The Twelve Drinks of Christmas 2021!

So, here we are, December rolling into the last fortnight before Christmas rears its be-tinselled head. We (Miriam and I) thought we’d knock together a quick series of videos with pointers of nice things to drinks, from mocktails to whiskies. This is a little landing page to give all those crucially important links, so you can find whatever it is we’ve been elucidating/wittering about. All those precious details after the fold…

Day One: Scotch Whisky
I got a bit overexcited and wrote far too much, so here’s the link to the full piece. Normal service will be resumed after this…

Day Two: Mulled Drinks
Mulled red wine:
Slice or chop up half an orange and put it in a pan with 750ml red wine, 2-3 cloves, a cinnamon stick and any other aromatics you like. See what the tasting notes on the wine give you a steer towards so maybe a piece of vanilla pod, few black peppercorns, juniper berries. Can even fling in a dried fig or apricot of you like.
Heat gently until hot and nicely infused, taste it and sweeten to your liking. Something like 2 – 3 tablespoons of golden caster sugar would be about right but it depends on the wine so trust your judgement. Can also sweeten with honey if you like. If you can, strain it before you serve it.
In fact Richard reminds me that brandy is a welcome addition to mulled red wine, again add just before serving to preserve the flavour/booziness!

You can also mull both white and rose wines, cider and fruit juice.
The beauty of mulling fruit juices (like cloudy apple, pear or pomegranate) and you want to add booze then add it at the end, both means you can serve it with or without booze but also means you preserve more of the flavour, especially with spirits with lots of complexity like gin or spiced rum.

If you want to scale up, don’t scale the spices proportionally, things like cloves can quickly overpower. If doubling or tripling add 1 extra clove or 2 extra peppercorns and see how you go, or pop the spices in a muslin bag and taste regularly then you can easily remove it once it’s spicy enough.

Mulled gin:
Mulled white wine:
Mulled rosé wine:

Happy mulling!

Day Three: Beers strong and Belgian
The Belgians are not sticklers for style, so there are always inconsistencies, overlaps and other weirdness, but the root of these various stronger beers are those made by Cistercian monks (always labelled as Trappist beers), or in the same style, but by normal commercial concerns (with a picture of a monk, a saint or an abbey on the label, and usually labelled Abbey-style or Abbaye-style).
Dubbel – full-bodied brown ales, generally around 7% ABV. Usually fairly sweet, but balanced enough to remain drinkable, rather than cloying. Sometimes also just known by a number 6 on a label, just to be more confusing.
Examples: Westmalle Dubbel, Rochefort 6 and 8 (at the strong end of the style. Or is it a light Quad?), La Trappe Dubbel, Chimay Red, Achel Trappist Bruin, St. Bernardus 6, Brugse Zot Dubbel.
Tripel – pale gold, lighter-bodied, but usually a bit stronger, at 8-9% ABV. The aromatics from the yeast normally take centre stage here, delicately spicy or hits of tropical fruit. Dangerously drinkable for their strength.
Examples: Westmalle Tripel, Chimay Tripel, La Trappe Tripel, Achel Blond 8, Achel Blond Extra 9.5, Straffe Hendrik Tripel, St. Bernardus Tripel
Quad – back to the dark, but stronger still than the Tripel, often 9%-11% ABV. Done well, you’ve a marvellous complexity and interplay between the yeast and the malts, belying the strength of the beer.
Examples: St.Bernardus Abt 12, La Trappe Quadrupel, Rochefort 8 and 10, Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, Chimay Blue, Chimay Grande Réserve.

If none of that tickles your fancy, then don’t overlook the gamut of strong ales and barley wines made in the UK. I highlighted just two, the Wimbledon XXX.K and Wylam’s The Grange, but there are a plethora being made all over, varying in strength and style from 7% to over 13% ABV. There’s a fair amount of variation, but expect something from pale gold to rich copper, lots of English malt, a bit of fruity yeast and some balancing traditional hops. Family brewers tend darker and less boozy, newer breweries paler and stronger. Just off the top of my head, Green Jack, Five Points, Adnams, Siren, Harvey’s and Marble all have something out this year, so a good excuse to see what any of your local breweries are up to!

