I like winter, but my feelings around Christmas are more complicated and contradictory. These last few days have been quite emotional, especially without the framework of the usual traditions to see me through. However, I've wrapped, posted, or otherwise dispatched card, and almost all the presents - I'm still working on a hat for my mother, which will be the 10th I've knitted since the end of October. I'm staying with her for the duration so as long as it's ready by Friday morning there's no need to panic. The food is bought and stowed away, I've had my own small book splurge, and my sister is winding me up. (Some traditions have made it through the hellscape of 2020).
It's time for a drink. I'm not normally a fan of drinking alone, but with mum, or at a push her dog, for company it's fine, and even when I am alone hot alcoholic drinks are the exception. The heat evaporates a bit of the alcohol, they're generally easy to make for 1, and 1 drink is generally enough for me. They also embody a combination of comfort, decadence, and nostalgia for me that's in short supply at the moment so here are 6 tried and tested suggestions.
Spiced Tea and Rum. I've seen and tried a few hot rum recipes over the years. Only one buttered rum recipe was really unpleasant (I've had okay buttered rum, I'm not a tremendous fan, but am willing to be persuaded to love it if anyone has a failsafe suggestion) but they often veer towards the overly sweet, or greasy, or otherwise slightly unsatisfactory. I'm not automatically a fan of spice tea or chai blends either. They're great for a couple of cups but then I find the novelty wears off. Any blend of tea with added warming winter spices is ideal for lacing with rum though. The tea blender has done the work, all I need to do is brew the tea, add any golden, dark, or spiced rum I have to hand and drink. You can sweeten it further with sugar, honey, or maple syrup as taste and availability dictate - or a slice of lemon if taste sends you in the other direction. If it's clear tonight it would be just the thing to take with me whilst trying to get a look at what Jupiter and Saturn are doing.
Gin Toddy. This isn't the best name for this drink, which I like to think of as an heir to an 18th century punch, but it is as good a description as any. I far prefer gin as a base here to whisky, the botanical nature of gin makes it a very amenable background to the other flavours added, it's a soothing drink if you have the suspicion of a sore throat, and is good whenever there's a nip in the air. It's simply gin, honey, a squeeze and a slice of lemon, and a grating of nutmeg stirred up with water that's just come off the boil. A demerara sugar would be a reasonable alternative to honey, and a slice of root ginger would not be an innovation to far either. Indeed experimentation with anything from the spice rack that's commonly used as a gin botanical would be good - just try them one at a time till you get the twist you want. Less is more here.
Vin Chaud. This is the one that really is better with company, not least because it's the hardest to make a single serving of. It's a simple version of a mulled wine which is ideal for using up any decent but basic wine that's hanging around. That's all those bottles that come free with supermarket meal deals, or an unfinished bottle from a couple of days ago, or even the half bottles that you can buy more easily now. Sweeten the wine to taste with sugar (but go easy, it's easier to add than take away) heat slowly with a cinnamon stick until just before it starts to boil (do not let it boil), and serve with a slice of lemon. If you have lots left over it can go in a flask or a bottle, without the lemon, and be gently re heated later.
Sloe Gin Laced Cocoa. Just exactly what it says. Cocoa made with a bit of sugar if you like it a touch sweeter, thickened with cream if you want, and liberally laced with sloe or damson gin. It's mellows the potential bitterness of the cocoa, and takes the medicinal edge off of the sloe gin. The result tastes rich, grown up, and is the ideal end to a long walk - precursor to a good book or an episode of Murder She Wrote. For me the point of this drink is that it's more than the sum of it's parts. I'm on the fence about Cocoa and Sloe gin as individual drinks but love them together. This will not work nearly as well with hot chocolate, it needs the bitter chocolate edge of the cocoa.
Burnt Coffee. This was a happy find in Ambrose Heath's 'Good Drinks', and is a firm winter favourite. It's strong coffee with a spoon of brown sugar stirred in, then topped up with a liberal tot of brandy (not the very good stuff) that should sort of float on the top - not be stirred in. Then set it alight, blow it out before it burns out, and drink. I really like the theatre of this drink, even if it's just me to see it, and again it's rich, sweet but not sickly, and probably my ideal of a coffee liqueur. It's a lot like an Irish coffee but made with brandy and without the fuss of the cream.
Irish Coffee. I've lost track of where we are with Irish coffee. Is it still irredeemably naff, or is it charmingly retro again? I don't care either way because I love them when they're made well (no squirty, or whipped cream, collapsing on top into a pool of oily globs for a start). It takes a bit of time, and it's obviously better if you have actual Irish whiskey to hand. A not smoky or peaty blended scotch is an okay substitute (please don't tell my Irish family). If you have the time and inclination to make one well though it is the best drink to sit with when the weather outside is awful.