Mulling over a warm, spicy drink

WHEN you come in from the cold on a winter’s day, there is nothing so inviting as the warm, heady aroma of a mulled drink simmering away.

Spicy, warming, fragrant and aromatic, mulling is an easy way to make delicious drinks to share with your family and friends, and will make your house smell delightful. The process is simple, and involves heating a chosen brew with spices. Traditionally, the main ingredients are a combination of cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and whole cloves. Mulled is a label that we associate with wine, but it can be applied to non-alcoholic treats, such as mulled apple juice and pear, elderberry or cranberry juice, or other alcoholic drinks, such as cider, beer, port or mead.

During the Middle Ages, mulled wine was called Hipocris, after Hippocrates, because it was thought to have medicinal properties. Since drinking water could kill you, there were health benefits in drinking hot, spiced wine instead.

Today, we still can enjoy a few health benefits associated with this winter warmer, as drinking wine in moderation has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and adding cinnamon, cloves and star anise also boosts antioxidant levels.

One of the best things about mulling is that there is no exact recipe, and you are free to experiment with what you’ve got, to satisfy your heart’s desire.

Another advantage is that you can keep adding to the pot to make your heart-healthy, spicy winter-warmer go further, and create an illusion of a bottomless cauldron.

MULLED WINE adds a warming, welcoming flavour to any seasonal or winter gathering. To delight your guests, you will need: 1 bottle of medium to full-bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon is ideal) 4 cloves Half a cinnamon stick A few slices of fresh root ginger Pared peel of one lemon and one orange 1 tbsp honey Splash of brandy (optional).

Put all the ingredients, except the honey and brandy, in a saucepan and heat to just below boiling point. Do not boil, as this causes the spices to turn bitter and, more alarmingly, boiling causes alcohol to evaporate.

Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about an hour. Add honey and brandy, before reheating.

Reheating is best done on a very slow simmer. It’s fine to keep the pot warm for several hours, adding more if needed, and allowing everyone to sip festive cheer throughout the night. Strain into pre-warmed glasses or mugs, and serve garnished with an orange slice or cinnamon stick.

MULLED APPLE JUICE makes a delicious alternative to mulled wine, satisfying all those drivers, children and non-alcohol drinkers at your party.

Ireland is a great place for apples and if you do not have your own for pressing/juicing, local markets and health-food stores usually stock pressed, Irish apple juice. Stick the cloves in the orange and slice the orange in thin slices.

Place orange, sugar, cinnamon and juice in a medium saucepan. Gently heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Do not allow to boil. Strain into pre-warmed mugs/glasses and serve, garnished with an orange slice or cinnamon stick. If you have an urge for alcohol, you could add a splash of whiskey, brandy or rum, just before serving.

Again, it is fine to keep the pot warm for several hours, adding ingredients as desired, and serving when needed. Spiced apple juice has an advantage, in that it can be refrigerated for up to a week, reheated, or simply enjoyed cold.

The above recipes are a base from which to start your experimentation. Nutmeg, mace; star anise; allspice berries; cardamom pods; slices of fresh ginger; orange slices and lemon zest give plenty of scope for mulling magnificent mixtures. Whole spices are preferable to ground, which tend to make the drink cloudy and gritty. Spices can be tied in a muslin bag to make them easier to remove. Mulling is an easy and rewarding way to spice up your home. Sláinte!


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