The perfect winter warmer? Here are a few ideas to mull over...

Flaming red wine punch

Liquid heat: Flaming red wine punch

Back in the winters of yore, when the Christmas feast was something to relish rather than repel, the hot cocktail was an art unto itself.

Hot buttered rum and English Bishops, hot spiced cider and Rumfustians, hot toddies and Lamb's Wool. Scented with cinnamon and cloves, nutmeg and sugar, allspice and ginger, these were drinks to warm the soul and gild the gut.

Just rolling their names around the mouth was enough to keep the winter's chill at bay. This was good cheer in its most generous form, sweet enough to slink down the throat, strong enough to fell an ox. 

Mulling is an age-old European tradition, originally a way of covering up past-it red wines with a blast of exotic spice. Depending on the area, the wine might be replaced by the local grog; vodka, brandy, aquavit or sherry.

For me, mulled or spiced cider is far preferable to mulled wine. Mix dry cider with a pinch of sugar, a cinnamon stick or two, a quartered orange studded with about six cloves and a generous slug of Somerset Cider Brandy or Calvados. Heat gently as too much boiling will burn off the booze.

For those looking for something a little more exotic, then The Bishop is a cracker. I got my recipe from cocktail legend Nick Strangeway of Soho's Hix bar.

He takes two lemons and one orange, studs them with 12 cloves each, then roasts them in a hot oven (200 degrees centigrade) until brown.

Then he boils half a pint of water with six cloves, six allspice, a stick of cinnamon, a small piece of mace and 2cm fresh grated ginger.

This is simmered for 15 minutes, before three bottles of port are poured in.

The roasted fruit is quartered, the cloves discarded and added to the spiced port mixture, crushing gently to release the juice.

Next, he crushes the grated peel and juice of one lemon with 300g sugar, using a pestle and mortar. This is added to the spiced port mixture and stirred until the sugar is dissolved.

Strain through muslin before drinking. If you're after a Pope, use burgundy instead of port. For a Cardinal, use riesling or champagne. And a Protestant Bishop, claret.

This year, old-fashioned is the way forward. The turkey might be here to stay. But please, let's make second-rate mulled wine a thing of Christmas past.


Beat 2 egg yolks with a tablespoon castor sugar. In a pan mix 500ml IPA with 100ml sweet sherry and 100ml gin. To this add a small stick of cinnamon, 6 allspice and the grated zest of a lemon. Bring to a simmer and gradually add the beaten eggs, whisking vigorously. Pour into small cups while hot and grate over some nutmeg. 

Lamb's Wool

Heat up 250ml beer, 10ml spiced sugar (sugar syrup infused with allspice, cinnamon, ginger and cloves) and apple purée* with a small knob of butter using a whisk to froth it. Pour into a silver mug, garnish with grated nutmeg.

* For apple purée: roughly chop 1kg Bramley apples and mix with 200g brown sugar, 100ml water, a grating of nutmeg and one inch of finely chopped ginger. Place in a baking tray, cover with foil and bake at 200 degrees centigrade until soft. Then push through a fine sieve to create a purée.

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