Day Four: Gin Recommendations
Just some lovely, lovely links to a whole bunch of (mainly) newer entrants to the gin scene who have impressed us:
Some fairly classic, juniper-led examples – Citadelle, Ramsbury, Lakes.
Spicier alternatives – Opihr, Norfolk Gin, Adnams Copper House.
Gift boxes – Hepple (with Nick & Nora cocktail glasses), Salcombe (with a liquid garnish)

Day Five: Green Chartreuse/ Chartreuese Verte
So, Chartreuse Verte has been with us for many centuries, and so is unsurprisingly excellent as is, for a restorative or digestif. It takes the addition of ice well, should you prefer.
However, my predominant interest in Green Chartreuse is for the effect it can have on a cocktail. As you might imagine, a herbal liqueur at 55% ABV has to be treated with respect, so as not to overpower the other ingredients. Used well, though, that herbal complexity is what makes a Last Word sing. The Champs-Élysées too, is a lovely riff on a Sidecar that I’d highly commend.
Lastly, Green Chartreuse has found it’s way into a few unlikely corners, notably the Nuclear Daiquiri. Emerging from the now-shuttered LAB in the 2000s, and takes that glorious sour and dials it up with overproof rum and Chartreuse, with a little falernum to help balance it. Lethally drinkable, given its potency.

Day Six: Faux Bucks Fizz
Bit of a cheat this entry, as it’s basically nothing more than an exhortation to buy our book, The Art of Drinking Sober. This recipe is definitely worth seeking out pear juice for, as it adds a touch more sparkling wine quality, but a good cloudy apple juice will stand in perfectly well.
Miriam notes that if you have some tangerines, clementines, satsumas or similar handy in the fruit-bowl, adding some of their juice to the orange makes for a delightful addition.

Day Seven: Rums
Rum is a massively broad family of spirits, spreading out across a huge swathe of countries and styles, so giving a decent and in-depth overview would be the work of a lifetime. We had sixty seconds, so here’s some very straight-forward pointers:
Our recommendation for a white rum would be Havana Club 3. Widely available and reasonably-priced, it’s light and smooth while still retaining some character. As you would hope from a white rum, it sits well in long drinks and is an excellent go-to for cocktails like a Mojito.
Looking at gold and dark rums, we’re sticking in the Caribbean with two very storied distilleries indeed. Barbados’ Mount Gay have a claim to be the oldest rum producer in the world, while Jamaica’s Appleton Estate fly the flag for that country’s heavier, funkier, pot-still character as compared to Barbados’ reputation for lighter, fruitier rums.
Over in Colombia, La Hechicera make an excellent rum that prides itself on being “unpolished” – that is, no sugar added after distillation. Excellent in its own right, and also a great eye-opener when compared to some surprisingly sweet premium rum brands.
Going bigger still, Black Tot impressed us with a interesting take on a Navy rum, loosening up from the style’s connotations of molasses heft and weight, whilst still remaining a recognisable heir. A blend of rums from Guyana and the aforementioned Barbados and Jamaica, this is well worth a look.
Spiced and flavoured rums have, not unfairly, a mixed reputation. We wanted to highlight at least something positive, though, so naturally we turned to Plantation for their Pineapple rum. Fruity without being sickly, this benefits from a depth of flavour around the pineapple, rather than relying on one note. Makes for an indecently fun take on a Daiquiri

Day Eight: More Beer!
So, for this one we focused on Villages, partially because we like the founders, but mainly as they are a great example of a local brewery that we can rely on to make beer to a high standard, and you can buy direct from them online. But, should you not fancy Villages, look round more locally – huge numbers of breweries are doing exactly the same thing. For instance, friends in East Anglia speak highly of Ampersand.

Day Nine: Hot Buttered Rum
So, it might sound weird, but I would highly recommend this warming winter toddy. I haven’t been able to untangle its history with any great clarity, but it definitely dates back to at least the 1860s, as it features in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 opus How to Mix Drinks: Or, A Bon-vivant’s Companion. Oddly for a book of its age and stature, it’s not on Project Gutenberg, but Google Books does have a copy or two you can legally peruse.
Anyhow, it’s warming and tasty, but manages not to be cloying or greasy. Certainly. I was surprised at how good it was when first introduced to it. Please find below the recipe we iterated our way to over the last few years, and some further notes below:

For the spiced butter mix:
250g unsalted butter (easiest if at room temperature)
250g sugar (caster/light muscovado mix)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3rd tsp cloves
2/3rd tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamon
splash vanilla essence
zest of 1/2 orange
It’s very simple to make – just beat all the ingredients together. It’s good to go immediately, but will keep happily in the fridge for a few weeks.
When you want to make some up, simply put a dessertspoonful of the butter mix into a mug, add a single or double measure of rum (I’d recommend a dark or golden rum), and then top up with freshly boiled water and stir. A cinnamon stick makes a good stirrer, but is certainly not essential. If you’ve just made up the mix, squeeze in the juice from the zested orange for extra good times.

