For many people, maybe even most people, Christmas is a time of tradition. We gingerly pull out Christmas decorations that have been handed down from generation to generation. We bake the same cookies our mothers used to bake for us. We listen to the same recordings of Christmas songs that we grew up with and watch the same Christmas movies year after year, and, for many families, we prepare the same Christmas feast as it has been done for generations. Tradition even dictates whether that meal is served on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Of course, things change. Fashions go in and out of style; children get married and have to figure out how to combine the traditions of two families into one while still leaving room to create their own traditions. Even new technologies change our traditions, enhancing some while relegating others to the past. One tradition that seems on the verge of slipping into the past are the warm and welcoming hot drinks of days gone by.
Today, it seems that the vast majority of hot, alcoholic drinks are variations on the standard coffee based drink. Irish coffee and Café Brulot happen to be two of my favorites, but these drinks seem most at home at the end of a meal, as do most coffee drinks, and really only represent a small portion of a category that used to be much larger and wide ranging. It’s not difficult to understand why hot drinks are not as popular as they once were. We sit in our insulated houses with central heating and when we need to go somewhere, in winter, we pile on modern fabrics to help keep the cold out while sitting in our heated cars, some of which were even started remotely so that we wouldn’t have to sit in a cold car. It’s not like in years gone by where travelling in wintertime was a much more difficult, and cold, adventure, having to sit in a horse drawn sleigh or wagon. I can imagine how wonderful a large mug of Hot Buttered Rum felt, not only on the hands, as you held it, but how warming and comforting it felt as you sipped it down, chasing the chills away.
What a great way to great your guests, even today, or to show your appreciation to the one who spent the evening shoveling out the driveway. Imagine the recipient as you thrust into their hands a steaming mug, heady with the aromas of spices as the heat and alcohol help to bring a bit of warmth back into their fingers and toes and rosiness back to their cheeks. I can think of no better way to say “welcome!”
Providing hot beverages can be a difficult task for today’s hosts. Very few of us own punch bowls that can withstand hot beverages, and even fewer of us own chafing dishes that can be used to keep beverages warm. Not to worry though; there are some options. Covered soup tureens or other covered stoneware make great makeshift punch bowls or you can simply offer a hot drink to each guest as they arrive, as a welcome, and offer more traditional cocktails the rest of the evening. This, of course, is assuming you don’t have a fireplace where you could keep a pot of spiced cider or glühwein warm, allowing guests to help themselves. Since so many parties end up in the kitchen why not just keep the beverages warm on the stove and let everyone help themselves. The added bonus of these last 2 options is that keeping the beverages warm throughout the party will help to scent the house with variety of wonderful, spicy aromas.
Hot drinks can be simple or complex, just like regular cocktails. It can be as easy as adding a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream to coffee or a shot of Chambord to Hot Chocolate. Or it can be a multistep process such as with traditional Tom and Jerrys. A fun and novel idea is to create and offer a “Coffee and Hot Chocolate Bar.” This allows guests to create their own special beverages and becomes a great focal point to the gathering, while reinforcing the holiday theme. Along with sugar and cream, offer up whipped cream, marshmallows (store bought or homemade, in various flavors) and a variety of liquors such as Peppermint Schnapps, Kahula, Bailey’s, Chambord, dark Run, Irish Whiskey, Tuaca (an Italian Vanilla and Citrus liquor) or any variety of liquors. Forget the plastic stir sticks and offer, in place, candy canes, cinnamon sticks or any of those old fashioned flavored stick candies.
Great punch bowls options are Spiced Cider (my personal favorite), Glühwein (or any number of mulled wines) or Tom and Jerry’s (a warm, spiced Eggnog that has seen resurgence in popularity the past few years).
Of course, if you feel like bartending then the list is endless, just make sure you have easy access to hot coffee and hot water. Hot Toddies are simple and warming as are Hot Buttered Rums, both of which harken back to the days of yore when travelers would warm themselves by the hearths at local taverns. One note of caution though, while most drinks will have the alcohol diluted enough that it won’t catch fire, be careful anytime you are working around alcohol and some type of heating element. If for some reason you ignite the alcohol you want to carefully smother the fire. Whatever you do don’t try to move the container the fire is contained in, you might accidently spill or slosh the liquid, spreading the fire beyond the confines of the container. Just place a wet cloth over the container and the flames will soon be extinguished.
Hot Spiced Cider
Makes enough for 20 servings
1 gallon Cider
1 (12oz) can Orange Juice Concentrate
5 each Cinnamon sticks
1 Tbl. Whole Allspice Berries
2 tsp. Whole Cloves
2” piece Fresh Ginger, peeled and sliced (optional)
Orange slices (optional)
In a nonreactive pot combine the cider, orange juice concentrate, cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves and ginger. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain out spices and return to low heat to keep warm. To serve place 1-2 oz of bourbon or rum into a mug and top with hot cider. Garnish with oranges slices and an additional cinnamon stick. Also a great option for nondrinkers in the crowd without making them feel self-conscious
There are many versions of mulled wine out there, from many different countries. While most of them contain the same spices it is the liquor, added to fortify the beverage, that separates them. And in many instances it is only a difference in name only.
1 bottle Red Wine (medium bodied)
4 each Cinnamon Sticks
20 each Whole Cloves
1 each Orange, sliced
½ each Lemon, sliced
¼ cup Honey
¾ cup Brandy
In a nonreactive sauce pan combine all the ingredients except the brandy. Bring to a simmer, without boiling, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the brandy and heat to desired temperature and serve.
Tom and Jerry
This drink became popular in the mid 1800’s and is a warmed up version of Eggnog. By the early 1900’s it was so popular that most families owned a Tom and Jerry set (punch bowl with matching mugs). Unfortunately prohibition put an end to its popularity although in recent years, bartenders looking to the past for inspiration have somewhat revived this drink. It takes a little bit of preparation but I think it is well worth it.
12 Eggs, separated
5 cups Sugar
½ tsp. Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp. Nutmeg
¼ tsp. Ground Clove
1 pinch salt
Combine the egg yolks, 2 cups of sugar, the salt and the spices and whip until the sugar is dissolved. In a clean bowl combine the egg whites and remaining sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the yolks to make the batter. To serve; in a warmed mug add 4 heaping spoonfuls of batter along with ½ oz. of brandy and ½ oz. of rum. Stirring constantly, fill the mug with hot milk. Garnish with a sprinkling of nutmeg.