Around the Island

Island spirits: Mulled wine and other drinks to warm your winter heart

The leadup to Christmas was a blur of quick snacks for busy wrappers, watching for last-minute deliveries and searching for too-well hidden gifts. We had three wise men in the basement on Christmas Eve, killing half a bottle of bourbon while they tried to assemble a bicycle. Santa must have come to the rescue, because a little boy found a shiny, new bike under the tree on Christmas morning.

The family gathered later for a hearty Christmas dinner, toasting our joy and gratitude. One timely gift was a bottle of Unterberg bitters, an herbal digestif. A quick spoonful of the strong, aromatic liquid is recommended “after a good meal, to feel bright and alert.” It’ll certainly wake you up, with shock and awe. There were also hearty red wines, gentle whites and Poinsettias made of sparkling wine and cranberry juice. A bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, a California sparkling wine traditionally served at the White House, was a welcome gift, quickly opened and enjoyed all around.

One beverage we didn’t sample on these mild December nights was a traditional mulled wine or glogg. But with lots of frigid weather inevitably to come, here are a few recipes to shake the cold out of your bones.


A traditional mulled wine is made by mixing a quart of burgundy or claret in a saucepan with the peels of one orange and one lemon; 2 or 3 inches of stick cinnamon; 1 whole nutmeg, crushed; 6 whole cloves and 1 tablespoon sugar. Simmer gently five to ten minutes, strain out the spices and serve hot. Makes about 12 servings. This recipe and the one below are adapted from The New York Times Cookbook.


Swedish gloggs have comforted generations through long Scandinavian winters. A friend of mine from Ireland made this for her annual holiday party and it was hearty yet smooth at the same time. Deeply warming and delicious!

3/4 cup water

3 cardamom seeds

8 whole cloves

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

1/4 cup blanched almonds

1/2 cup seedless raisins

1 cup prunes

1 bottle (24 ounces) red Bordeaux wine

1 bottle (24 ounces) port

1 3/4 cups vodka

Sugar to taste (optional)

Bring the water to a boil, add the spices and orange peel tied in a cheesecloth bag, cover and simmer ten minutes.

Add the almonds, raisins, prunes and enough additional water to cover the fruit. Cover and simmer twenty minutes.

Add the Bordeaux, port and vodka. Bring to a boil and remove immediately from the heat. Cool and allow to stand in the refrigerator in a covered container overnight or longer. When ready to serve, remove the spice bag. Reheat the punch and add sugar to taste. Serve in heated mugs or small glasses with a few almonds and seedless raisins in each. About 20 servings. 

I turned to my new favorite source, Frank Caiafa’s “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book” to see what hot winter drinks he’d concoct. I love this version of the Hot Toddy, which he said has been a classic since the eighteenth century:


1/4 warm baked apple (per serving)

1 cube of demerara or other raw sugar (I like turbinado, which may be easier to find) or maple syrup

2 ounces applejack or Calvados

6 ounces hot water

lemon peel

ground cinnamon


Rinse, peel and core apples. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Wrap in parchment paper, place on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

Add sugar cube to a ceramic cup or mug. Add enough boiling water to dissolve. Snap the lemon peel, rub it around the rim of the cup and drop in. Add the spirits and stir to integrate. Add the baked apple portion and top with boiling water. Stir, breaking down the apple. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

As Mr. Caiafa points out, the added benefit is that, on a cold winter night, you get to turn your oven on to bake the apples. So when the wind is whipping down Bridge Street and it’s as cold in the IGA parking lot as it is inside, cook yourself up a Baked Apple Toddy. It won’t make spring come any sooner, but you won’t mind the wait so much.