Christmas is coming and there are loads of tasks you need to start thinking about now in order to be well prepared for the festivities ahead. There are the regular ones, like deciding what presents to buy everyone; the ones you always forget, such as pre-ordering the turkey; and, perhaps the most important task – to be carried out with the utmost attention to detail – is deciding what drinks to stock up on.
To help you on your way we’ve come up with this handy guide of sippable and gluggable treats, each fulfilling a specific role in the festive drinking calendar that you might otherwise overlook until it’s too late. Each one has been personally tested by at least one of us to guarantee its fitness for purpose and, as we steadily test our way through more products over the coming weeks, we’ll add to this list.
For now, the turkey can wait…
The Festive Fizz
Langham Wine Estate, Culver NV
Congratulations to Langham Wine Estate who recently scooped the coveted IWSC award for Best Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year, seeing off over 700 competitors including some of the most famous names in Champagne.
We visited the Dorset vineyard a few years back and were mightily impressed, and think there’s no better booze to add some fizz to this year’s festivities. The all conquering Blanc de Blancs has, unsurprisingly, already sold out on the vineyard’s website so load up on the equally impressive Culver NV instead. But hurry, we reckon those Champagne producers will be battling over the last bottles to see for themselves what all the fuss is about.
The Red Wine for Cheese
La Luminaille, Rasteau Luminaris 2017
Besides gorging on Christmas dinner, puddings, cakes, chocolates and other artery-threatening foods, we’ll also be scoffing our fair share of cheese. And when we do, we’ll want a quality red wine to sip alongside it.
We recently explored the wines of the Côtes du Rhône in detail and now can’t get enough of the stuff, so our cheese companion of choice will be a Rasteau. This village, in the southern part of the Rhône, is celebrating ten years of being an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée for wine, which is a good sign of its quality.
The first bottle we’ll be tucking into is La Luminaille, a fruity and spicy number that isn’t overly heavy but won’t get overawed by the mighty wheel of stinky Camembert we’ve got lined up. Or the vast slab of Stilton. Or the nettle-coated Yarg. Or the Welsh Bomber. Etc…
The sweet wine for everything
Piesporter Goldtropfchen German Riesling Spatlese 2018 (£7.49, 75cl), 9%
Here’s a challenge. What single wine style would you recommend to cover all that Christmas can throw at you? From hefty lunches to an overload of sweet confection; for lounging in front of the TV or for revving it up a notch with a party?
We’re going to suggest Riesling, and this good value bottle from Aldi. It’s a medium-sweet wine, which might get some folk muttering with discontent, but we think a touch of sweetness helps with everything that Christmas brings. It also has a crisp edge of citrus and a minerality which helps keep it fresh when your taste buds are under pressure from the Christmas gluttony. If it has been a while since you had a Riesling then give this a go – we reckon you’re in for a sweet surprise.
The mulled booze
Especially Selected Mulled Wine, Aldi, £4.99, 11%
Everyone should mull some booze over Christmas, if only to infuse the house with the quintessential festive aroma of cinnamon and cloves. While we usually advocate mulling your own drinks (it’s handy for us to rejuvenate less than perfect cider making experiments), there’s no harm in taking the short cut of buying a pre-mulled bottle.
If you’re going down this route then don’t splash out a fortune. A fiver is plenty, which is all you need for Aldi’s Specially Selected mulled wine. With this bottle you’ll get a drink that ticks all the right mulled boxes: fruity wine, spicy flavours and the all important festive aroma. And if you want to make it a bit more fancy, stick a cinnamon stick or slice of orange in each mug when you serve it.
The Beer for Everyone
Krombacher Pils Mini Keg
If you can’t get to the pub this Christmas, then recreate the busy bar atmosphere by getting yourself a keg of beer instead. We’ve done a bit of work for German beer aces Krombacher over the past few years and are rejoicing that they’ve introduced a keg of their Pilsner for home guzzling.
