Baby, it’s cold outside.
When Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald got the shivers, it was the warmth of maybe a half a drink more that they craved. But just what drink scared away the frost and melted the icy cold from their bones? Or — better yet — what beverage does it best?
My answer is a multiplicity — anything that is hot, spiced and/or mulled.
“Mulling,” or warming with spices to infuse them into a beverage, stretches back to the Greeks and Romans, who employed the technique with wine for flavor and (perceived) health purposes. Of course, the idea of “mulling” even predates the classic civilizations of the West, though it wasn’t recognized by the same cognomen. As far back as 5,000 years ago, ancient civilizations in the area around India drank chai tea, which is tea heated with spices and occasionally milk and sweeteners.
Since then, “mulling” has appeared in various cultures, from Sweden’s famous glögg, which uses vanilla, raisins, cinnamon and other spices to flavor a mixture of port, red wine and brandy, to the Old English drink known as “Wassail”, a hot mulled cider that sometimes incorporates ales, wine, oranges and even eggs, which predated the more popular modern equivalent in the U.S. of hot apple cider.
This food blog post isn’t as much of a recipe post as it is a jumping point for your own ideas on how to spice beverages. Chapel Hill has been rather chilly these past few days, and lately hot beverages have been crucial to my comfort, spiced ones being among them. This post is dedicated to my companions who also bask in the glory of such drinks on a chilly autumn day.
First of all, know the spices that mix well with your base beverage of choice:
For spiced wines (go with red), a good mixture of honey (roughly a 1/4 cup per bottle) cinnamon, ginger, cloves nutmeg, vanilla bean or extract and orange rinds usually does wonders. Feel free to throw in pink peppercorns if you’re feeling adventurous, too.
For ciders, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice are typical combos used to make magic.
And for those that love hot chocolate (as do I), I would recommend adding a little cayenne, cinnamon, a touch of brown sugar and vanilla bean extract to your cocoa for something new and excitingly different. It will impress the living daylights out of your friends.
Have fun working on whatever spiced/mulled beverage you decide to experiment with, but keep in mind that spices are potent, so try not to use them overzealously or the flavor will be too strong.
Stay warm, and enjoy the fall, folks.
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