It’s getting colder out there. With swathes of the country not allowed to socialise inside, and others being so careful they wouldn’t want to even if they could, we are going to need some strategies for the winter.
Restaurants are already on it, kitting out gardens and terraces with heaters and blankets. “We are ready,” said an email from one that dropped into my inbox this week, even promising that plants and trees had been moved on to the terrace to provide extra protection against the wind. One pub group says that outdoor bookings in its London venues quadrupled last weekend as tier two restrictions came into force.
Predictably enough, no one is waiting until the Christmas lights go on to start serving mulled drinks – and neither should you. Think après-ski. Think Bonfire Night as it was in the 1970s, when we all did it DIY at home, with jacket potatoes and sausages. Think of the kit that goes in your rucksack when you’re off for a long winter walk. And start to prepare.
If you’re going to be standing around outside then invest in hand-warmers – the secret weapon of TV news reporters broadcasting outside. A hot drink can also keep your hands nice and toasty. My Thermos is at the ready, and I’m clearly not the only one thinking along these lines; Thermos says that sales of flasks from its new website are so strong that the new Ultimate flask – which can keep liquids hot or cold for 24 hours – has temporarily sold out in both colours.
The Retro series flask with its tartan livery – but stainless steel rather than glass inner – is also “flying out”. I have one of the sleek “Light and Compact” 500ml stainless steel flasks (£17.99 at thermos.co.uk; also available at John Lewis, £20).
I’m planning to fill my flask with hot chocolate to get us through long, bitter hours out on the bike or standing around in parks. This will simply be Green & Black’s organic cocoa with sugar and full-fat milk. If you’re hosting friends in the garden you could do a fancy version by melting 30g plain chocolate per person into 200ml milk, then topping with a spoonful of whipped cream. Increase the heat factor by warming the milk with half a red chilli and allowing it to infuse for 10 minutes. Of course this is also a great excuse to get going on the hot chocolate with rum, whisky or cognac (you can also use armagnac or any other brandy, but cognac is my favourite).
I’ve been making hot sloe gin sours by mixing two parts of lemon juice, five parts of sloe gin, heating the mixture up and then adding three parts of water from a just-boiled kettle. If you’re desperate or making small quantities, you can heat the first two ingredients in the microwave then add the hot water. Not that I’ve ever been desperate. Honest.
Depending on what sloe gin you use, the strength of this is going to be roughly equivalent to that of wine, so pace yourself accordingly. You can afford to add one more part of hot water without ruining the drink, so try that if you find it’s too strong.
The richness of red vermouth, made with so many barks and spices, also lends itself to hot, winter drinks. Mix three parts of your favourite brand of sweet red vermouth with one of fresh lemon juice, one of fresh clementine or satsuma juice and one of hot water, warm in a pan (or microwave in a Pyrex jug or similar) and serve with a garnish of clementine peel or rosemary.
I made this with Antica Formula Carpano Vermouth (Ocado, £14 for 375ml), but you could try other brands. Cocchi is particularly good. Some vermouths are drier than others, so add a dash of sugar syrup if you need it. Antica Formula is plenty sweet enough, though.
Ginger is also your friend on a cold day. Try Stone’s Original Ginger wine (widely available) served hot. The King’s Ginger liqueur (Berry Bros & Rudd, £23.50 for 500ml) also has spicy, warming characteristics even when served cold, ideally over ice or straight from a hip flask. It adds texture to a quick mulled cider – or a punch, if you prefer to call it that. The brand suggests mixing 100ml of The King’s Ginger with 300ml cider, 300ml apple juice and then serving with a cinnamon stick, slice of lemon and a couple of blackberries in each glass or cup.
That is way too much cinnamon for my taste. I would put half a stick in the warming pot and leave it at that. I usually make mulled cider without The King’s Ginger, though – take two litres of cider and bring to a gentle simmer with a clove-studded orange, half a cinnamon stick, a few gratings of nutmeg and five allspice berries. After 10 minutes, add 100ml water, 100ml apple juice, a glass of brandy and sherry and bring to a simmer. Taste. Add sugar or more apple juice if you want it sweeter.
And I haven’t fallen out of love with mulled wine. The recipe I use has appeared in this column before but to recap – you need 100ml water; three satsumas (peel and juice); two large parings of lemon peel; six cloves; two cardamom pods; half a cinnamon stick; 60g sugar (and maybe a little more); one bottle red wine; 75ml brandy. Put the water, fruit peels, spices and sugar into a small pan, bring to a gentle boil and simmer for six or seven minutes. Transfer to a larger pan, add the red wine and bring to a simmer. Just before serving, add the brandy and the satsuma juice. Taste, add more sugar and/or water, make sure it’s hot enough – and drink.
So that’s the drinks menu. Now make sure you have a warm coat. You’re going to use it a lot.
Wines of the week
Finest* Margaux with Chateau Boyd-Cantenac 2014
Bordeaux, France (13%, Tesco, £22 or £16.50 on current buy 6+ bottles get 25% off deal until Nov 5)
While Tesco has its 25 per cent off deal on, it’s a good time to buy wines like this – a fragrant claret at that point where some freshness meets more autumnal flavours that creep in with age. This one gets better with some air.
Château des Estanilles Vallongue 2017
Faugères, France (14%, Yapp.co.uk, £14.95)
My second warming red is from the appellation of Faugères, which lies west of Montpellier in the Languedoc. The grapes are organically grown – a blend of syrah (45 per cent), grenache, carignan and mourvèdre (5pc), part of it aged in oak. It’s superb, broad and savoury, a real treat.
Baron de Ley Club Privado Rioja 2018
Spain (14%, Waitrose, £7.99 down from £10.49 until Nov 3)
Baron de Ley is an excellent producer that supplies rioja to more than one supermarket. This cuvee is in a soft and fresh style – think strawberry jam with fresh strawberries on the side – while six months in American oak brings a woody spice with hints of vanilla.