‘Tis the season to be merry’! Let’s face it, Christmas may be a bit different this year to those of old, with smaller gatherings of close friends and family in the comfort of our homes and there is no better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with some traditional drinks to get you into the festive mood.
Wassail was a traditional Christmas and New Year toast, derived from the Anglo-Saxon words for “good health” – “waes hael”. The recipe of the same name is a hot, sweet spiced punch, made with apple cider with an added array of aromatic mulling spices. Another version is a frothy wassail, created by stirring beaten eggs into the warm, spiced mixture. Wassailing is a Twelfth Night tradition that has its roots in a pagan custom of visiting orchards to sing to the trees and spirits in the hope of ensuring a good harvest the following season. During the visit a communal wassail bowl – filled with a warm spiced cider, perry or ale – would be shared amongst revellers.
Mulled Wine (Glühwein)
Tasting like Christmas in a glass, Mulled Wine contains traditional festive spices and is usually made with red wine. Different countries have different versions of the soothing, warming drink thought to have originated with the Greeks who added spices into wine left over after the harvest. From the Romans through to the Middle Ages and Victorian England, Mulled Wine recipes have evolved to modern-day versions which often contain orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, and dry red wine and a dash of port or brandy.
It is thought that eggnog originated from the early medieval Britain “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink. By the 13th century, monks were known to drink a posset with eggs and figs. The basic recipe has not changed over the years (eggs are beaten with sugar, milk, cream, and some kind of distilled spirit), but it is not something for everybody’s palate and it is a love it or hate it type of drink.
This conjures up images of a large punch bowl with cups hanging from the side full to the brim with a mixture of alcohol and juices in which slices of fruit or berries float on top. It is believed that the word punch was borrowed from the Hindi word for ‘five’, indicating the five central ingredients that a traditional punch consists of: spirit (rum), fruit juice, water, sweetener and spice. The drink was thought to have been introduced to England by employees of the English East India Company. A big pan of warming punch is a great way to greet your guests at Christmas.
If it’s chilly outside, there’s nothing better than warming your cockles with a hot toddy. This spiced whisky drink is usually made with whole spices, fresh herbs, and fruit. This recipe includes some honey which is the perfect addition to help combat a cold, cough or sore throat.
Take 50ml whisky, 3 tsp honey, 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half, 1 lemon, (half juiced and half sliced) and 2 cloves. Whisk the whisky and honey together and split between 2 heatproof glasses. Add half the cinnamon stick to each, then top up with 200ml boiling water. Add a splash of lemon juice to each, then taste and add more to your preference. Finish each with a slice of lemon, studded with a clove, and serve immediately.
Perfect to serve at a Christmas Eve dinner or on New Year’s Day, Champagne Punch is a bubbly treat to add to your drinks repertoire. Think Great Gatsby and the roaring 1920s, where towers of champagne flutes would be filled with the punch that would cascade down like a waterfall to the delight of the spectators! Mix up 1 litre of apple juice (or apple cider), 1 bottle sparkling wine or champagne, 1 cinnamon stick, 4 cardamom pods (broken), 6 whole cloves and some ice with apple slices for garnish and serve in sugar coated glasses.
Hot Chocolate with Rum
At the end of the day there is nothing more comforting than an indulgent cup of hot chocolate. Bring 400ml of milk to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with a whisk, until it has dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and stir well. Let it cool down a little bit and then stir in 20 ml of rum. Top with whipped cream, dust with cocoa powder and for a real treat add some mini marshmallows.
All these festive drinks can be made as kid-friendly non-alcoholic versions – just leave out the alcohol. Remember to drink in moderation and to pace yourself, because although the festive season is a great time to eat, drink and be merry, we have to remind you to drink responsibly because as we all know, drinking too much can have repercussions.