It’s a mighty 5 litre can that, once tapped, will last up to 30 days and provide us with deliciously fresh and creamy Pilsner. Its clean taste and classic Pils hopping make it the kind of beer you can tuck into whenever the mood strikes – it’s great with all kinds of food and suitable for a prolonged drinking session while you’re arguing with the folks over whose turn it is to do the washing up. Prosit!
The party beer
Mexican beer from Cerveza Loba, Propaganda Brewing, Cerveza Fortuna
We’ve attended lots of celebratory events on Zoom this year, including birthday parties, reunions and festivals, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about helping to get things going it’s to make your booze a talking point. Bragging about your booze breaks the ice, at least until the actual booze kicks in.
Earlier this year we were introduced to online retailer drinkscraft.com who specialise in nothing but Mexican beer, and the range provided an unusual talking point for our parties. The beer we enjoyed came from three breweries – Cerveza Loba, Propaganda Brewing and Fortuna – and each one of them was top notch quality.
Among the beers are plenty of sessionable IPAs, wheat beers and lagers, along with an outstanding porter from Cerveza Loba. All perfect party material. And to really excite the crowds, Cerveza Fortuna served up a couple of unusual products that are uniquely Mexican. ‘Cantabeerto’ is inspired by the Cantarito cocktail and is brewed with light touches of agave, grapefruit, orange, lemon and salt. And even more bizarre is Sourdino, a tamarind flavoured sour beer that comes with a sachet of Tajin (chilli and tamarind powder) taped to the bottle’s neck, like a Mexican beer version of the old salt and shake crisps.
So if you’ve been invited to a Zoom get together this Christmas then we recommend donning your sombrero and loading up on a party selection of the finest craft beers from Mexico. Bragging rights will be all yours.
The beers for Dry January
Big Drop, The Big Hello Pack
Dry January is now an established part of the post-Christmas calendar, a month when we’re encouraged to do our bodies and minds a favour by abstaining from booze (or at least cutting down on our intake). One key reason why this dry time has been taken up by lots more people in recent years is due to the quality of alcohol free drinks now available. And in the world of beer, Big Drop is one of the leaders in the field.
Next January will see the brewery launch ‘The Big Hello Pack, a box of eight beers containing their four most popular 0.5% beers. These are the light and refreshing Uptime Craft Lager, the creamy Galactic Milk Stout, the super citrussy Paradiso IPA and, our favourite, Pine Trail Pale Ale, an American Pale Ale that has lip smacking hoppy flavours and a delicious bitter finish.
But these aren’t the only ace beers Big Drop produce, so peruse their online shop and stock up on your favourite sounding brews – and you won’t miss the booze at all come January.
The post-work G&T
The Outdoor Guide Gin, 40%
In years gone by, the last day of work before Christmas would have us piling into the pub at lunchtime before finishing off the present buying on the way home. These days, a G&T in the kitchen at 5pm is more in keeping with the work-from-home era.
We could pick any number of new gins to fill this slot but have chosen The Outdoor Guide’s gin as a reminder that access to fresh air and the outdoor environment has never been more valued than during this year of lockdown misery.
The gin is a collaboration between TV walking champion Julia Bradbury’s The Outdoor Guide and the Derbyshire Distillery, with inspiration coming from the Peak District National Park. It’s a smooth and clean tasting gin that doesn’t go heavy on the juniper, allowing lots of floral flavours to come through along with some grassy sweetness and a minty freshness.
Best enjoyed on top of the Peak District but, failing that, at 5pm in the kitchen makes a perfect alternative.
The winter warming rum
Lost Years Four Island Rum, 40%
Not many drinks can see off a nip of winter’s chill quite as efficiently as rum. And for extra cold busting properties, a rum-based winter cocktail is hard to beat.
As to what rum to plunder into your Toddy, Hot Buttered Rum or Maple Winter Warmer we would like to suggest Lost Years Four Island Rum. Not only does this Caribbean blend have the warming festive flavours of cinnamon and orange, along with a smooth caramel sweetness and prickly, peppery spice, but when you buy a bottle you’ll also be helping to save sea turtles.
