The festive season is a feast for the senses. And while those of sight and sound receive a pummelling from the garish and gregarious, it’s left to taste and smell to do the soothing, with nothing bringing more welcome relief than mulled booze.
Spices including cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg have been used to flavour wintery drinks for centuries, heated by flame, hob or hot poker to provide some instant internal warmth before the alcohol kicks in.
Every mull-mixer will have his or her favoured combination of ingredients with which to customise their choice of booze, but for those who prefer to get their alcohol preloaded with spice, there’s an increasingly varied choice of drinks available from around the world.
We’ve been busy heating, sniffing and supping to bring you these 10 mulled masterpieces, our pick of the festive flavours and aromas.
1. Lindisfarne Mulled Wine, 13.5%: £7.69, 700ml, Beers of Europe
Northumberland’s Holy Island is a booze hotbed thanks to the merrymaking monks who settled there centuries ago, and there are few better ways to insulate against an island’s winter chill than with this mulled medicine. This fruit wine has been generously spiced, with prominent cinnamon and nutmeg leading out a welcoming citrus tang.
2. Saturnus 1893 Vinglögg,10%: £9, 750ml, Scandi Kitchen
With the British craze for all things Scandinavian showing no signs of fading, expect glögg to be this year’s mulled hit. London based Scandi Kitchen has imported one of the best, a smooth, sweet red with a fiery kick of ginger and a mellow caress of spice. To increase your Scandiphile creds, serve hot with raisins and flaked almonds.
3. Liefman’s Glühkriek, 6.5%: £7.50, 750ml, Beer Gonzo
Beer drinkers need not feel left out by the mulling mayhem, for there’s nothing to say you can’t spice up your favourite ale. But for the ultimate warm pint of beer, Belgian brewers Liefman’s has concocted the magnificent Glühkriek. It’s based on a cherry beer, so is richly fruity and a touch tart, with cloves and cinnamon leading the charge of festive spices.
4. Kentish Pip Firespice Ginger Cider, 4%: £25, 5-litre bag in a box, Kentish Pip
In culinary circles, ginger is seen as a racy bedfellow of apple, used to perk up a crumble or to add a spot of spicy heat to a fruity chutney. Kentish Pip has added ginger syrup to one of its still cider blends and created a nicely balanced, quaffable tipple with a soft, warming undercurrent. Warm a mug of this up in your microwave, and you've got yourself a light, appley alternative to the traditional, ruddy mulled booze.
5. Sternthaler's Nurnberger Christkindles Gluhwein, 9%: £7.99, 1 litre, Drinks Supermarket
Germans love a drop of mulled booze when socialising at their famous Christmas markets and this Glühwein is a Nuremberg classic. Gently heat to arouse the sweet, citrus fruitiness from the plummy red wine, and release the scent of cinnamon and clove. To increase the Bavarian authenticity, serve with pfeffernüsse – small biscuits that come iced and spiced.
6. Crabbies Mulled Ginger Wine, 12%: £6.99, 700ml, Drinks Supermarket
The mull-makers fieriest spice, ginger, has been thrust into the limelight in this sweet winter booze, a blend of British ruby wine and Crabbie’s popular ginger wine. This booze mash-up has been subtly spiced and is a warming drink even before any heat is applied. For anyone wanting to make it more of a knockout hit, add a shot of scotch to your glass for a mulled whisky mac.
7. M&S Rosé Mulled Wine, 11%: £6, 750ml, M&S
Marks & Spencer’s mulling elves have been busy sprinkling spice throughout the store’s booze cellar, targeting cider, red wine and rosé. The latter sees the fruity notes of Spanish tempranillo subtly lifted with winter spice, begging to be served with a slice of orange or loaded up with more fruit and used as a warm base for a cold-weather version of sangria.
8. Spice Kitchen Mulled Wine and Spiced Cider Spice Packs: £6.99 for three sachets, Spice Kitchen
For anyone wishing to mull their own booze, these bags of festive flavour make it as easy as brewing tea. The Spice Kitchen is like an Indian spice magician, with cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and ginger among the ingredients in this special blend. The scent is so deliciously potent that if you order by post you’ll know when they’ve arrived by smell alone.
9. Belvoir Fruit Farms Mulled Winter Punch: £5.99, 750ml, Sainsbury's
Belvoir Fruit Farms has raided the hedgerows for this fruity, alcohol-free take on winter punch. Elderberries and blackcurrant are the dominant flavours, with the addition of cloves and cinnamon bringing added Christmas cheer. It’s nice enough served cold, but a hot mug of this berry-based beverage will bring a flush to your cheeks without booze ever passing your lips. Unless, of course, you mix it with red wine...
10. Henry Westons Mulled Cider, 4%: £8, 2.24 litre bag in a box, Waitrose
A glass of mulled booze is not just for Christmas. Old Twelfth Night (17 January) is the time for wassailing, the ancient ceremony of blessing apple trees to ensure a good crop for the forthcoming season. Hot, spicy cider is the wassail drink of choice, and Weston's seasonal cider offering is as good as any. It’s based on their bittersweet cider blend, which gives the drink a crisp, characterful edge that balances out the swirling spiciness of cinnamon and cloves.
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