I know that Halloween’s right around the corner, but shortly after that comes Thanksgiving and after that, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s. In other words it’s holiday season. A time to celebrate with friends and family. Celebrations mean parties and parties mean food and drink, which means you need to be ready for your guests with a cocktail or two. While you could tend bar all night, it’s really not the best way to spend your time. It’s so much easier to play hostess when you have something that can serve a crowd. Something that can sit on a table or stove in a large bowl or pan. In other words you need a punch.
While you could make a cold punch full of tropical juices and liquors, it’s October and October means cool breezes, potential rain storms and a general drop in temperatures. When the weather changes and the leaves begin to fall, wardrobes change from shorts and tank tops to long pants and sweaters. But clothing isn’t the only thing that changes. People also tend to change over their liquor. My bar, for instance, goes from vodka, gin and club soda to scotch, whiskey and bitters. But I also go from cool tropical punches full of rum and citrus to hot punches full of bourbon and cinnamon.
My favorite punch for the cool, holiday season is eggnog. I know that eggnog is usually reserved for Christmas and New Year’s, but I always serve it at Thanksgiving, and there’s nothing that says you can’t serve it for Halloween as well. But if you’re not quite ready to dive in to a dozen eggs, four cups of bourbon and scotch and several cups of cream, there is another option: mulled wine. Unlike the eggnog which is served cold, the wine is served piping hot; ideal for cool evening parties or just snuggling up by a roaring fire with the person you love.
I remember the first time I had mulled wine. I was on a ski trip with some friends from college. We were carpooling and we picked up one of the guys at his house. He not only had his ski stuff, he also had a jug of something. We all asked what it was, and he promised us a treat. But we could only enjoy it after a day of skiing. It was mulled wine and it was amazing. I immediately asked for the recipe but he said it was a family secret. So, I just sipped my wine and savored every single taste, knowing that I would do my best to replicate it. Of course I could never replicate his family’s recipe, but there was still good news… I discovered I didn’t need to.
Much like sangria, there are hundreds of different ways to make mulled wine, but all of them start with a dry red. After that you could use brandy or congac, lemons or oranges, and a variety of spices. Then if you want it sweeter, you can add sugar or even honey.
This delectable drink actually dates all the way back to the second century when the Romans heated their wine to ward off the cold. As the Romans conquered Europe, their love for mulled wine followed them, and other Europeans started developing a palate for the beverage. But just heating the wine to keep them warm wasn’t enough.
As the drink gained popularity, different people in different countries started adding spices to ward off sickness and promote health. Those spices led to flowers and other natural sweeteners to make some of the less palatable wines of the age more flavorful. Over the next few centuries more and more recipes were created, and eventually, depending on the country, even the name changed. Sometimes it was referred to as Claret. Other places called it Glogg. In Germany it’s known as Gluhwein. But it wasn’t until the 14th century, that the mix of wine, fruit and spices gained its name from an Old English word meaning “muddled.” Whatever the name though, it was always the same drink: a sweet, hot wine that was full of spice.
While Mulled Wine was a relatively common drink in Europe, it wasn’t until Charles Dickens that this delicious elixir became the cool weather holiday drink we know and love today. Mulled wine appeared in several of the novelist’s books, but it was its appearance in the holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, that guaranteed the cocktail’s place at holiday parties all over the globe.
So, while it’s true that this classic is a great addition to any Christmas or New Year’s party, why wait? I mean, I had my first mulled wine experience on a ski slope at the beginning of December and the Romans and Europeans drank it year round. So, instead of imbibing some creepy, smoke filled cocktail this Halloween, whip up a nice steaming mug of mulled wine. It is red, after all.
1 bottle dry red wine, like a syrah or merlot
1 cup cognac
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
Combine all the ingredients in a large sauce pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Strain out the fruits and spices into a large pitcher, then pour into tall mugs, garnish with a cinnamon stick and serve.
Cocktail photos by Jennifer Richmond
Jennifer Richmond has been cooking ever since she could hold a wooden spoon. Her food blog, Kitchy Cooking, appeared in 2009 when she realized she could combine her love of vintage life with cooking and writing. While she enjoys creating twists on classic savory and sweet recipes, she especially loves learning about the history and recreating vintage cocktails. You can follow her blog at kitchycooking.com and on Instagram and twitter at @kitchycooker.