Celebrate the festive season in style

Time to plan your Christmas tipples, but do not forget those who are driving.

Boutique craft gins

As the craft gins phenomenon continues apace, a bottle is a ‘must have’ this year. Typically £27 – £40 per 70cl bottle and a decent 43 per cent abv, all are rated highly for their individual flavours.

Bewildered which to choose? Choose your local hero! Here are a few west to east way points to find gins we have featured in AAS.

Start Point Gin, Salcombe, Devon, extra fruity.

Chilgrove Dry Gin, Chilgrove village, West Sussex, the first ever gin distilled from grapes, silky and subtle.

Isle of Wight Distillery Mermaid Gin includes hand-picked local samphire.

Sipsmith, Chiswick, London, launched in 2009 so almost the daddy. Liquorice and citrus taste notes.

Adnams Copper House Gin, Southwold, Suffolk. East Anglian barley, juniper and only five other botanicals with sweet orange notes.

A new option is RORC Gin, distilled by the London Distillery, Battersea, for the Royal Ocean Racing Cub. 43 per cent and distinctly traditional juniper gin taste. To get this one you have to visit the RORC London or Cowes clubhouses. £27.50 for members and £32.50 for non-members.

Dessert wine

Christmas dining gives us time to enjoy a dessert wine. Try a Banyuls, a 16.5 per cent fortified port-like wine from the Catalan Pyrénées in southern France, close to the Spanish border.

I recently discovered Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles, 16.5 per cent, made mainly from Grenache grapes giving a lovely aroma and cherry under-taste. It is best served at 12 degrees centigrade and is good with blue cheese or red fruit and chocolate desserts. It costs 11.18 euro (about £9.99) per 500ml bottle at Majestic Calais or online in the UK, for example from www.ewwines.co.uk at £14.50 the half litre.

Banyuls is the town and the name of the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée), one of the strictest in France. Steeply terraced Grenache vineyards are required, irrigation is banned and tractors prohibited so all work must be by man and mule – and the mule must have been born within the appellation itself. The wine is well worth the effort though.

Drink and drive responsibly

The need for non-alcoholic drinks at social functions is increasingly recognised. The secret for a good zero per cent experience is to make this a feature, not a nuisance. Get specific ingredients and try a bit of ‘mixicology’ – the fancy name for what flamboyant cocktail bartenders do – and the abstainers can have just as much fun at the party as everyone else.

The ‘code zero’ bar needs distinctive flavours and textures appealing to the adult palette, essentially dry rather than sweet. Start with some base ingredients and gather a range of additives. Here is a sample inventory.

Bases: Dorset Ginger’s Original Ginger, Bottle Green elderflower cordial, Teisseire Grenadine syrup, tomato and orange juices.

Basic mixers: tonic, ginger ale and soda water, plus ice.

Spicy, peppery or aromatic additives: Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco pepper sauce and cloves (for warm mulled drinks).

Garnishes: lemon, lime and orange slices, celery, cinnamon and cucumber sticks and fresh mint leaves.

Then it is up to you to be creative and find tastes that go well together. There are recipes online but here are a few successful, simple combinations I have served:

Elderflower cordial with tonic, ice and a lemon slice.

A Virgin Mary – tomato juice with a few drops of Lea & Perrins and Tabasco, sprinkle with pepper and pop in a celery stick.

Dorset Ginger with ginger ale – a double ginger fizz.


Happy Christmas everyone. See you next month at the London Boat Show.