This hibiscus cocktail, made from a traditional offering in Jamaica is full of fragrant, sweet hibiscus flowers and spices, sort of like mulled wine. The stunning red color is celebratory any time of year.
In the Caribbean, where life is easier in some respects and the important things tend to take more prominence in life, Christmas isn’t Christmas without this gorgeous crimson-hued mulled wine of sorts made from steeped hibiscus flowers. It’s traditionally served on Christmas Eve, often with the added punch of rum, although you could omit the booze. It also makes the lovely basis for an effervescent Christmas morning mimosa. Or a lovely cocktail any time of the year. We’ll let you decide. Or even better, try it every which way. We dare say you’ll have a difficult time discerning which you prefer.–David Leite
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Hibiscus Cocktail FAQs
What is hibiscus and why is it so popular at Christmas?
The festive season in Jamaica is heralded by the appearance of a profusion of gorgeous sorrel blossoms at markets, vendors, and groceries across the island. Sorrel is the traditional name for hibiscus or roselle, and is also the name of a drink made by blending the plant’s beautiful crimson flowers with generous amounts of white rum, wine, ginger, and sugar. A notoriously sweet, strong, almost thick beverage, it is the drink of choice for many during Christmastime, when most households are busy steeping the flowers to make this divine concoction.
Can I make this cocktail alcohol-free?
To turn this hibiscus cocktail into a mocktail, simply omit the wine and rum, and adjust the sugar to your taste.
How should I store the mulled hibiscus?
The flavors of this cocktail base improve over time and it will keep for a long time in a sealed bottle in your refrigerator.
Where can I find hibiscus?
While fresh hibiscus, or sorrel, blossoms aren’t readily available stateside, you can easily find dried hibiscus online, including Amazon, or, as one of our recipe testers reminded us, in the bulk section of a well-stocked grocer. It’s a touch pricey but you’ll only need about 4 ounces and it’s worth every cent. Frontier brand is one quality option. You can also find it less expensively at most any ethnic market, whether Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, or Middle Eastern (as “sadaf”).
For the mulled hibiscus
- 2 quarts water
- 1/2 pound ginger root peeled and chopped or smashed
- 3 to 5 cinnamon leaves or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 to 5 whole allspice berries
- 1 pound fresh hibiscus (sorrel) buds or 2 cups (87 g) dried hibiscus (sorrel) flowers
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds light brown sugar or superfine sugar
- 1 1/2 cups red wine
- 1 1/2 cups white or dark rum
For the hibiscus mimosas
- 8 fluid ounces strong and sweet mulled hibiscus chilled
- 16 fluid ounces prosecco or other good sparkling wine chilled
- 4 pieces star anise for garnish
Make the mulled hibiscus
- In a large saucepan set over high heat, bring the water, ginger, cinnamon leaf or ground cinnamon, and allspice berries to a boil and let boil for a few minutes. Add the hibiscus buds, remove from the heat, and let cool. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 hours and, preferably, 2 to 3 days. The longer the hibiscus mixture steeps, the richer the flavor. (You can also pour the mixture into bottles and refrigerate the mixture for longer, whether for yourself or to gift with the instructions that follow for how to make this into cocktails.)
- Once the hibiscus has steeped, strain the mixture into a large bowl or lidded container and discard the solids. Sweeten the mixture with sugar to taste, starting with 1 pound, and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the wine and rum. Taste and, if desired, add more sugar and stir to dissolve. [EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’ve experienced this traditional Caribbean Christmas cocktail in Jamaica, you know they serve it sweet. Quite sweet. We toned down the sugar a touch but feel free to add more as desired. It is also often served without the wine and rum, so that’s also an option.]
- To serve as mulled hibiscus, do as they do in the Caribbean and rewarm the mixture over low heat. Then ladle the gorgeous crimson liquid into small cups and serve warm. To serve as hibiscus mimosas, pour 1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) chilled mulled hibiscus into each of four Champagne flutes and top with a generous splash of chilled sparkling wine, aiming for a 1:2 ratio of mulled hibiscus to sparkling wine, depending on the size of your flutes. Taste and, if desired, add more bubbly and perhaps a piece of star anise.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
It’s Christmas time in Cayman and the produce section at the local grocery is brimming with fresh hibiscus blossoms ready to be turned into a festive holiday drink. In the past, I’ve used dried hibiscus to make a refreshing sun tea, but this was my first experience using the beautiful fresh blossoms.
I used one pound of whole buds and steeped the mixture for 2 days. The longer you steep, the deeper the color and depth of flavor. After straining and adding the sugar, rum, and wine, I had 8 cups of a ruby red hibiscus mixture. This is quite lovely on it’s own or, as the author suggests, adding prosecco for a Christmas mimosa.
This hibiscus cocktail recipe is very easy and really hard to screw up. I used Pinot Noir and white rum. It would also be nice with club soda as a spritzer. You can omit the alcohol for a non-alcoholic version and still feel very festive.
This infusion just rose to the top of the list as my most useful holiday beverage. The mulled hibiscus can be made a day ahead (I left mine to steep and infuse overnight for 18 hours, although longer might be even mo’bettah).
Even if you can only source dried hibiscus, you will still have outstanding results. Make sure your ginger is fresh (the skin will be golden and the flesh yellow, not grey, yielding juices even as you peel it). Pounding the ginger is easiest using a wood mallet or rolling pin, and to capture all the juices, I will do it in a heavy resealable plastic bag, rinsing out the bag with some of the water to capture every bit of the ginger juices.
The red wine I used was a Bordeaux-style blend from California. The rum was a white Flor de Caña.
Not only does this make a beautiful holiday mimosa, but the mulled hibiscus itself is an exquisite alternative to your favorite gløgg, warmed with a bit of star anise and served in small cups. As a mimosa, I started with a 1:2 ratio, although you can adjust it to your own taste, maybe topping with a little more Prosecco. A flute of this mimosa makes a gorgeous welcome drink.
A lovely holiday hostess gift kit would be a bottle of the mulled hibiscus and a bottle of Prosecco and a jar of hibiscus flowers in syrup, but we will definitely be keeping plenty for ourselves. The flower is a delicate treat at the end of the drink!
Originally published December 22, 2018