BEVERAGE There are enough brews to keep a cocktail lover snug in winters

What is winter without your hands hugging a fine, warm drink? It can be anything — from a piping hot soup to a cinnamon-laced mug of hot chocolate to cups of extra-strong tea or coffee. Or say, a glass of mulled wine, a peg of rum or brandy with steaming hot water. Or, is it a warm punch for you, complete with apple cider, cinnamon sticks and orange rind?

With Delhi having just broken a four-decade-old record in lowest winter temperatures, you must have already experienced by now a toasty moment with your favourite drink. Talking about winter drinks also brings to my mind how as a kid I so wholeheartedly longed to taste a mouthful of apple cider, like so many Enid Blyton readers far away from English locales and lifestyle. Growing up in a ‘C town’ of the North East, apple cider, at best, was a drink drunk in sweet dreams.

Years later, I remember smiling happily, almost instinctively, seeing bottles of apple cider lined up at a Himachal Pradesh Government’s HPMC outlet on a highway. I tried a whole lot of stuff with the bottle I bought from the store. First, a warm cider with thick cinnamon sticks and cloves; then with the adult addition, bourbon. And then with rum and cranberry and orange juice. Not that I liked it too much, but then, how does one measure the gratification of a long-awaited wish finally!

I moved on with winter drinks, from hot chocolate (it is so much of a heart warmer for me) to mulled wine with orange slices and fresh spices, to Irish coffee to warm julep to trying out rum and whiskey with whipped cream and egg white. Among all, my experience asserts that you can hardly go wrong with mulled wine. So it conveniently becomes my favourite adult winter drink. I also don’t mind a warm port wine, well spiced, may be with a generous pinch of nutmeg.

The thought of sipping a good port-based cocktail prods me to think what would be the ideal ingredients. To help me share with readers a good recipe, I approach Anirban, a young and talented bartender at Polo Lounge, perhaps the only five-star bar in the city which receives a good spot of winter sun. Anirban is all set when I reach Polo Lounge. He is to make for me Hot Port Flip. He, though, begins with an apology for not having a good port with him, so he has flipped it with sherry. Well, so be it then!

Anirban breaks the white of an egg into a bowl, whisks it vigorously till the texture becomes fluffy. Two teaspoons of sugar are dropped and whisking resumes, “to dissolve the sugar.” He then pours into the mix about two and a half ounces of fresh cream, whisks yet again.

On the bar counter, much to the guests’ amusement, he lights a mini gas stove to heat 90 ml of sherry. (He uses Harvey’s sherry). “The port wine should also be of the same measurement. We use 90 ml because there is no other alcoholic beverage used in the drink,” says Anirban. Even as the sherry is getting warm — “It should not boil, mind you” — he pours about 10-15 ml of all-spice syrup, stirs it a bit.

Then, a sherry glass is warmed with the rising steam of the brew. Before I know it, he mixes well the sherry with the cream concoction and empties it into the glass. A bit of grated orange rind is sprinkled on top and then two pinches of nutmeg, too. For garnish, he thrusts on the rim a slice of orange peel. One sip of it and I declare it fine. Almost dessert-like. The aroma of orange, nutmeg and all spice make every swallow of it a flavoursome affair.

The drink is not in the bar menu but Anirban promises to serve to anyone who asks for it. “But the most asked for winter cocktail at this bar is Irish coffee,” he adds. Irish coffee, too, is not on its menu. But then, is it not true that in a bar the promise of a good time lies not in the menu but in what magic the bartender infuses into your glass?