These special creatures are under threat and, through a donation of sales, the makers of Lost Years reckon that every bottle sold can save up to ten baby turtles. As for the Lost Years name, this refers to one of nature’s great mysteries. After hatching, the baby turtles disappear into the Caribbean waves and won’t be seen again for up to a decade. Drink rum, stay warm, save the turtles – everyone’s a winner.
The multi-purpose brandy
Bardinet VSOP Brandy, 36%
DON’T FORGET THE BRANDY! This essential Christmas booze is often overlooked until it’s too late, so you might end up stirring whisky into your custard, pouring vodka over your Christmas pudding, and retiring to the drawing room for a post-lunch snifter with a glass of tequila. And that just won’t do.
Should you be seeking even more uses for your bottle of brandy then Bardinet, French brandy makers par excellence, have sent us some festive cocktail suggestions to celebrate the launch of their newly redesigned packaging. These include a Bardinet & Ginger (as simple as it sounds) which they’ve topped with our favourite garnishing herb, rosemary, and the one we’ll be making – the ‘Bardinet Christmas Stocking.’
For this you stir together 35ml Bardinet Brandy, 10ml Orange Liqueur and 5ml caramel syrup with ice, strain into a champagne flute and top with sparkling wine. Even more reason not to forget the brandy…
The aged Cognac for winding down
Delamain Pale & Dry XO Cognac
When the Christmas Day chaos finally winds down, the kids are in bed and the dishwasher has been loaded for the eighth, and final, time you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and seek something to help you put your feet up. More booze at first seems like a crazy idea, but the reward of something special is actually just what you need.
Delamain Pale & Dry XO Cognac has seen a century of Christmases and is one of the most admired Cognacs around. It’s made from the region’s ‘Grande Champagne’ grapes and is ‘extra old’ (hence the ‘XO’, which means the youngest cognac in the blend is at least 10 years old), with its ‘Pale & Dry’ labelling indicating a paler than usual colour, from using old casks and containing no additional sweetener.
This Cognac oozes elegant sophistication from its floral aroma to the slight leatheriness of the taste. Complexity is ramped up with soft fruits, vanilla and subtle spices but it’s all gentle enough to help with the unwinding process. A class act.
The cocktail liqueur
White Heron British Framboise, 15%
Raspberry liqueurs have always been right up there in our ‘favourite liqueurs list’. It was one of the first recipes we put up on the site, and one we spent a long time perfecting for our book Brew it Yourself, introducing thyme to the infusion.
We like to sup it neat and use it for lending a vibrant red colour and tart fruity flavour to numerous cocktails, but perhaps its best use is to sink a measure into a glass of fizz when we’re pulling out all the stops to impress over Christmas.
It’s getting a bit too late in the year to make your own for Christmas but thankfully liqueur aces White Heron have recently released a British Framboise, made using the finest Herefordshire raspberries. It’s vibrantly red and loaded with sweet and tart fruity raspberry flavours – we don’t know where they got their recipe from but it’s most definitely a winner.
The instant cocktail
With lockdown limiting our ability to go to bars there has been a huge surge in businesses offering pre-mixed cocktail delivery services for the home sipper. One such supplier is NIO Cocktails, an Italian brand who have impressed us with their letter-box friendly slimline packs of cocktails.
The list of cocktails they provide is long and mostly comprises classics (we were mightily impressed by their Negroni) with each one well made from good ingredients. They’ve also thrown in a few Christmas specials, such as an Apple Rum Punch (with a hint of absinthe), that are equally simple serves of top notch quality. And there are even a few options for the dry drinker.
Order online by selection a build your own box of 3, 6 or 9 cocktails, or plump for one of their luxury sets instead. Christmas may be a time for sharing and giving, but it’s also a time to be lazy, so if you fancy a few quality cocktails without the effort that goes into making them then NIO certainly fits the bill.
