I wished that I lived in an era and society where we valued hot cocktails more than we do, nowadays.  Of course, that wasn't always the case.  For the better part of human history, warm, alcoholic beverages were a symbol of hospitality, at least in the cold, northern climes.

The holiday season is a great time to revive many this custom once again.  There is nothing better, in my opinion, that walking into someone's house, after having braved the icy cold, winter conditions, smelling the heady aroma of cinnamon and citrus and being offered a mug of something hot, and preferably alcoholic.

While there are some warm drinks that do take a bit of work to serve, the majority of them actually make great party drinks, for the host, as most of the work is done earlier in the day and all the host has to do is keep the drinks way; a perfect job for a Crock Pot or slow cooker.

I am offering up 4 recipes, 2 of which are alcoholic, and 2 of which are kiddie friendly although both can have alcohol added to them as a batch, or better yet, keep them non-alcoholic and then offer a couple of different boozes and let your guests spike their own drinks.

Mulled Wine

For me, the holidays are a time for traditions, some old, that have been family traditions for generations, and some new, that my wife and I and have created with our family. I don't know that you can get more traditional than Mulled Wine.  It's a drink that goes back almost as far as wine making itself.  In the beginning spices were often used to mask the flavor of wine that was starting to "turn" but it wasn't long after that, that people realized that spicing and warming their wine was a great way to drive away the chill.

Mulled Wine, like so many "traditional" recipes is as varied as the people who make it. Some add only 1 or 2 spices, while others add 6,7 or 10. Some people fortify it with brandy or other liquors, while some actually dilute it with water. And of course, what spices, or fruits are added can almost be infinite.

The recipe I offer up takes pieces from some of the best Mulled wines I have made in the past. And it uses a technique I just recently read about where you make a “base” of water and honey in which you infuse your spices so once you add your alcohol it doesn’t have to cook so long and lead to a loss in the potency of the alcohol. I hope you like it.

Mulled Wine

serves 3-4

1/4 cup Honey
3/4 cup Water
2 each Cinnamon Sticks
15-16 Peppercorns, whole
10 Cloves, whole
12 Allspice Berries, whole
3 Cardamon pods (optional)
2 Oranges, sliced
1/3 cup Brandy (or dark rum)
1 bottle (750 ml) Red Wine (preferably a fruitier red wine with minimal oak to it)

Combine the honey, water, spices and oranges in a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, covered. Add the wine and brandy, cover again, and heat, over low flame, just until hot. Pour into mugs and serve piping hot.

Hot Chocolate

We often think of Hot Chocolate as a kid’s drink, and let’s face it, have you ever met a kid that didn’t like hot chocolate? But, it also makes a great adult beverage. First off, there are the decadent hot chocolates that come, served in small demitasse style cups. These drinks are thick, rich, and overwhelmingly chocolaty. Then there are hot chocolates that get served mixed with various alcohols and liqueurs. These drinks don’t necessarily need to be overly decadent drinks. In fact, I find the best hot chocolates for spiking are the every day variety. I’m not talking the instant stuff, which never quite achieves goodness, but the every day variety whose recipe can often be found on the side of cocoa powder.

This version kind of bridges the gap between the truly decedent versions and every day Hot Chocolate-perfect for offering up at a party and spiking with booze.

Hot Chocolate
serves 4

1/3 cup Cocoa Powder, unsweetened
3/4 cup Sugar, granulated
Pinch Salt
1/2 cup Boiling water
1 cup Cream
3 cups Whole Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

In a sauce pot combine the cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Add the boiling water and mix well. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and milk and heat until just barely simmering, but not boiling, again continuing to stir to avoid scorching. Turn off heat and stir in the vanilla. Prepare your mugs with your alcohol of choice, ladle in the hot chocolate and serve.

Hot Buttered Rye

Because I am a whiskey fan I decided to do a new take on the Hot Buttered Rum.  One thing I notice about many Hot Buttered Rum recipes is that the modern ones often substitute whipped cream for the butter in the drink.  I have to admit I like that idea also.  Yes, I know that you can argue that it is no longer Hot Buttered Rum, but whatever you want to call it, it still tasty.  This recipe also calls for Domaine de Canton, a ginger liquor.  Feel free to leave it out, if you like.

Hot Buttered Rye
1 drink

Maple Cream

makes enough for about 6-7 drinks

1 cup Heavy Cream
3 Tb. Maple Syrup

Mix the cream and maple syrup together and whip until thick but no peaks form (whipped cream should just barely mound and hold its shape). Set aside. Makes enough for 6-7 drinks

Hot Buttered Rye
2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Domaine de Canton or other ginger liqueur
1 tsp. Brown Sugar, packed
Hot Water
1/4 cup Maple Cream (see recipe above)

In a heat proof, glass mug, mix the rye, liqueur and sugar. Fill mug, to within 1/2 inch of the top, with hot water and give a stir to dissolve the sugar. Top with the maple cream and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Hot Spiced Cider

One of my favorite ways to warm up after being out in the cold is Hot Spiced Cider. It also makes a great beverage for any winter get together and has the added bonus of making your house smell like the holidays. And it can act as double duty for both those that drink alcoholic beverages and for those that abstain for one reason or another. In fact, you can make it self serve, by placing the cider in a slow cooker set on low, to keep it warm and setting out mugs and a variety of liquors with which people can spike their own, making it as strong or as weak as they like. If you go this route, at the very least you should offer whiskey and rum for spiking the cider, but you also can’t go wrong with brandy, spiced rum, vanilla flavored vodka and any number of different types of liqueurs.

Hot Spiced Cider
makes 1 gallon (enough for 12-20 servings depending on the size of the mugs or coffee cups you use)

1 gallon Cider
4 sticks Cinnamon
1 1/2 Tb. Cloves, whole
2 Tb. Allspice, whole
3 Oranges, with peel, thinly sliced

Place all ingredients in a non reactive pot, bring to a simmer and allow to steep for at least 15-20 minutes. For self-serve, pour into a slow cooker, set on low and skim out as many of the cloves and allspice berries as you can. Leave the oranges and cinnamon sticks in. To spike your cider start with 1 part alcohol to 4-5 parts cider. You can adjust from there depending on your preference.