Winter wonderland

iStock_000023375814_XXXLarge_PPWhat are the benefits of offering seasonal beverages such as mulled wine, Irish coffee and hot toddies? Ben Canaider explains

When reduced sunlight hours and colder weather starts to cull your customer volume, any form of promotion and marketing is useful, no matter how daggy or retro it might be. Seasonal drinks lists can, in this regard, be more than useful. Mulled wines, toddies, hot punches, corrected coffees—all of these winter drinks are as time-honoured as they are charmingly jejune, and they can delight your younger, discovering demographic as much as your more mature and reflective customers.

Now is the time to leverage the effects of these drinks’ and while it’s essential to add a few modern takes to these classic winter warmers, don’t downplay their history.

For it’s odd in a way to think that long before warm—let alone hot—cups of tea and coffee were the non-alcoholic liquid staple of Europe, those same people were drinking warmed wine. The Romans, of course, either took or found or encouraged wine wherever they went; and when the weather turned a bit wintry they would warm the stuff up. Traditionally with a hot poker. The Greeks, a few hundred years earlier, had already taken to flavouring wine (with such things as seawater, fennel and pine cone resin, to name but a few), so the notion of warmed, flavoured alcoholic drinks was hardly new when it began to flourish in England some 1000 years later. The Saxon and Viking visitors were doing it with cider and ale; later,
during the Victorian period, port and French wines were mulled, and increasingly flavoured with more exotic spices from the Far East.

And while mulled wine might have—in more recent Australian conditions—been the rather naff ski chalet beverage of polyester choice, all of its history should be used to promote it and make it your winter solstice signature drink. And don’t limit mulling just to wine.

Mulled cider is a good alternative, and trades well off cider’s current and ongoing transgender popularity. Selling such a drink as a Wassail—the drink and ceremony of the south-west
of England’s cider producing areas—brings a useful touch of Viking-osity to the whole thing, too. Wassail is Old Norse for ‘be healthy’, so it might even help you with your responsible service of alcohol policies.

Traditional ales also have great scope and history when it comes to mulling. And they should be similarly leveraged what with real ale and craft beer’s increasing presence in so many bars.

As with many other mulling bases—whether they be ale, cider, red wine, or fruit wine such as elderberry—flavouring additions of cinnamon, nutmeg, aniseed, orange zest and cloves are the staple. Fresh ginger is nowadays more popular as a flavouring, as to is cranberry and pomegranate, particularly in mulled wine. Basically, any sort of exotic fruit that Jamie Oliver puts into a winter salad is permissible in a mulled drink.

Also remember that bringing any alcoholic drink to the boil will remove the alcohol. Mulling service temperatures up to about 60˚C are considered most suitable. And if you do want to add the extra theatre of a mulling iron to your bar, then be warned that a red hot poker is and always will be a red hot poker.

Toddies are another area of drinks list endeavour at this time of year, perhaps offered as a pre- or post-dinner revivifying devivifyer. The traditional hot toddy is and was quite medicinal, with reference to sore throats. Lemon juice, sugar, boiling water and a splash of either whisky or brandy. Additional flavours such as clove can sneak in; and other ingredients such as Frangelico, if used sparingly, can add some complexity to this drink. More bourbon and rye are being used in toddy construction, maybe because they have stronger and more obvious flavours.

Winter and its sense of community can also be harnessed with warm punches. For events or parties, such a drink can help set the right seasonal tone. The default spices and flavourings go in, and as with other punches, you add fruit and some spirits—gin can provide a good botanical background. Warm punches mixed
with Madeira also work well, but as long as you err on
the more conservative side when it comes to the Madeira’s addition.

At the other end of the night or event, corrected coffees can have a role to potentially play. Whether it be Irish or Jamaican coffee, the use and promotion of special ingredients, made in a house or signature style, helps. demerara or turbinado sugars—so de rigueur with the coffee-istas—have a place here, as might some of the ‘raw’ sugars, such as muscovado. An Irish coffee featuring on a drinks list I met the other night had some additional cream ‘hand-whipped’. This simple description seemed to do wonders for sales.

In a similar vein there’s also the classic hot-buttered rum. Mix butter, sugar (I think maple syrup works well here) and some orange rind swirls together and then incorporate the rum and some boiling water. Mix it all about and serve in small cups. Anyone who likes liqueur-filled chocolates seems to like this drink; it is certainly very textural and creamy. And it should probably be also listed on the dessert menu, along with hot chocolates. These often all-too dreary nanna drinks can be souped up with a shot of tequila and a sprinkle of chilli powder.

Yet what I am really looking for on winter drinks lists this cold and flu season is glögg. Glögg is a Nordic classic which combines and warms red wine, port, vodka, the standard mulling spices, some sugar, some orange peel, slivered almonds and some raisins. It is like an exotic, alcoholic liquid muesli. And themed with some pagan and Viking finger food (apologies for that ridiculous oxymoron) you might just get the till moving along a bit on a cold and wet winter Wednesday night.

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