The Heat is On

Cocktail Guru: In association with Living Ventures

Seasonal cocktails don’t come much more heartening than a perfectly spiced cup of something warm and welcoming.

Winter. And a bar manager’s thoughts turn to cranking up the heat. Let’s face it, it can be pretty lethal out there! Now is the time for venturing into the kitchen and making merry with the spice rack. But a word of caution: I know of no drink so variable in its quality than the good old mulled wine. When it’s right, it’s phenomenally good. Warm, spicy, sweet and savoury – it’s like all the major flavour groups in one warming mug. When it’s wrong, it’s over-spiced, or sickly sweet, with the alcohol burned away.

After years of experimenting on the right way to serve it, we’ve got around this unpredictability. We fire up a big batch cauldron, and pre-mix our own preparatory blend of spices into a syrup. We’ve found a syrup gives a much more consistent brew than simply chucking in a load of dried spices. We use ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, star anise – the classic Christmas spice mix. A touch of brown sugar and you’re good to go.

In my opinion, the bolder and spicier the better. Cold weather really dulls our senses – our smell and taste – so you want it to really cut through. Same goes for the wine – you don’t want an insipid Merlot or Beaujolais, but something with a bit of body and spice of its own, like a Shiraz for example. But, obviously, don’t use the best bottle in the cellar. Let’s face it, you’re going to change its flavour profile radically, so don’t go for anything over £5 or so a bottle or you’ll be wasting your money.

We’re seeing a rise in mulled ciders too – and the same rules apply. The regular, clean, dry ciders such as Harry-Sparrow-500ml-Bottle-Front_465x750your dry Strongbow just don’t make the cut. They’re not beefy enough to stand up to all those spices. We go for Harry Sparrow cider, from Aspall’s – it’s got a lovely floral aroma, with some cedar overtones and a hint of spice. Again, we add our mulled spice syrup to it, and the result is sensational. Try them both at the Oast House and the Botanist – we promise to banish away even the most biting of Manchester’s wintery days.

Don’t forget your hot buttered rum too – the effect of sipping warm rum though that fatty, buttery layer is almost worth wishing winter upon us. Just add a heated teaspoon of salted butter – with those all-important spices – to your tot and, hey presto, a great big hug of a drink. Try it at our Smuggler’s Cove restaurant at the Albert Dock, where it’s as authentic as it gets.

THE GURU: Dave Ray knows a thing or two about premium spirits, and the cocktails that make them sing. Working for one of North West England’s most successful restaurant and bar companies, Living Ventures, Dave always has to be at the top of his game – tasting and trailing the latest trends. It’s a tough job.