Mulled wine and hot cocktails are winter home bar essentials. Remember winter when you were a kid? Every snowstorm was a potential day off from school. Weekends meant building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, and cozy nights on the couch, looking at the Toys R Us catalog. Recapturing the magic of the holiday season is hard to do as an adult. Winter doesn’t exactly make us giddy anymore. Without the month off from school, days spent playing in the snow, and guilt-free hot chocolate with marshmallows, what’s there to look forward to? Instead, we get bogged down in the holiday crowds, endless shopping lists, and seasonal depression as the sun sets mid-afternoon.
This year, we’re turning it all around and bringing back the magic with mulled wine and hot cocktails. The sun setting at 3 p.m. is just the excuse we needed for an early happy hour. Freezing rain? Arctic vortex? Hurricane season? Just fill your crockpot with wine and tell Netflix you’re still watching.
Along with aqueducts, plumbing, and the first forced-air heating systems, Romans came up with hot wine back in the 2nd century to cope with their winter blues. As their empire extended north across Europe, hot wine was among the innovations they shared with conquered cultures. It caught on big time. At first, people added herbs and spices for health and wellness. Then, they added flowers and honey to make cheap wine taste better–a trick bars still use today.
After centuries of waning interest in mulled wine in Europe, the 19th century saw a resurgence. Wine distributors re-branded it as glögg and published recipes adding spirits like Cognac, port, whiskey, and vermouth.
The hot toddy doesn’t have 2,000 years of history like mulled wine. It emerged in homes and bars alongside glögg. The exact history is hotly contested, but its agreed birthplace is the eternally gray and rainy islands of the UK and Ireland.
One story credits the original toddy to an Irish doctor, Robert Bentley Todd. According to the legend, Todd prescribed his patients a mixture of brandy, hot water, cinnamon, and sugar to treat the common cold. In 1837, the Burlington Free Press published an article advising their readers to treat children’s colds with hot toddies. It’s still a reliable prescription for dealing with general dreariness. (Although to be clear, we don’t recommend serving it to your kids.)
Irish coffee is one of our perennial favorites, not just in the winter. It’s the perfect nightcap at a dinner party with friends. The “official” recipe only goes back to the early 1900s. Still, you have to imagine the Irish have been adding whiskey to their coffee since they’ve had coffee to add it to.
Outside of New Orleans, hot buttered rum doesn’t get enough credit. It’s rich and creamy–pretty much hot chocolate for grown-ups. The cocktail comes from colonial times when Americans drank vast quantities of rum instead of bourbon. Hot buttered rum experienced a small resurgence in the 1950s with Tiki. Bartenders would mix “buttered rum batter” with coffee in ceramic Tiki mugs.
Ready for some recipes?
Mulled wine has endless variations. When you work from the original glögg recipe, every batch will bring back some of that lost winter magic.
2 bottles full-bodied red wine (think cabernet)
½ cup port
2 oranges, cut into segments
12 cloves, pressed into orange segments
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup brown sugar
Combine all the ingredients in a pot on low heat. Bring the wine to simmering, but not boiling. Heat for 20 minutes, then strain and pour into mugs to serve. Garnish with orange wheels.
Dust off that slow cooker for something other than meal-prep with this easy mulled wine recipe.
2 bottles spicy red wine (try a malbec)
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup honey
½ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
Teabag or cheesecloth pouch with:
10 whole cloves
5 whole anise
4 cinnamon sticks
Zest from one orange
2 rosemary sprigs
Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker; set to “warm” and heat for 2-4 hours. The longer you let it heat, the smoother the cocktail will be. Pour into mugs to serve and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Use a high-quality dark roast for this hot cocktail. Pre-heat the mugs for serving and hand-whip the heavy cream for an authentic Irish hot cocktail.
