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Adding spicy ho-ho-ho to festive season
By Li Anlan

The Christmas season has its own cachet for those who want to enliven cold, dark winter days with lit-up trees, carols and presents for friends and family.

In the West, the holiday is marked by festive eating and drinking — traditions that Chinese holidaymakers well embrace. This is a season when the air is filled with the heady aroma of cinnamon and allure of chocolate in hot beverages.

Beverages in winter are often bold to awaken senses numbed by the cold. IDEAL talked with two mixologists in Shanghai about perfect cocktails for the season, from time-honored old favorites to daring new concoctions.


The Christmas spirits

Winter cocktails often feature brown liquors, heavy creams and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

“In winter, people prefer drinks with stronger and more complex flavors,” said Lu Yao, a drink specialist at Union Trading Co. “They want things that are sweet, bitter and spiced, like chocolate, clove and nutmeg. Whisky, aged brandy and aged rum are some of the spirits very suitable for the winter.”

One of Lu’s creations last year was a bacon buttered rum cocktail.

“Hot buttered rum was already a very popular winter beverage in the 1980s,” he explained. “We added maple syrup, bacon butter and crumbled bacon to create the very sweet and savory drink that’s not at all greasy.”

Eggnog, mulled wine and Irish cream are the most popular of the classic alcoholic beverages of the season.

Mulled wine is easy to make at home. Its ingredients are red wine, citrus fruit, spices and sugar.

“It’s better with the more dry reds like shiraz and cabernet,” Lu said. “I add orange, grapefruit, clove and cinnamon sticks as well as some Pedro Ximénez sherry. It’s a very sweet sherry with a special jujube flavor that can replace sugar to add sweetness to the mulled wine.”

Cinnamon pops up everywhere. Apart from mulled wine, the spice is also used in cocktails like hot toddies. In Europe, there’s also a tradition of burning a cinnamon stick in brandy and hot water to create a winter beverage.

Pumpkin spice — a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves — is used in many pie and latte recipes. It can also be used in cocktails.

Lu created his Pumpkin King cocktail using pumpkin and pumpkin spice. The drink is named after the 1993 film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“I use homemade pumpkin spice rum with port wine, homemade ginger beer and egg white,” he explained. “Ginger is a good winter ingredient, and the egg white helps to make the drink smooth.”

In winter, people are more receptive to stronger, even bitter flavors.

“But the bitterness must come from the ingredients and spices themselves, like in arugula or herbed spirits,” Lu said.

In Shanghai, strawberry is a popular ingredient and can be paired with balsamic vinegar.

“It’s a classic combination,” Lu said. “The sweetness of the berries balances very well with the acidity of the vinegar.”

When preparing winter cocktails at home for adult guests, don’t forget to whip up something special for children.

Try simply infusing a favorite children’s breakfast cereal like cinnamon toast crunch or Reese’s Puffs in milk and adding sugar to taste. Then drain the cereal out.

For some extra fun, you can wrap the cereal in a tea bag and serve with a cup of warm milk, producing a caffeine-free milk “tea” that saves the trouble of draining the cereal.


Daring hot cocktails

The Tailor Bar is a well-hidden cocktail lounge run by Eddy Yang. This winter, the bar is offering more than 20 kinds of hot beverages, with some jaw-dropping creations that combine spirits with hot tea and even chicken or beef soup.

“Because we have no set drinks menu, our hot beverages are very versatile,” Yang said. “We pair oolong tea or Japanese matcha tea with sake, soju and whisky.”

Tea is no stranger to cocktail creations, but savory soups like chicken and beef broths are a bit harder to imagine in cocktails.

“The soups are combined with spirits like whisky, brandy or aged rum,” Yang said. “The soups are prepared beforehand with the right amount of seasoning and flavoring.”

When the cocktail is served, the spirits are poured into a pre-warmed glass and then warmed up again. Finally, the simmering soup is added.

“I got the idea a few years back,” Yang said. “We are doing it again this year on a limited basis of about 20 to 25 glasses on Friday or Saturday nights.”

Coffee or coffee liqueur is often used in cocktails like the espresso martini. But Yang lends his own twist by adding spirits to cappuccinos and lattes, and even to yuanyang, the Hong Kong-style coffee milk tea. He uses several kinds of black teas from Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.

Yang also does a cocktail inspired by hot and sour soup, using balsamic, apple or pomegranate vinegars and sour flower and fruit tea for the acidity.

“People have very different tastes,” Yang said. “In the West, people prefer sweet drinks like the hot toddy and eggnog. Chinese people have different preferences depending on which region they come from.”

Where to go for winter drinks

Southern Belle

An American restaurant and bar, Southern Belle offers classic hot drinks like hot buttered rum, hot toddies, Irish coffee and mulled wine in season.

Address: 433 Changle Rd

Tel: 5403-3218

Jade on 36 Bar

This restaurant in the Pudong Shangri-La offers a barrel-aged Manhattan, a mix of bourbon and sweet vermouth that is aged in a barrel for 36 days.

Address: 33 Fucheng Rd

Tel: 6882-3636

Boxing Cat Brewery

The seasonal offering at Boxing Cat Brewery features three ales. The Southpaw Winter Warmer is a malty English brown ale with a twist of star anise, orange peel and coffee added in the recipe. The Brawlin’ Belgian Witbier is a classic unfiltered beer with subtle flavors of orange, citrus and spiciness in a crisp dry finish. The Spiced Pumpkin Ale is brewed with fresh pumpkin and pumpkin spice mix.


Sinan Mansions store: Sinan Mansions, Unit 26A, 519 Fuxing Rd M.

Tel: 6426-0360

Yong Fu store:

82 Fuxing Rd W.

Tel: 6431-2091

Hongqiao store:

The Place HQ, 100 Zunyi Rd

Tel: 6237-1128

House of Flour

If you are feeling the urge for some chocolate, House of Flour offers a Bailey’s Hot Chocolate that mixes chocolate with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Address: 30 Sinan Rd

Tel: 6093 2058

A mulled wine recipe by Lu Yao


1.5 liter dry red wine

750 ml Pedro Ximénez sherry

4 oranges, cut in quarters

Zest of one lemon

5 cinnamon sticks

6 star anise

2 vanilla pods


Add all ingredients to a pot, bring to boil and simmer for one hour. Turn off the heat and let the covered pot sit for 30 minutes before serving.

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