This is it! Thanksgiving is here and the holiday season is officially under way. It’s an exciting time of shopping, cooking, and entertaining, but we all know it can be a little crazy too. If you are getting frazzled, a warm, mulled drink might be just the ticket.
Mulling is a snap – very rewarding with little effort. A crock pot is the perfect tool for the job. Throw everything in, set it to low, and come back in a few hours. A long slow simmer infuses the flavors while keeping the wine or cider just right. Put out a ladle and some cups. It’s OK to serve right from the crock.
Red is the best wine for mulling – something fresh, fruity, and not too expensive like Beaujolais, Merlot, or one of the popular GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) blends winemakers are putting out these days. Fresh pressed apple cider is also ideal for mulling. Naturally sweet, it’s a perfect partner for the usual mulling spices.
Mulling begins with a cinnamon stick. Other common spices include whole cloves, whole allspice, and star anise. Sometimes you see ground nutmeg or cardamom. A couple of recipes I looked at call for black peppercorns for a subtle, savory kick.
The spices should be put in whole and are quite decorative, but ground spices like nutmeg can make the drink gritty. Tying them up in cheesecloth controls the grit and makes it easy to fish out the spices to keep the flavors from getting too strong. They’ll continue to steep as long as they’re in there. Don’t go beyond a simmer – boiling will evaporate the alcohol from the wine and make the cider break – two things to avoid.
Most wine recipes call for adding some sweetener. You might as well add some flavor at the same time, so I like either brown sugar or honey. A splash of Tawny Port will work well too. A little lemon juice will add a refreshing tang when mulling cider.
Gently heat either wine or cider with these warming spices and fragrant citrus. The aroma, as seasonal as any Christmas carol, will waft a holiday spirit to every corner of the house. It’s very calming, but for even more relaxation, spike it up with some booze.
Non-alcoholic mulled cider is great for the whole family, but a shot of enriching liquor turns it into a sophisticated drink for the grownups. Rum is always great with fruit – a dark rum in this case, I think. Brandy is a festive and fruit-friendly holiday season addition. All-American Bourbon works well too.
A few strips of orange peel add a sunny brightness. A tangerine or small orange can be studded with the cloves (just poke in the pointy end) and floated in the wine for an attractive and flavorful garnish.
Wassail, traditionally ladled from a common bowl, is an English mulled drink that dates back to medieval times. Made with wine, mead, ale or cider, it is usually mulled with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A winter ritual of singing and dancing, wassail celebrations were originally held in the apple orchards on Twelfth Night to awaken the trees, scare away evil spirits, and insure the all important bountiful cider-apple harvest in the fall.
Wassail is now closely associated with the Christmas season. Caroling around the wassail bowl is a time-honored tradition and a delightful way to spend a winter’s evening.
Cold weather cultures around the world have a tradition of wine-based mulled drinks. Glögg, popular across Scandinavia, includes cardamom and ginger along with cinnamon, cloves, and orange. Across the Balkans nutmeg is added. Bulgarians typically add honey and peppercorns. The French generally don’t add any sweetener.
In the Netherlands, mulled wine is called Bishop’s wine after St. Nicolas, the model for our Santa Claus. A crock of mulled wine is found in British pubs all through December. Even Europeans emigrating to South America brought along the tradition for the winter month of June.
The aroma of a mulling pot infuses the house with holiday spirit. I love to walk into a house with that welcoming and cozy fragrance. Either family friendly cider or something more adult – a mug-full will warm your heart along with your hands, and bring some Christmas cheer to cold winter days.