A TOUCH OF SPICE

Face the winter days with a spicy winter ale or tangy, fruity zero-alcohol spritzer.

January, cold and wet and short days, the cheery Christmas lights have gone and no London Boat Show to provide sunshine-sailing escapism. Some will ease into the New Year enjoying appropriate winter ales. Others might take a course of voluntary abstention to recover their body or bank balance.

For continuing imbibers 

Established winter ales like Hobgoblin are widely available and very fit for purpose. But try this craft brewery special: Greenwich Winter Spiced Porter, brewed by the Meantime Brewery at Greenwich exclusively for Marks & Spencer. It is a traditional ‘London porter’ style dark ale, 5.5 per cent abv, with cinnamon as the main spice. It is suitable for vegetarians and vegans, but is not gluten-free. £2.40 for 500ml at M&S.

It has a surprising sharpness to it with a lingering pepper sensation in the mouth long after the bottle is finished, a real pre-supper ‘sharpener’ to anticipate the meal to follow. It will do nicely to see us through to spring.

For  voluntary abstainers

On the other hand, January abstainers might like to try a little French flair.

Alcoholic drinks are moreish, non-alcoholic drinks of the standard type like orange juice or ginger beer tend to become boring.

For a variety of reasons there are enough abstainers at social functions to take the trouble to develop non-alcoholic drinks that stimulate adult taste buds and keep the drinker engaged with the group.

I had a go with the Teisseire (rhymes with ‘flair’) range of ‘sirops’, syrups or concentrated fruit juices. They are widely stocked in supermarkets at between £2.50 and £3.50 depending on the fruit, 600ml, in a striking green metal bottle or there are sugar-free versions in silver-coloured bottles.

The process and product was created in France in 1720 and, although now owned by the UK Britvic company, it is ubiquitous in France drunk on its own or frequently as a ‘top’ for a French-type lager beer.

The trick is to choose  one of the more strongly flavoured for an adult palate, then use it as if it were a spirit like gin or vodka and be creative adding mixers and garnishes to create a more complex taste.

I road tested this myself over two consecutive  days of voluntary abstinence with a small tasting panel, using the Grenadine-based ‘sirop’ with good results.

To start, just sip neat in a small shot glass to understand the dominant flavour of grenadine. It is thick and creamy and works like a port or Madeira with after-dinner cheese or chocolate mints.

At the other end of the scale, the makers recommend ‘simply add water’ in the ratio 1:7 which gives you over four litres – less than 50p a pint! But this is too bland, with insufficient tastes to discover. So use tonic with a slice of lemon and ice and experiment with a stronger ratio. I found 1:5 was good.

Or choose ginger ale, 1:4 or 5 ratio, and sprinkle a little ground ginger on the top.

Using hot water, about 1:5, with cloves, a slice of lemon and cinnamon makes a nice winter warmer.

And, finally, I tried it as a generous drizzle over vanilla ice-cream instead of Cointreau. Good, but I think the raspberry would work even better.

I chose the Grenadine, but the Teissiere Mohito herbal mint and lemon looks a good bet for a future trial.

If you like the Grenadine taste but do not require non-alcoholic, drop a measure of vodka into any of the diluted concoctions.