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

By Carey Jones and John D. McCarthy
Updated July 23, 2019
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

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

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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

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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.