It is cold outside and there’s nothing quite like a hot drink to warm the cockles. In the history of British mixed concoctions, there are arguably more hot drinks than cold for one simple reason: central heating was not ubiquitous in the UK until the late 20th century. Before that, cold drinks were something of a novelty unless you frequented American bars, which specialised in iced drinks.
Here are five historical warming sips from Britain to see you through the bright lights of the holidays and the dark days of winter.
1. Tom and Jerry
Sportswriter Pierce Egan is credited with this precursor to the modern egg nog. It appeared in 1821 in his monthly serial Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, which was adapted for the stage that same year.
The drink seemed to follow the play’s success as it traversed from London’s West End to New York’s Broadway in 1823. It was recognised as a Christmas classic in 1843 when it was revered in The Symbol, and Odd Fellow’s Magazine as a more refined version of “a long concocted beverage”, the Flip. It might seem a bit fiddly to make, but the result is worth the extra effort.
Ingredients for batter mix (makes about 40 servings):
3 eggs (whites and yolks separated)
15 ml rum
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp creme of tartar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
120 ml caster sugar
Method: In one bowl, beat the egg whites to a stiff froth. In another bowl beat the yolks until they are as thin as water.
Mix yolks and whites and add the rum and spices. Thicken with sugar until the mixture attains the consistence of a light batter.
Ingredients for one serving:
60ml of Irish whiskey
Milk of choice
To make one serving: Combine one tablespoonful of Tom and Jerry batter with Irish whiskey in a coffee mug. Fill the mug with hot milk. Garnish with a little grated nutmeg.
2. Gin Twist
Among the most popular gin drinks during London’s severe winter of 1822, Gin Twist was immortalised in several poems published in London newspapers. One such poem comprised 149 lines with each stanza comparing the tipple with other popular drinks at the time, such as this one about rum:
Ye Bailies of Glasgow! Wise men of the West!
Without your rum bowls, you’d look certainly tristes;
Yet I laugh when I’m told, that liquor so cold
Is as good as a foaming hot jug of gin-twist.
It is a remarkably simple drink made with gin, sugar, water and lemon juice, plus a lemon twist garnish to prove the concoction was made with fresh lemon juice – a true luxury back then. The Gin Twist still offers a superior drink today.
50 ml gin
25 ml simple syrup (or a tablespoon of white sugar)
25 ml fresh lemon juice
75-100ml boiling water
Method: Combine ingredients in a teacup or Irish coffee mug. Stir. Garnish with a lemon twist.
3. Dog’s Nose
This might seem an odd combination to a modern palate more accustomed to sugary mixers such as cola or tonic water, but the blend of porter or stout, gin, and brown sugar or dark treacle makes for a remarkably good winter sip. The Dog’s Nose first emerged in Charles Dickens’s 1836 book The Pickwick Papers.
Thereafter, the potion was frequently mentioned in newspapers and magazines for nearly a century before its popularity waned. Served at Victorian-era room temperature or heated with a loggerhead (a red-hot poker heated in the fireplace), this drink warms both the heart and soul as the wintry snows settle on the ground.
25 ml gin
100 ml porter or stout
10 ml dark treacle
Method: Combine gin and treacle in a rocks glass or tumbler. Stir to dissolve the treacle. Add the porter and stir gently once more. Warm in a microwave if you want to make the heated version.
4. Smoking Bishop
When Ebenezer Scrooge finally came to his senses in Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, he said to Bob Cratchit with a smile:
We will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!
There is a bit of mystery to this drink’s origins. While Dickens appears to have added the “smoking” to the name, the English literary critic George Saintsbury hypothesised in his 1920 Notes on a Cellar-Book that it was born at Oxford University.
Its earliest mention is in the 1827 edition of Oxford Nightcaps, the first British book devoted to drink recipes. That book calls it a traditional drink and cites its origins in antiquity – and its rich, spicy tones and imported ingredients may have indeed made it a favourite among the elite in late medieval England.
6 Seville oranges
115 g caster sugar
1 bottle Portuguese red wine
1 bottle port
Method: Stud the oranges with cloves and roast them in a small metal bowl or baking tray until they are golden brown. Deglaze the roasting pan with wine. Combine the remaining ingredients with the roasted oranges in a pot, and simmer covered on a low heat for about 20 minutes. Optionally, you can also press the oranges in the pot and sieve the liquid before serving.
5. Brandy Toddy
To heat drinks before microwaves, many landlords opted for a loggerhead which took a Toddy from a cold drink to a boiling hot one in five seconds. Heated with a loggerhead, the toddy acquires a distinctive taste since the heat from the loggerhead is so intense it caramelises the sugars in the drink and fills the room with the aroma of toasting marshmallows.
You can occasionally find a loggerhead on Etsy or eBay mislabelled as a “fire poker”. The dramatic effect of heating a toddy with this antique device is a holiday visual treat, but they are quite dangerous so I advise caution. Here we recommend making this warming winter nightcap the modern way.
1 tsp caster sugar
60 ml brandy or cognac
60 ml boiling water
Method: Pour brandy or cognac into a coffee mug. Add sugar and water. Stir to dissolve.