

Whether shaken or stirred, martinis are divine. Elegant clementine martinis are easily doubled if you’re catering for a big group. These picture-perfect cocktails are a great way to use up any fruit going to waste and we guarantee they’ll go down a treat.

Cinnamon butter rum

No one could turn down a glass of our cinnamon butter rum, laced with festive spice. It takes just two simple steps to make the ultimate winter indulgence. If you’re bored of mulled wine, this is the ideal Christmas alternative. This rich, syrupy delight will put a glow in your cheeks.

Cranberry margarita

This vivid red cranberry margarita with a decorative orange sugar rim is a wintry take on the classic tequila cocktail. When the holiday season rolls around, a batch of these striking tipples will add a pop of colour to the party.

(Article source: Various) 

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