There is little more atmospheric than indulging in a warming beverage by an open fire at this time of year. In order to aid your winter quality of life, we take a look at some winter warmers – the best festive drinks – and where to find them.
There are few drinks that warm the cockles more effectively than mulled wine at Christmas time. Its history probably stretches back a little longer than you might imagine – in fact, it is claimed the earliest form of the drink was invented by none other than the Greek physician Hippocrates. The idea was that the wine, either red or white, was spiced and sweetened with honey as a kind of tonic.
In Britain, it’s thought that mulled wine became popular during the Middle Ages. One early recipe suggests a combination of ‘a gallon of white wine, sugar, two pounds of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised, galangal and cloves not bruised.’
Today the drink is popular across Europe, from the mulled wine in Britain, to glühwein in Germany, and glögg, across Scandinavia, which is made for those of sterner stuff – often including brandy, akvavit or vodka as well as wine.
Where to find it: Duke’s Bar, off St. James’s Park, provide not only the best martinis in town but also excellent mulled wine.
Scotch is guaranteed to warm the heart any time of year, but there’s something magical about a fine whisky during the festive period. It has become something of a stock gift for the man who is hard to buy for: 60% of single malts are bought as presents. And it’s not hard to see the extent to which whisky lovers will go to be acquainted with a fine scotch. See the Macallan that sold for $628,000.
Even the most steadfast Scrooge can be satiated with a calming dram of scotch. Some of the best at this time of year are the sweeter, richer whiskies with intense and lingering finishes.
Where to find it: One of London’s leading whisky experts is Cesar Da Silva, bar manager at Knightsbridge’s five-star Capital Hotel.
Perhaps not the most sophisticated of drinks, but grog still packs a punch at Christmas time. It is thought to have been the invention of the British navy, who took on board casks of fresh water when setting sail. Since the water became slimy and stagnant, the sailors began adding alcohol to make it more palatable.
From here, grog was born. It would include one part lemon or lime juice, which acted as a defence against scurvy, two parts sugar, three parts rum and four parts water. The drink was named after Admiral Edward Vernon, who first introduced the idea of lemon or lime juice, the vitamin C from which kept his sailors more healthy than any other fleet.
Vernon became known for the grogram cloak that he wore, attracting the nickname ‘Old Grog’. From here, the drink that he pioneered took on the same name.
Where to find it: Grog isn’t top of the drinks list in many bars in London, but Mayfair’s Mahiki is known to provide a number of rum based drinks that includes the grog-filled ‘Treasure Chest’. A word of caution: drinks here don’t come cheap.
Sherry has to be one of the beverages most easily associated with Christmas. Unfortunately, this often manifests itself as a vision of a drunken grandma slumped in her armchair with a bottle of Bristol Cream in hand.
Nowadays, however, there is a sherry revolution taking place. Trendy bars across London are stocking drier, finer varieties of the fortified wine and younger drinkers are falling in love with its unique Andalusian charms.
Indeed, there is even a scientific reason for its increase in popularity: the compound acetaldehyde, prominent in sherry, acts as a type of reset button for the palate, meaning sherry is the perfect accompaniment to a fine meal.
Where to find it: Perhaps the finest spot for sherry in London is one of famed Spanish chef Jose Pizarro’s tapas locations.
Another drink long associated with Christmas, brandy is often used in a brandy sauce – a particularly good accompaniment for Christmas pudding. That said, you might often find grandad leaving a measure of the spirit out for Father Christmas.
One of the finest brandy drinks at Christmas time is the classic ‘Blazing Brandy’. This drink is perfect for lighting up your Christmas morning and certainly best done sober. Combine some winter berries with a measure of brandy and allow to steep for a few minutes in a brandy glass. Next, fill a tumbler with hot water, balance the brandy balloon on top and turn it round slowly to warm the brandy.
With the glass tilted away from you, so the brandy is almost falling out, light a match and strike it at the mouth of the glass. When the flame burns out, enjoy the warm and heady flavours – a perfect precursor to Christmas lunch.
Where to find it: The Coburg, situated in The Connaught Hotel, presents a tremendous selection of cognacs and brandies.