When it comes to Christmas drink, you want hot whiskey – otherwise known as a Hot One. Every pub in Ireland does it. A good slug of Irish whiskey – Jameson’s for me – with a spoonful of sugar and a slice or two of lemon and two or three cloves. Put a spoon in the glass, add boiling water to taste and bingo, instant cheer. Another traditional Irish drink is Scalteen: a warming combination of whiskey, honey and hot milk. Put a spoonful of honey in a mug, add whiskey, top up with hot milk and stir. A soothing nightcap.
In England, as Penelope Venn, author of Christmas with Dickens, reminds me, hot gin was once the thing. Mrs Gamp would have had a nice fragrant gin with lemon, hot water and sugar. You could use one of the spiced Christmas gins for this.
The most fabulous of these is Snow Globe Gin, which has gold leaf floating in gingerbread gin in a round bottle decorated with a snow scene which actually lights up. Brilliant. (harveynichols.com £29). M&S does a cheaper version.
Non-drinkers should consider Seedlip. This looks like gin and has the same mouthfeel but without the alcohol kick. Seedlip’s Spice (£26) is heavy on cinnamon but works well hot, with lemon and a lump of sugar. Its Grove 42 makes an excellent not-gin and tonic.
Hot punch is Christmas in a glass. Think of ale heated with a hot poker by a blazing fire. The basics are spices and sugar heated with your choice of drink: ale or cider or wine plus spirits and slices of orange or lemon. You can buy syrup or ready-made punch, but if you make your own you can go easy on the sugar; most pre-prepared mixes are way too sweet.
I’ve been having fun with Spirited (Phaidon, £35), a book of 600 cocktails, including old punches. Lamb’s Wool is hot ale or cider mixed with sugar and spices to which you add the scooped-out flesh of baked apples and whisk up to a froth.
If you bake the apples with brown sugar you can add the caramelly syrup.
Bake six Bramley apples until bursting from their skins. Heat 1.5 litres (quart) of ale or apple cider, 1 tsp ground ginger; 100g (or to taste) of demerara sugar until steaming and keep warm on a low heat for 10 minutes. Mash the apple flesh and whisk into the punch. Let sit for 30 minutes and whisk well before serving with a little grated nutmeg. You can scale down the quantities.
Mulled wine, gluhwein or Glogg are essentially the same thing – hot wine with sugar and spice – except the Swedish Glogg is made with spirits as well.
The Spirited version of Glogg combines a bottle of dry red wine and a bottle of port (Ruby port from Lidl works well; £6.49) with 8 cloves, two cinnamon sticks, a knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped, 100g white sugar or to taste, 125 ml water and 240-360ml of brandy or aquavit (I used Aldi’s Chevalier cognac, £15.49). Heat until steaming, then keep warm for 30 minutes. Serve with blanched almonds and cranberries or raisins in the glass or mug.
Christmas means Snowballs. For that you need Advocaat and good lemonade. By the Dutch makes a delicious Advocaat (www.sociovino.com, £22.50). It’s richer than a cream liqueur, but it lacks the usual lemon-yellow vibe. They suggest 2f fl oz Advocaat, 3.5 fl oz lemonade and a little (0.75 fl oz) fresh lime juice, over ice.
For a Christmas cocktail, Marcus Hix’s fabulous combination of marmalade, gin and lemon juice is a breeze: 1 teaspoon marmalade, 50ml gin and 15 ml lemon juice, with, if you like, a dash of Campari. Shake the lot over ice and serve.
Or try his even simpler champagne cocktail: pour Nyetimber sparkling wine (£34.99 harveynichols.com in a lovely gift box) over a single cherry and a spoon of liquor from Julian Temperley’s morello cherries in eau de vie (£16.50 plus p&p, somersetciderbrandy.com).
For an English alternative to champagne try too Waitrose’s own Leckford Brut (£26.99) – fresh and full and toasty.
Post pudding drinks
The perennial problem of what to serve with Christmas pudding has been sorted by Fortnum’s; its Christmas pudding madeira (fortnumandmason.com, £16.99) is sweetly fragrant and not at all heavy. It also does a very Christmassy chocolate chestnut liqueur (£25) which would be lovely in a cream cocktail. But another possibility with the Christmas pud is a very good demi-sec – that is, not too sweet – sparkling English wine, the English Reserve from Ambriel, a West Sussex producer (£32.50 ambrielsparkling.com); it also does a fine cuvée.
For the ultimate creamy cocktail we’re talking egg nog, no? Separate an egg and mix the yolk with two tablespoons of sugar until thick, add 100ml rum (I like Aldi’s Old Seadog, £14.99) and whisk in 200ml single cream until thick. When you’re ready to serve, whisk up the egg white and fold in well. Grate with nutmeg. Rich and delicious.
I was chastened to learn at a Paxton and Whitefield Christmas cheese tasting that you shouldn’t really serve cheese with red wine…port is the thing, and not just with Stilton. You can’t go wrong with its mellow and moreish Tawny Port (paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk, £24.99).
Christmas teas can be pretty disgusting but there are good ones out there. I mix a spoonful with my standard breakfast tea. I like the Fortnum’s Christmas black tea (fortnumandmason.com, £15) or the Twinings Christmas tea (twinings.co.uk, £7.50), both with lovely Christmassy red tins.
My favourite Christmas tea, however, is the excellent Espirit de Noel from Mariage Freres, the historic Paris tea house (£10 for 100 gms loose); they do a range of fabulously packed Christmas blends but I prefer the black.