From warm, spice-infused drinks to iced, flower-based ones, Christmas tipples across the world give a high to the holiday season.
Getting into the Christmas spirit requires just that — whipping up a few classic spirits that add joy and merriment to the holiday season. Be it a cocktail, mulled wine or a fruit punch, this is the time to tap into longstanding traditions and make some drinks that hit the right festive notes at this time of the year.
Christmas isn’t complete till one has sipped mulled wine — a hot beverage that is a combination of red wine, spices like cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, star anise, a bit of citrus and sugar. It is now a global sensation, but remains a special favourite across Europe around this time. The best way to enjoy mulled wine is to pick it up from any Christmas market and walk around with it.
This drink goes back to the days of the Roman empire when it was created to keep warm in the bitter cold. As they expanded their footprint across Europe, mulled wine was adapted in other countries as well. Known by different names in different places, the recipes vary, but mulled wine remains a much-loved warm beverage that many cannot do without during Christmas.
This rich, milk-based drink is whipped up with vanilla, milk, sugar, eggs and cream, seasoned with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon while rum, whiskey or brandy adds that perfect holiday cheer. Extremely popular across the US and Canada, some people also refer to it as a milk punch. There are many theories on how it originated but a common one is that it goes back to medieval Britain when it was known as ‘posset’ — milk that was curdled with alcohol such as wine or ale to cure illnesses. The monks amped up the drink by adding eggs and figs and it became something the wealthy classes would sip. Its popularity soared when it arrived in the erstwhile American colonies after the Americans replaced sherry with the more affordable rum or whiskey making it accessible to more people.
Cola de mono
Enjoyed across Chile, this is one drink that they cannot do without during the best time of the year. Literally translated, it means ‘monkey’s tail’ and is made of milk, sugar, spices like cloves and cinnamon, coffee and brandy or rum. It is similar to eggnog and the White Russian (coffee, vodka, cream and liqueur) cocktail but still somewhat different because it is had cold. It is usually enjoyed with a slice of the traditional Christmas bread called ‘Pan de pascua’.
Come Christmas and Mexicans start drinking this fruit punch made of sugarcane, fruits like pears, apples, hibiscus flowers, prunes, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and tamarind. At times people spike it with brandy or tequila. While many families make it at home, it is widely available in Christmas markets as well. Interestingly the name Ponche Navideño traces its origins to India and is derived from a Hindi/Sanskrit term ‘Paanch’ meaning five — this drink is a concoction of five things: sugar, spice, sour, spirit and water. Apparently, the sailors of the fleets of the British East India company carried it to Britain from where it spread to Europe and other continents. Adapted by the Mexicans to their local ingredients and culture, it has little resemblance to the original British drink. This punch is traditionally enjoyed on the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve.
Hot buttered rum
This warm drink has all the ingredients to get you into the holiday mood. After all, how can you go wrong with rum, butter, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves? It was actually an interpretation of hot toddy that had already been introduced in American colonies in the 1650s — but rum was a cheaper and more popular spirit so it was used along with other additions like butter. Americans love it so much that they actually observe a National Hot Buttered Rum Day on January 17 each year.
Yet again a traditional punch that has been around since medieval times, Wassail is made with apple cider, cinnamon, ginger, orange and lemon juice, nutmeg and cloves. It has defined the tradition of a shared drink for centuries. Usually made in a large bowl, the drink is poured into glasses straight from the bowl itself or sometimes even sipped from the same glass. In fact, those who have watched the Downton Abbey series would have seen everyone ladling wassail into their glass cups after singing Christmas carols.
This cinnamon-flavoured, spiced drink is popular in South American countries like Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia where street vendors sell cups and cups of this hot drink around Christmas time. It is usually made with aguardiente, a liqueur made from sugarcane, but at times rum is also added. The cinnamon gives it a taste similar to mulled wine but the addition of fruit juice lends a tangy note.
Often called the Caribbean punch, this refreshing, red-coloured drink made from hibiscus flowers is the signature drink across these islands around the holiday season — the time of the year when these flowers bloom in abundance. Served chilled with ice, the tangy glass of sorrel is infused with the usual spices like cinnamon and cloves though these vary from country to country. Some people add spirits like wine or rum to give it the kick needed for that special festive cheer.