Gin reigned supreme once more this year and come Christmas many of us will be reaching for the nation’s favourite spirit. Garden Swift (£36 – direct) from Capreolus distillery in the Cotswolds is a rich and highly perfumed gin, full of blood orange, light spice, and earthy juniper. Distiller Barney Wilczak spends most of his time at the delicate business of making fruit eau de vie and he applies the same light touch and attention to detail to his gin. Garden Swift is made in batches of just 200 bottles at a time, with botanicals sorted and prepared by hand. Served short with a light tonic water and a slice of clementine this is the Christmas G&T you’ve been looking for.
If you’re trying to pace yourself on the night before the big day try swapping the G in your T for a nice vermouth. Fulham based Londinio Liqueurs recently launched a range of vermouth based on English wines and organic botanicals – bang on trend as the UK embraces lower-ABV drinking. Londinio Rosé (£18.95 – Master of Malt) is great in classic cocktails but also shows well with tonic water and wedge of grapefruit. Just the thing for stimulating your appetite and keeping your wits about you.
Gin traditionalists may want to take things sloe on Christmas Eve with a few shots of traditional hawthorn liqueur. Someone smug at work will recently have told you all about how they make their own with drupes foraged on some frozen January morn – but fear not, there are off-the-shelf options that are basically as good as homemade. Elephant Sloe Gin (£32.95 – 31Dover) from Germany is made the traditional way, by macerating whole fruit in London dry. It comes cloudy and with sediment, exactly as it should, and tastes brilliantly of various berries, jams, spearmint, and pepper. Enjoy on its own or with almonds and hard cheese.
You’re allowed to drink wine in the morning on Christmas, it’s practically the law, and considering you’re looking at a day of rich food a nice dry fizz is a good way to go. Black Chalk Wild Rose (£41 – Red Squirrel Wines) from veteran Hampshire winemaker Jacob Leadley offers raspberries, red apple, and brioche on the palate with all the balancing minerality that the name would suggest. The Pinot Noir/Meunier forward blend for 20 months on lees and a further 6 on cork before release. It’s a complex and elegant wine that will go well with smoked salmon or gravlax. If any of your relatives are English wine holdouts then serve them this, in quantity, until they’re totally converted or absolutely pacified.
If you’ve signed up to cooking a fish course on top of all the other seasonal kitchen faff then try this single vineyard Ktima Malagousia (£15.13 – Drinks & Co.) from the godfather of modern Greek wine, Evangelos Gerovassiliou. The Malagousia grape drinks a little like a viognier but with added acidity bringing welcome freshness to proceedings. You can expect pear, rose, sage, and lemon thyme as well as some light oak influence which all adds up to a grownup white that pairs well with most things from the sea.
For meat dishes you may be tempted to play it safe with a classic claret but there’s a wide world of wine out there. Channing Daughters of Long Island do a great line in low-intervention wines that showcase the unique terroir of their East-Coast vineyards. Try their superb 2016 Blaufränkisch (£25.50 – Wanderlust Wine) with beef or game. It’s a huge, characterful red wine that delivers all sorts of meat friendly loveliness on the palate like plum, lavender, leather, and soft tannins.
If you find yourself hosting a relative who absolutely must have something French at Christmas then Berry Bros. & Rudd is a natural place to look, as they’ve been supplying us quality claret for over 300 years. Their own label Côtes du Rhône Rouge by Rémi Pouizin (£11.95 – BBR)is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and a total steal – with lots of crushed berries, cocktail olives, and crunchy tannins. Anyone attempting that most difficult of wine/food balancing acts and pitting wine against turkey should try their Mosel Riesling Kabinett, Selbach-Oster (£11.95 – BBR) which has enough lime-y acidity and slate-y minerality to hold its own against (probably a bit dry) turkey, cranberries, and stuffing.
The traditional role of brandy in the Great British Christmas may be as an accelerant for acts of arson against puddings but what most of us forget is you can actually drink this stuff as well. Cognac accounts for the majority of Brandy sales in the UK this time of year but if you’re after something that sits nicely in the intersection of quality and value then you can’t do better than Armagnac. This ancient French grape spirit hails from Gascony and generally comes a little earthier and more robust than its cousin to the North – all the better to make an impact after a rich meal. Famed bottler Darroze’s Les Grands Assemblages 30yo (£105 – The Whisky Exchange) comprises eau de vie from across the Armagnac sub-regions and offers a wonderfully mature example of this oft-overlooked category. Expect fig, prune, sultana, honey, and light French oak spice on the palate. This is something anyone with an interest in good drink should try and there’s no better time to do so than Christmas. Just don’t douse your pudding in it.
Sometimes, after a very special meal, and perhaps after a special kind of argument (about sprout preparation or the Queen’s speech or whatever), only malt whisky will do. Glendronach 15yo Revival (£59.89 – Amazon) is a full-bodied highland single malt aged entirely in Spanish oak Sherry casks that tastes perfectly of Christmas. Master blender Rachel Barrie is one of the best in the business and this dram is a great example of her skill and experience. Expect lots of chocolate and hazelnuts, dark fruits, Christmas cake, and candied peel – the perfect way to close out Christmas day.