I should note that those spices are simply our preference. Ginger would be good, and if cardamom isn’t your thing, then just remove it.

Day Ten: Bénédictine
What’s this? Another ancient herbal liqueur from France that’s made by monks? Why, yes, it is! Bénédictine is a fine sipper if you’re in the mood for something sweet but complex, and can be enjoyed at room temperature or over ice. Like Chartreuese Verte, it has a whole other life as a cocktail ingredient, including a few of favourites of ours. Quite a few hail from New Orleans, including the delightful Vieux Carré, and don’t forget Miriam’s favoured de-stressor, the B&B, a simple 50-50 of brandy and Bénédictine. Whilst stirring it down over ice gives the drink more space, it’s also very agreeable built in the glass and sipped straight.

Day Eleven: Even More Beer!
Just some lovely beers from Howling Hops, Lervig and Wiper And True, narrated inexpertly from The Beer Shop London (not to be confused with its sibling, The Beer Shop Folkestone), a place that I am biased in favour of. As we were near Christmas, these are all Christmas beers we thought deserved a look.

Day Twelve: Port
We feel that this is the acme of Christmassy drinking – rich, sweet and comforting. Hailing from (and only from) the Douro valley in Portugal, it is wine that has had brandy added to it during fermentation. This adds strength and body, but it also stops the fermentation and thus means that more of the grapes’ sugar is left untouched, hence the sweetness. A knock-on effect of this is that port will happily keep opened for a fortnight or more, and Tawnies longer still. So, it’ll still be fine in a few days if you don’t fancy that last after-dinner top-up.

Without the time to really get into the distinctions between different age categories and classifications, here’s some quick pointers: though White (and latterly Rosé) port are both good and available, they’re somewhat different and might need discussion another time. What you’ll see most often is port made with red wine. Broadly speaking, the labelling goes in ascending order of quality and cost, as follows: Ruby, Ruby Reserve, Late Bottled Vintage/LBV, Crusted, Vintage and Single Quinta Vintage port (SQVP). Those last three are beyond our purview here, unfortunately. There’s also Tawny Port, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Ruby port is the most common, affordable and straight-forward. Generally given around three to five years to age, usually in tanks rather than wooden barrels, before blending and bottling. They should be fruity, sweet, approachable and available for less than £10-£15, with supermarkets often going lower still. They’ll be filtered (no crust or sediment) and are designed to be drunk now.

Ruby Reserve port or Finest Reserve port is a blend of of vintages, usually in the five to seven year range, and you’re getting a bit more complexity without losing the fruit-forward character. Slightly more expensive (still under £15), approachable, and ready to drink.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is port that’s been given longer to age before bottling, thus giving you some of the qualities of a Vintage port without so much time in the bottle. Again, ready to drink immediately, though they will age for a few years unopened. If it doesn’t tell you it needs filtering, it should be safe to assume it doesn’t. Like Reserve Port, can be found for less than £15.

Tawny port is the other strand we wanted to point you at, and where it differs from Ruby ports is in the time spent aging in smaller wood barrels, known as pipes. This aging in wood increases the rate of oxidation, which dampens the intense colour to a more diffuse golden brown or amber. More importantly, this affects the flavour which grows in complexity to encompass dried fruit, caramel and nuts.

There are carefully regulated age graduations, but if just sold as Tawny it will a blend from wines that have spent around three years in pipes. Terms such as Fine Tawny or Reserve Tawny indicate a higher quality and complexity, usually with older or more refined wines.

After that you get the aged Tawnies, in brackets of a decade each – 10, 20, 30 and 40. The age statement is an indication of character, rather than a specific vintage (you’ll need to splash out on a Colheita if you want a single vintage Tawny). With age comes an increasing intensity and more notes of leather and tobacco as the ripe fruit element diminishes. While you can find 10 Year Olds in the £15-£25 range, it gets notably more expensive as you go up the decade markers.

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