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Take comfort in seasonal drinks

DECEMBER is almost upon us and there’s only one month left of this year.

DECEMBER is almost upon us and there’s only one month left of this year. It doesn’t seem five minutes since we were heralding in 2012 and a year of back-to-back celebrations and looking forward to spring and the warmer weather.

The latter never materialised except for those few short days in March. At least we had the longer days and Diamond Jubilee and Olympics to enjoy, but we are back in the dark, cold depths of winter.

I have been on this planet a good few decades now, but I have never got used to night descending at this time of year by 4pm – even earlier if it’s a particularly grim day. Perhaps it’s because I am a spring baby.

But there is one plus to winter; the long nights and cooler temperatures mean we can take comfort in hearty food and seasonal drinks.

There is something intoxicating about both the aroma and taste of a glass of steaming, hot mulled wine, especially with the festive season coming into full swing.

That heady mix of wine, winter spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and fruit like oranges, instantly calms and de-stresses; like being wrapped in a big and comforting blanket.

It’s just what we need as the pressures of Christmas start to get to everyone.

Mulled wine for me only ever tastes right at this time of year, however. Drinking it out of season is like revisiting a favourite childhood book or TV show and discovering the years have not been kind.

You are left feeling disappointed and deprived.

Mulled wine, spicy winter cocktails and hot toddies are becoming increasingly popular as people look for alternatives to the normal run-of-the-mill special occasion drinks.

Here at Food Social we have put together a new seasonal drinks menu launching tomorrow of all-time favourites and original cocktails (many of them reassuringly warm and less boozy than you imagine while still giving you an alcoholic lift) to help keep the chill at bay.

Among the choices are hot buttered rum, our take on mulled wine, vanilla winter with ice cream, hot toddy and easy egg nog.

You may well ask why anyone would want to drink a hot toddy? For the very reason that it’s balmy, calming and comforting and the heat brings out the full essence of the infused spices and adds a new element to the alcohol.

Subtle flavours that aren’t discernible when you drink the likes of whisky or rum cold are given a chance to shine through.

And helpfully the spices that tend to work well in these types of drinks like nutmeg and cinnamon also happen to be associated with this time of year.

Warming winter drinks are a centuries-old throwback. At one time it was commonplace in pubs for ale to be heated by sticking a red hot poker from a roaring fire into a tankard.

Many inns would have had punchbowls on their counters containing mulled wine or hot rum, sugar and spices to warm weary travellers’ bodies and souls.

Nowadays, we have central heating to do that, but there has been a recent retro drinks boom and a desire to return to the days before cheap wine and beer took a hold and real ales and sophisticated spirits and cocktails were the grown-up alcoholic tipples of preference.

Whether it’s a reaction to the current economic gloom or a desire to emulate the beautiful people who populate 60s American TV hit Mad Men with its party-fuelled episodes, it’s good to know that winter warmers and classic cocktails are hot news once again.

David Kennedy is executive chef of David Kennedy’s Food Social @ The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk.

The Food Social Christmas à la carte, set (for parties of eight plus at £32.50 per person) and special lunch menus are available throughout December.

:: Click here for David's winter cocktail recipes


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