Just for fun, imagine you live in England in the mid-1800s. If that’s not as fun as you thought it would be, imagine you’re drinking in England in the mid-1800s. Better? Thought so.
It’s cold there too, but instead of central heating, take-out, and Netflix, you have, let’s say, a brick house on a cobblestone street. It smells like horses and wood smoke outside. Through the sooty, glowing windows we see you prepare for the holidays. You need something in a big batch that will get everyone warm and, shall we say, cheerful with holiday spirit. You need mulled wine.
Basically, everywhere that gets cold at some point in the year mulls wine. In Germany, it’s Glüwein. In Nordic countries, it’s Glögg. Chile has Navega’o, Moldova has Izvar, and Quebec has Caribou, which features maple syrup, obviously.
The reason for mulled wine’s ubiquity lies in the fact that it’s so easy to make. You simmer wine with citrus and spices over a long stretch of time and boom, you have a half gallon of potent booze that will simultaneously heat up your guests and your party. In Victorian England, they kicked things up a notch with a seasonal cocktail called the Smoking Bishop.
It’s actually referenced in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, after Scrooge converts into a generous (and apparently boozy) new man. The “Bishop” part goes back to a tradition of naming different drinks after positions in the church. In his book Drinking with Dickens, Cedric Dickens (Charles’ great-grandson) says, “Pope is burgundy, Cardinal is champagne or rye, Archbishop is claret, Bishop is port, and so on.” I’m guessing it was hilarious at the time, but you kind of had to be there.
This recipe, based on the Dickens original, serves six to eight and, unfortunately, takes awhile: it requires you to be home for a few hours, getting things ready for your holiday fete, and is then supposed to sit and steep overnight. But trust us, the results are well worth your time.
Five medium-sized oranges
One medium-sized grapefruit
36 whole cloves
Five cinnamon sticks
Two star anise pods
750ml bottle of red wine, like merlot or pinot noir
750ml bottle of port
Start by heating your oven to 350°F, and put the oranges and grapefruit in a baking dish on the center rack. Bake them for about 30 minutes, or until they get lightly brown on top.
Flip them over, and bake for another 20–30 minutes to brown on the other side, too.
Remove the dish from the oven, and when the fruit is cool enough to work with, poke six cloves in each piece of fruit, evenly spreading them over the surface.
Now, mix the red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and anise in a large saucepan over low heat and stir it until the sugar dissolves. Add in your clove-studded fruit and submerge it as much as possible.
Let that all sit in the saucepan, covered, at room temperature overnight.
The next day, slice the fruit and squeeze the juice into a bowl, straining out seeds and cloves.
Stir the juice into the wine mixture along with the bottle of port.
Heat that up before your party until it’s hot, but not boiling. If you boil it, the alcohol will evaporate and you’ll be left with a very labor-intensive Juicy Juice knockoff that will destroy your pancreas while leaving your liver disappointingly untouched.
Take out the anise and the cinnamon sticks and serve in pre-heated mugs or cups.