Mull it over

COLD, icy pavements and a thermometer that's forgotten how to rise above zero.

T'is indeed the season to warm up with a steaming glass of spicy mulled wine. The drink conjures up images of our Continental cousins, of Austrian ski chalets and lederhosen, roaring open fires and Victorian Christmas carol choirs.

Chances are it doesn't instantly make you think of Leith, circa 1800, at a spot near the harbour, where John Crabbie laboured over the creation of a warm, spicy, ginger-laced alcoholic brew.

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With one eye on the trading ships in the harbour, laden with sacks of treasures - ginger from Jamaica, spices from the Orient - the distiller produced a Leith-born winter warmer to rival any German gluwein.

Since then, Crabbie's Green Ginger Wine has been regarded as a vital ingredient for the Scots' own version of the ultimate winter warming drink - a Whisky Mac, a combination of our national tipple and ginger wine.

And that might have been as far as it went. Except that now, more than 200 years since Crabbie brought his brew to Georgian drinkers in the Capital, it's been tweaked and adapted to cater for the mulled wine season.

Crabbie's Ginger Mulled Wine has been launched as the latest addition to an expanding family bearing the Crabbie's name. Earlier this year saw the introduction of their Alcoholic Ginger Beer, and there is even a range of Crabbie's spiced nuts and snacks.

All of which is good news for the Broxburn plant in West Lothian, where Crabbie's Green Ginger Wine and the new additions to the brand are produced.

Crabbie's dates back to around 1800, when a family recipe using mature raisin wine flavoured with cowslips, elderflowers, cinnamon, cloves, lemons and oranges, was blended and fortified with ginger to create the famous tipple.

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Eventually, it was made at a sprawling winery at Great Junction Street, which closed down around ten years ago when production was moved to West Lothian.

Wine merchant Michael Romer, of family business Peter Green and Co on Warrender Park Road, says its popularity is on the rise once more.

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"There's a new, younger generation of drinkers who are buying it, as well as the more traditional customer who wants it probably to make Whisky Macs."

For someone who trades in some of the finest wines around, you might suspect Peter would be adverse to spiking his best bottles with a splash of ginger wine and half an orange. In fact, he's a fan of mulled wine.

"Of course, you wouldn't use an expensive red Bordeaux to make it," he says. "There are plenty wines at around 4 or 5 a bottle that will work very well." But there's more to mulled wine than simply warding off the chill, he says.

"Hundreds of years ago, wine would arrive after a long journey at sea, oxidised or tainted. "The idea was to add a bit of sugar, throw in some spices to bring out the flavours and warm it up."

Getting the spice just right

1.5 litres of red wine (2 bottles)

40 cloves, 4 Star Anise, 2 cinnamon sticks

Half an orange skin's zest

3 pinches of allspice

6 lime leaves

3 coated spoons of honey

1 split vanilla pod

25ml of Calvados brandy

Method: Heat all the ingredients (except for the Calvados) gently in a large pan for one hour. Bring it off the heat and add the Calvados. Let the liquid cool and fine-strain into bottles. Store in a fridge and reheat when needed.

Courtesy of Ryan Shulski, head barman at The Living Room