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An Alternative Christmas (Drinking) Menu

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SCOTCH GIFT
The Glenrothes

If you're anything like me, the Christmas eating and drinking gets as much (if not more) attention as the present buying. We broke from the tradition of turkey and the like many years ago, so each year there is a surprise in what will be served - all with a healthy dose of competition amongst the cooks.

In fact, I've come to miss the traditional turkey dinner. Thankfully places I've visited have updated the dry, lifeless and cliched serves of days of yore. I would certainly enjoy it a lot more if the drinks accompaniments modernized too - even my love of sherry doesn't include the sweet impostor that often accompanies Christmas pudding.

Of course, the drinks choices I serve have had to evolve too. I've stressed before the need to try and fit the right drink to the occasion. Falling back on a default serve is even more of a waste at Christmas - and it's essential to remove as much stress from the day as possible.

My suggestion is to prepare your drinks in advance much like you do with the food. If you started all the cooking on the big day itself, you'd end up spending half the day roasting a significant beast, chopping all the vegetables and trimmings and miss out on the actual meaning of the day - spending time in the company of close ones. By getting a few bits done ahead of time, it leaves very little stress, and gives you the ability to actually enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

So, what to prep? Well, it depends on who's coming, what you're eating and all those other myriad influences, but a few assumptions lead me to the following:

It's great to get something in everyone's hands as they come through and this hot punch makes matters very easy. Per person, put the following in a pan and gently warm - keep it like soup; don't boil it. Serve in tea cups with a cinnamon quill and a slice of orange:

(per person)
20ml Somerset cider brandy
30ml cream gin
100ml cloudy apple juice
100ml good quality dry cider
1 tablespoon honey
1 cardamom pod
2 slices lemon
2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Sounds cumbersome to assemble, but it's very easy.

It's always good to set the food up with some fizz - it is a celebration after all. It also cleans the palate and sits well with nibbles. To keep it fitting with the season, it's nice to use some of the fruits that you can find that are in good shape this time of year:

Put some Grand Marnier in a pan with some sugar, a clove, a star anise and add a dozen or so cranberries. Warm until the sugar has dissolved and store in a clean jar. When it comes to serving, pour some of the infused liqueur (around 15ml - you don't want too much sweetness) into a flute with one of the cranberries and top up with some bubbly. Garnish with a strip of peel from a satsuma. You still want the drink to be dry, so a high quality sparkling is essential- to me, vintage champagne is great, but little value can be had for mixing prices. Try Nyetimber or Recaredo. Both are absolutely fantastic.

With the main course, you need something that will work with the richness but that you can sip throughout. Wine and beer of course work fabulously here, but as an alternative you can try something in the bitter camp that not only helps with digestion, it can help cut through the meal. The bonus is it'll open out as time passes and it dilutes too. For extra brownie points, place an ice cream tub of water in the freezer a few days ahead, and break into large blocks to serve the drink over - giving you more time to enjoy your dinner, and your drink. Here a bigger style Negroni works a treat - try this darker twist borrowed from Trullo.

20ml No3 gin
20ml Campari
20ml Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth

Stir over ice and strain over a block of ice in a tumbler. Garnish with a sprig of burnt rosemary.

So finally the pudding. If you're having a traditional Christmas pudding, this will work fabulously, but it'll match up to most desserts.

40ml port
20ml cognac
1 whole egg
Splash of sugar syrup

Put all ingredients in a shaker. Shake without ice, then shake hard with cubed ice. Strain of all the bits with the aid of a tea strainer into a chilled small wine glass. Garnish with some freshly grated nutmeg.

As mentioned, with a bit of organisation beforehand, this will all be easy, and it shouldn't be too heavy on the stomach or the head. One thing I can vouch for, is that Christmas day cocktails are more universally well received than the turkey or the presents! Merry Christmas!

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