The cocktail kit
Drinks by Post, Modern Christmas Collection
If you’re keen on mixing up some festive cocktails but don’t want to (a) research what’s required and (b) go out and buy a list of booze ingredients longer than a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, then a cocktail kit is for you.
Drinks by Post has a range of kits, with our favourite being their Modern Christmas Collection. In this you’ll be able to knock out such delicious drinks as a Winter Aperol Spritz, Passionfruit Martini and Gin Hot Toddy – each one effortlessly simple and will make you look like a bartending champ.
The cocktail to learn
The Red Lion
Christmas is the perfect time to flex your shaking muscles with a new cocktail. We’ve been trying our hands at The Red Lion, an easy orange sipper based around gin and Grand Marnier. Fancy a go? Then read our recipe here…
The non-alcoholic option
Saicho Sparkling Cold Brewed Tea
Give your liver a break with an elegant fizzy tea* from Saicho. We dig the delicate, floral flavours and fizzy tannic twang – perfect for firing-up flagging taste buds caused by a mince pie/sprout/sausage overload. Saicho comes in three flavours – Jasmine, Darjeeling and our toasty, nutty favorite, Hojicha.
Get them here!
The cider for everyone
Kentish Pip Mixed Case
We always have plenty of cider to summon throughout the festive period, mainly because we make it ourselves but also because, living in Somerset, it’s hard to avoid buying extra bottles from the excellent craft producers all around us. But while our cider is always a hit with our West Country cider drinking chums, there are some guests who find our choices a little bit ‘agricultural’ for their palates, accustomed as they are to big brand fruit ciders.
To keep everyone happy we suggest looking East to Kentish Pip and their exceptional range of ciders. They have the full, rich apple flavours that we love but there’s less of the heavily tanic, barnyard vibe that some of our local ciders possess. Plump for a mixed case of 12 and you’ll get three Medium Cry Ciders – the clean and crisp Craftsman and High Diver along with our favourite, the slightly juicer Skylark (and, at 5.5%, it’s stronger than the other two at 4.8%).
The remaining quarter of the collection is Kentish Pip’s fruit cider Forager which, at 4%, is more manageable for those cider novices. The hedgerow berries added to the mix give it the extra fruity appeal that some folk crave, but the quality of the apples still shines through, making it something that both we and our guests can enjoy.
The booze-filled crackers
White Possum, Spirited Xmas Crackers (Gin)
In a bid to rid the environment of plastic tat we wholly endorse crackers that have abandoned more familiar plastic trinkets in favour of booze. There are now so many on the market that Rich recently rounded up a load for the Independent, testing bang mechanisms and jokes until he was so deaf he could no longer hear his own laughter.
This set of six gin-filled crackers from White Possum arrived too late for his review, which is a shame because they would be serious contenders for the top spot. They not only look and sound the part, but they contain the requisite paper hats and even the jokes are of an unusually high standard.
And as for the booze? It’s great. Six 50ml bottles of top notch gin from the likes of Aber Falls, Brokers and Sipsmith. Cracking stuff.
The sparkling alternative
Pearl, Sparkling Saké, Junmai Daiginjo
If you’re in the mood for some festive fizz but fancy a change from wine then line up your fluted glasses for some sparkling saké instead.
This bottle-fermented beauty comes from a traditional Japanese brewery founded in 1790 and uses farm-grown rice polished to the highest class, ensuring it’s of top quality. It’s slightly cloudy and can seem a little unusual to the inexperienced saké drinker at first – but the light prickly fizz soon sends the booze to your knees and you’ll quickly rejoice in its crisp orchard fruit flavours and its creamy, sherry-esque feel. A whisper of a dry finish will soon have you delving in for more and you might decide to never trouble a fizzy grape again.
Note: Each one of these products has been sent for us to review and we have chosen our favourites from the many suggestions we receive each week. We use affiliate links on some of our product recommendations.
* Did we mention we’ve written a book about tea? It’s due out in March in the UK, but lucky American readers can get it RIGHT NOW.