4 ounces freshly brewed coffee
2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2-4 ounces whipped heavy cream
Combine coffee and brown sugar in a mug, stir until sugar dissolves and add the Irish whiskey. Pour whipped heavy cream over the back of a spoon so it settles on top of the coffee. Garnish with grated nutmeg.
Compared to mulled wine, or hand-whipping heavy cream, hot buttered rum is a quick and easy winter cocktail. We recommend always keeping a batch in the freezer, so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Butter - 1 cup
Brown sugar - 1 cup
Heavy cream - 1 cup
Powdered sugar - 1 cup
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Beat together brown sugar and butter until they’re light and fluffy. While beating, add heavy cream a few tablespoons at a time, alternating with the powdered sugar, then stir in the spices. Store the batter up to three months in the freezer.
Perfect with spiced or demerara rum, hot buttered batter tastes decadent with a variety of spirits and mixers.
Once you have a quart of batter in your freezer, you might ask, What can’t I add this to? Not much. As a general rule, combine equal parts spirit and batter (two ounces of each for a responsible good time), and fill your mug with a hot beverage.
Reposado or Anejo Tequila
Try mixing with:
Hot chocolate (if you’re feeling extremely decadent)
No shame if you snag the occasional spoonful for yourself straight from the freezer.
You can make a toddy with ingredients you already have at your home bar.
The hot toddy is the Old Fashioned of hot cocktails. It’s simple, classic, and perfect for winter imbibing.
2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 tablespoon honey
1-ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2-4 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
8 ounces hot water
4 whole cloves
1 lemon wedge or wheel
1 cinnamon stick
Push the cloves into the lemon wedge or edge of the lemon wheel. Combine honey, bitters, lemon juice, and whiskey in the bottom of a mug and stir. Add hot water and garnish with a cinnamon stick and lemon wedge.
Add spirits to make hot chocolate even more indulgent. This recipe serves four and will cheer you regardless of the weather outside.
2 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
Sugar - ¼ cup
¼ tablespoon ancho chile powder
Vanilla extract - ¼ teaspoon
Cinnamon - ¼ teaspoon
4 ounces of Mexican hot chocolate discs
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 ounces mezcal
2 ounces Ancho Reyes liqueur
(Optional) whipped cream
Combine milk and cream in a large pot over low heat, stir in sugar and spices, and bring to a simmer. Add in the semi-sweet chips and Mexican chocolate and continue stirring until melted. When the mixture returns to a simmer, remove from heat and add mezcal and Ancho Reyes. Pour into four mugs and top with whipped cream and grated cinnamon.
The best hot cocktails for winter are a hack for DIY festive spirit as an adult.
Photo Credit: Palate Pleasures on Facebook
Bookmark our ultimate guide to mulled wine and hot cocktails when you need to add a little holiday magic to your winter. These recipes pair perfectly with a mid-winter Netflix binge. Or, fill your flask with mulled wine for your next sledding expedition with friends. Try mixing up a batch of Mexican hot chocolate to make hanging out at home feel like a special occasion. Use any of these cocktails as a guide for developing variations unique to your home bar.
Winter is also a great time to expand your liqueurs. They’re not ideal for decanting, but they’re perfect low-ABV sweet spirits to mix with hot cocktails and mulled wine. Some recommendations to get you started:
Green Chartreuse: an herbaceous liqueur you’ll love in hot chocolate.
Ancho Reyes: a liqueur from ancho and poblano chiles that tastes good in everything.
Port: sweet, fortified red wine that’s actually perfect for filling your decanter, and tastes great in mulled wine and hot chocolate.
Amaretto: a sweet, and just a little bitter, Italian almond liqueur you should drink with buttered batter, mulled wine, hot cider–just about everything.
Ginger Liqueur: Try Domaine de Canton for gentle spice perfect with mulled wine and hot cider.
We’re not saying to abandon stirred and shaken cold cocktails for winter. But these great hot cocktail recipes are the perfect way to recapture some wonder and delight for the season.
What’s your go-to winter cocktail?