Do / Joy To All

By Jared Brown

This season of chilly nights and winter storms cries out for hot drinks by the fireplace. Before central heating became the norm, every household had a selection of recipes for hot punches, flips, nogs, and grogs. The ring of the toddy stick, stirring up a tankard of spirit, boiling water, and brown sugar was as celebrated as sleigh bells.

In 1823, all Britain was entranced by a mixture called Gin Twist. It was so popular William Maginn wrote a 145-line poem extolling its virtues that appeared in many newspapers. Soon after, poet John Timb penned a shorter verse hailing Gin Twist and the previous poem. It might seem like excessive praise for a drink comprised of gin, sugar, boiling water, and a lemon twist… until you taste it…

 

GIN TWIST

40ml gin

25ml fresh lemon juice (juice of half a lemon)

1 heaping tablespoonful of sugar, to taste

120-150ml boiling water

Combine the ingredients in a teacup, mug or Irish coffee mug. Stir. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The garnish, from which the drink takes its name, was originally employed as testament that this was a true winter luxury: a drink made with fresh lemon juice as proven by the twist!

 

Not all festive classics were born centuries ago. Hot Mulled Sloe Gin became a personal favourite when it was born last winter at our tiny Sipsmith distillery in west London. Even the most ardent wine drinkers agree, this is far superior to mulled wine.

 

HOT MULLED SLOE GIN

(makes two servings, so you’ll probably want to start by at least doubling this)

100ml water

100ml cloudy apple juice

100ml Sipsmith Sloe Gin

spices

Combine the water and cloudy apple juice in a saucepan on a low heat. Add spices. You can pick and choose from the following… I usually use a few pieces of candied ginger, though fresh works just as well. A cinnamon stick. Two or three allspice berries. Three to four cardamon pods. A slice of orange.

Let the mixture simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Add the sloe gin and allow it to heat for a minute or two more. Serve hot in a mug, teacup or Irish coffee mug. Garnish with a half orange slice and/or a cinnamon stick, or a piece of candied ginger on the rim.

 

And on winter strolls, a flask of sloe gin or damson vodka fills the senses with the flavour of the hedgerow’s bounty. Indoors, either can be served neat, especially in place of port with Stilton and walnuts, or with pudding. Most importantly for this time of year, both are brilliant with bubbly. About 25ml of damson vodka poured into a champagne flute and topped up with good sparkling wine is delicious and perfect for a party. Is it a waste to use good champagne? Only if the sloe or damson is not of equal quality…

Jared Brown is one of the three founders and is Master Distiller at Sipsmith, he is also a drink historian.

This article is a version of one that appeared on our main TOAST site for Christmas 2012, read that here.