Winter Warmers

The flavors and food of winter do everything they can to keep a person warm on the inside while trying to stay warm on the outside. Thicker, richer foods are enjoyed and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice are distributed freely in recipes. This is not limited to the cookies and other dishes that will find their way to the holiday table. Cocktails see these flavors as well. Drinks that go back to a time well before there was the term "cocktail." The two best-known cocktails of the season, wassail and eggnog, feature these flavors as a key component of their profiles. 

A pot of wassail bubbling on the stove.

WASSAIL

While you may not be familiar with the beverage in question, you are certainly familiar with the song about it. It is a traditional activity in Europe where a group of people would go door to door singing songs and receiving a cup of wassail for their efforts. This is well before the days of readily available indoor entertainment. Wassail (or gluhwein in the Germany states and Austria-Hungary), was a mulled wine with all of those winter warming spices, as well as some orange and lemon zest and juice. Well, the wealthy used wine. The middle classes and the poor made this same concoction with brown ale. It was still rich and warm, but not quite the same experience one would have in a more affluent neighborhood. It is a cocktail that is made be the batch, which is perfect for winter events at the home.

Wassail (Gluhwein) Recipe, from Chowhound

  • 2 medium lemons
  • 2 medium oranges
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 2 (750-milliliter) bottles dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Beaujolais Nouveau
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • Cheesecloth
  • Butcher’s twine

Glass: Wine
Ice: None
Garnish: Orange twist (optional)

  1. Remove the zest from the lemons and oranges in wide strips, avoiding the white pith; place the zest in a large saucepan. Juice the lemons and oranges and add the juice to the pan. Place the cloves and cardamom in a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it tightly with butcher’s twine, and add the bundle to the saucepan.
  2. Add the sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks, place the pan over high heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the red wine and brandy, stir to combine and bring just to a simmer (don’t let it boil). Remove from the heat and remove and discard the spice bundle before serving.
 Rich,creamy, and filled with spicy wamth.

Rich,creamy, and filled with spicy wamth.

EGGNOG

Eggnog is a trick beast; either you are a fan of it or you cannot keep it far enough away from your glass. It is a thick drink, which is one of the reasons people avoid this cocktail. The foundation of the drink can be found not in other cocktails, but desserts like a custard or a posset. The other is that most people have only tried the store made version. Making it at home for a party, like most culinary treats, is far better than what one would find in the store. It does take some effort to make, but it is well worth it. You can spice it and add liquor to taste. As far as the liquor in this one goes, that is also a matter of taste. From a historic perspective, brandy would be the most likely choice to add to the mix, but rum or bourbon are equally fine selections. The version I created adds an extra flavor, chocolate, that merges well with the nutmeg and cinnamon that is traditional.   

Chocolate Eggnog

1.5 oz. bourbon (or brandy, or rum...)
3 oz. cold cocoa (recipe below)
.5 oz. simple syrup
1 medium egg white

Glass: Rocks
Ice: None
Garnish: Cinnamon stick (optional)

Pour all of the ingredients into a mixing tin over ice. Shake hard for 20 - 30 seconds. Strain the mixture into the empty tin, then discard the ice. Shake again hard for up to two minutes, breaking up the egg whites and making them frothy. Pour into the prepared glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick if desired.

Hot Cocoa

1/2 c. dark cocoa powder
3/4 c. white sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. boiling water
3.5 c. milk
1/2 c. half and half
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Bring the water to boiling. Add the cocoa, sugar, and salt to the water when boiling then stir. When the mixture becomes a paste, add the milk, half and half, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the mix and bring the temperature back up. Do NOT let it boil. Once the temperature is back up, add the vanilla extract. If desired, add more cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. 

There is much more incentive to go out singing, sledding, skiing or performing any other winter activity when you have warming cocktails like this at home waiting for you. Enjoy the winter!