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At first glance Christmas cocktails seem a little thin on the ground, Bucks Fizz dominating the drinks trolley during the festive period. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find great recipes tucked away in the history of mixing – and a few surprises along the way.
Mixed alcoholic drinks lie at the heart of Christmas. A warming combination of sugar, spices and fruit juices mixed with ale, wine, rum or brandy has played a central role in this winter solstice festival for centuries. During a period of feasting, people came to use the bounty of the preceding harvest to celebrate and defy the dark months.
Rum took hold in the US and Britain, based on trade links with the Caribbean, and was increasingly used for soaking dried fruit for cakes and puddings as well as punches. The Rum Punch developed the richness and spice of the base spirit matching perfectly with an array of tasty juices, nutmeg and bitters – try it with Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold.
Punches are an ideal party serve: they offer you ease of making and serving in a large, elegant bowl. People can help themselves, so you’re free to mix with your friends, rather than the ingredients all night: now that’s the kind of host you’d surely like to be!
The equivalent of the Rum Punch in America is the Egg Nog. Dating back to 1695, when beer, rum and sugar were heated up, causing the drink to froth, it became known as a ‘flip’. Over time an egg was added to increase the frothing, although nowadays the Egg Nog is distinguished from the flip in that cream is added as well. And don’t forget that an Egg Nog goes best with some festive sounds, such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Something about the richness of cream seems to tie in with indulgence at this time of year. Hence the Brandy Alexander, to which cinnamon and nutmeg are sometimes added. But why not bring warmth to welcome guests in from the cold? Until the 1950s the Hot Toddy was a regular and welcome sight in many pubs. You can revive this great drink, with Johnnie Walker Black Label as its base, along with cloves, honey, lemon juice and hot water.
Rather than the Hot Toddy, for British cookery writer Elizabeth David, the White Lady was the festive drink of choice amid the austerities of post-war Britain. “For Christmas entertaining, a White Lady cocktail makes a pleasant change,” she insisted. This blend of Grand Marnier, gin, lemon and orange juices certainly has the effect of awakening the palate in the way a classic Bucks Fizz – the combination of sparkling wine or champagne and orange juice – often fails to. With its rich depth of flavour from whole bigarade oranges soaked in cognac, Grand Marnier is eminently festive too.
In fact, a surprising number of cocktails can be made using this orange liqueur as their base. Swap out the gin, lemon and orange juice from the White Lady with tequila and lime juice, and you have the Margarita. Bring in brandy and lemon juice for the Sidecar. Or vodka, lime and cranberry make a Cosmopolitan.
This reminds us that other traditional Christmas ingredients can make a great drink. Cranberries play a main role in the New Yorker, their juice mixed with vodka and a wedge of lime. There’s also the Sea Breeze, with cranberry juice and a palate sharpening touch of grapefruit juice, or the Bay Breeze with cranberry juice and pineapple.
Finally, we mustn’t forget the most indulgent Christmas ingredient of them all. Chocolate doesn’t have to be served up in boxes, with indecipherable guides to each flavour hidden underneath. Because the good people at Baileys have found a way to turn the dark stuff into a Baileys drink. A short glass of Baileys Chocolat Luxe makes a delicious, rich and luxurious serve during the festive period.
You really can keep it this simple. And don’t forget that a bottle of Chocolat Luxe, or a whisky like Talisker, Johnnie Walker or The Singleton, makes a great present too!
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Behind The Stick
by Paul Kopeikin and Craver