Smoking Bishop: Hot Holiday Drink That Packs a Punch

Tis the season for a cocktail, a holiday cocktail; something warm and comforting. The mere idea of a steamy mug of fragrant luxury laced with a fiery shot of a seasonal spirit is warming to both body and soul.

Hot drinks have been an essential part of our social dynamic for centuries. From festive wassail gatherings in 13th century England to serving up hot “flips” in pubs and taverns all the way through to the Tom and Jerry’s of mid-century America. Nowadays warm drinks like toddys are often associated with our cool weather activities.

So I have just the thing, a crimson colored holiday cup of cheer. It is a style of mulled wine, similar to wassail, and something like a warmed sangria though made with port. Traditionally it is scented with cloves and sour oranges, but my version has been updated just a bit. It is called a Smoking Bishop and it has come to be associated with Christmas itself.


Scrooge and Bob Cratchit share some Smoking BishopWe have Charles Dickens to thank for that. Because at the very end of his beloved holiday classic A Christmas Carol, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, and his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit promise to share this oddly named libation:

“A Merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!”

The name presumably comes from the color of a Bishop’s robe. It may seem odd or perhaps even disrespectful to us today, but certain drinks were associated with the clergy at that time. Because people back in the 1800s enjoyed a whole range of clerical drinks. The Pope is associated with burgundy wine. A Cardinal is champagne or rye, an Archbishop is a claret, Bishop is a port, etc.

I got all this information from a book written by the great-grandson of Charles Dickens called Drinking with Dickens. In that book the author shows the recipe for a traditional Smoking Bishop this way:

  • Take six Seville oranges and bake them in a moderate oven until pale brown. If you cannot procure any bitter Seville oranges, use four regular oranges and one large grapefruit.
  • Prick each of the oranges with five whole cloves, put them into a warmed ceramic or glass vessel with one-quarter pound of sugar and a bottle of red wine, cover the vessel, and leave it in a warm place for 24 hours.
  • Take the oranges out of the mixture, cut in half and squeeze the juice, then pour the juice back into the wine.
  • Pour the mixture into a saucepan through a sieve, add a bottle of port, heat (without boiling), and serve in warmed glasses.
  • Drink the mixture, and keep Christmas well!

In my version, I have replaced Seville oranges with cute little kumquats, which are then similarly spiced and baked. I also let the mixture come to a boil, then I simmer for an hour, turn off the heat and refortify with brandy and brown sugar.

Traditionally, the punch bowl was set alight but port catches fire about as easily as wet underpants so Sup! sez forget the flame and learn to ladle.

Smoking Bishop serves 8 CLICK here for a printable recipe for my updated version


Greg Henry