Rather than making a whole pot of mulled wine, we’re going to reduce it to a slightly sweet, deeply spiced syrup that's ready for cocktails
low ball wine glass
Credit: Courtesy of Carey Jones

The attractions of mulled wine are many: It’s festive. It tastes, well, like Christmas. It makes your house smell amazing. It’s great for parties. But mulled wine can also be a bit heavy and oversweet, less appealing the more you drink.

Our solution this year? Mulled wine syrup. Rather than making a whole pot of mulled wine, we’re going to reduce it to a slightly sweet, deeply spiced cocktail syrup that’s ready to top with bubbles, shake into a sour, or add a little interest to cider.

Here’s the method. In a medium saucepan, combine one cup of water, 2 cinnamon sticks, 3 star anise, 12 cloves, and three big, wide orange peels. Bring to a boil and keep at a boil until very fragrant. Reduce heat to a simmer, and stir in 1/2 cup sugar until dissolved; then pour in 2 cups red wine. (An inexpensive, slightly fruity red like a Malbec or Montepulciano works great.) Simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until the wine is reduced and slightly syrupy. Stir in 2 ounces of dark rum (brandy or whiskey will also work) and 10 big dashes Angostura bitters. Let cool, with the spices still in the syrup, and strain before using.

Voila: Your kitchen smells festive, and you’ve already done all the hard work for three great cocktails.

Easy: Mulled Wine Sparkler

mulled wine for the holidays
Credit: Courtesy of Carey Jones

All the flavors of mulled wine, but light and bubbly and festive? Sign us up.

Instructions: In a flute, combine 1/2 ounce mulled wine syrup and 4.5 ounces sparkling wine. Squeeze a small coin of lemon peel over the top.

Intermediate: Mulled Wine & Cider

decorative tall wine glass
Credit: Courtesy of Carey Jones

You love mulled wine, you love mulled cider — why not combine the two? Here, fresh apple cider, mulled wine syrup, and vodka combine for a drinkable but totally winter-friendly cocktail; make a pitcher of this and we promise it’ll be gone before Christmas dinner.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce of vodka, an ounce of apple cider, half and ounce of mulled wine syrup, and a quarter-ounce of lemon juice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a tall glass with ice. Add two ounces of club soda and stir briefly, then garnish with apple slices.

Advanced: Mulled Wine Sour

low ball wine glass
Credit: Courtesy of Carey Jones

Want a real showstopper cocktail for the holiday? Break out the bourbon and a few festive garnishes. This traditional whiskey sour just amplifies all the warm-spice flavors of the mulled wine syrup, and looks gorgeous to boot.

Instructions:  In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine two ounces of bourbon, 3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice, and a full ounce of mulled wine syrup, plus one egg white. Shake the cocktail without ice for about 30 seconds -- that starts to whip up the egg white, and it’s called a “dry shake.” Then add ice and shake again. (The "wet shake.”) Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, star anise, and a Luxardo cherry.