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For many of us, Christmas is a time to enjoy a handsome tipple or two. Some of us will be restocking our drinks cabinets in anticipation of a wee dram on a winter’s evening, or looking to ensure we have lovely bottles on hand to gift to those we love. But while a handy bottle of Bailey’s may never go astray – called, as it is by some, Christmas milk (£21 at Tesco’s just now), sometimes you’re after something a little more special. Be it for you – wanting to ring in the festive season with a new drop of splosh – or as a present – this is the time to indulge in a different drink.
We’ve got you. From spectacular rums, to wines to lift the mood of even the weariest soul, to smoky bourbon – here are the Christmas spirits that will truly make you feel jolly. Of course – enjoy them responsibly, please.
Oh – and a note. You may be tempted to buy a whiskey lover ‘whisky stones’ – stones that go into the freezer, allowing drinkers to cool their dram without diluting it. In our not inconsiderable experience, this is a poor idea. Nobody we know who is an avid whiskey fan uses the whiskey stones they have been gifted – and most of them have been gifted several sets. Maybe this is anathema but we’d avoid them as a purchase unless you enjoy seeing your gift head straight to a charity shop.
An intriguing little number, ideal, we found, for building cocktails – especially a Daiquiri or Mary Pickford.
Tidal Rum is manufactured in Jersey, though it’s built from a blend of rums distilled in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic. If that makes it sound busy, well, you may be a blend-snob (no shame: we all have our preferences). For our money, we found this tipple to be super smooth with a ticklish saline finish which really comes through in mixed drinks. It’s suffused with “oak-smoked pepper dulse seaweed foraged from the tides of Jersey” which, in layman’s terms, just makes it a touch smoky on the back of the palate.
So, grab your Tidal, some limes, and some sugar, channel your inner Hemingway and fix a Daiquiri (though he omitted the sugar – Papa Doble was diabetic) for a Merry Christmas indeed.
Just remember the sage words of Charles H Baker in the superlative Gentleman’s Companionand go easy on the sugar: “a too sweet Daiquiri is like a lovely lady with too much perfume”.
“My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne.”
Thus spoke John Maynard Keynes, perhaps hoping his economic theory that the government should intervene when public demand for a commodity drops extended to a gubernatorial Fizz Stimulus Package. For our part, we intend on not sharing Keynes’ regret.
Champagne Piaff Brut, then, provides an excellent option for quaffing at Christmas. Yes, the price tag is one at odds with a cost of living crisis. If you need a more affordable bubbly, we have a gallery of sub £35 drops – or hit up a cremant, which is made according to méthode champenoise but without the price tag that comes from being from the Champagne region.
But the Piaff – yes, it’s worth your pounds, and attention. A blend of 30% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir & 35% Chardonnay, it has a creamy, frothy mousse, suitably decadent for celebrations. There’s a hint of vanilla brioche and light notes of apple and pear, just a touch of lemon-y acidity. It slides down like an ill-judged metaphor. Sets one in a delightfully carefree mood. We love it.
To paraphrase the Pixies, drink this monkey and you’re gone to heaven.
Cocktail crafting is one of those skills that is often shrouded in a – forgive us – needlessly pretentious air of mystery, presented as a hallowed art perfected by an elite few when it’s usually little more than mixing two parts this to one part that with a dash of the other and a garnish. That said, if you’re a true home cocktail neophyte, whiskey and ginger ale, we maintain, is the easiest combination to get right (yes, even above a G’n’T) – ice, a double of whiskey, top with ginger ale, garnished with a lime wedge.
And Monkey Shoulder is a fabulous wee dram to do it with. It’s a very suppable whiskey – smoky oakiness on the nose, then a smooth, malty sweetness and a hint of citrus. The sweet zing of the Fever Tree ginger ale makes a cocktail even whiskey deniers will enjoy – warming and refreshing.
A thoughtful gift set for a cocktail newbie.
Between Boris Johnson’s ceaseless lying and Liz Truss’ frankly almost impressive ability to self-immolate in less time that it takes for a banana to turn, England didn’t cover itself in glory this year – its global standing is not too high. We posit, however, if enough people could pour some Nyetimber Classic Cuvee (crafted in the South of England) down their gullets, the world would once again realize the majesty the tiny nation is capable of.
Forget any antiquated notions about the English not being able to produce wine: we prefer this sparkling delight, made from champagne grapes, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, to Bollinger – and we’re awful fond of bolly.
Crafted in the méthode champenoise, it starts with a bright flash of acidity – as Aldous Huxley put it, “like an apple peeled with a steel knife”. But that sharp opening softens to a ripe, lingering taste, at once intense and delicate, ideal for if you are planning on idling your way through multiple bottles.
Forget Shakespeare – this is one of England’s greatest contributions to the world.
We are sniffy about prefab cocktails, believing, as it were, that it is only the work of moments to make a decent cocktail yourself, so why plump for a synthetic tasting, inferior alternative? That said, there are times you may want to make like Diane Abbott and enjoy a cheeky train mojito – and we applaud you.
For those occasions, or when you frankly can’t be bothered, Funkin’ Nitro Cocktails are the RTD drinks to reach for. Why? Firstly, they’re absolutely the best at replicating the balance that you get in a well mixed drink, with sweet, sour, sharpness and booze all at the right levels (most prefab cocktails are just too sweet).
Secondly, they’re infused with nitrogen which is released when the can is cracked to give the drink a smooth, velvety texture. We confess we plowed our way through quite a few Pina Coladas very merrily on a recent train trip to London. But then we’ve always been politically minded.
Richard Godwin (whose book, The Spirits, is the single most enjoyable mixology book on the market – it can be read like a novel. One that will get you thoroughly, delectably, hammered) calls gin “London’s great contribution to regret.”
While we’re tickled by Godwin’s characteristic droll patter, we would also argue that you will never regret fixing yourself a G&T using Inverroche as your G – though perhaps that’s because it’s manufactured in South Africa.
Inverroche Classic Gin may have been crafted to satisfy our desire for a tipple that is ideally balanced – not boring, just clean and smooth. With a piney juniper and earthy botanical underpinning, a hint of citrus lifts this easy to drink gin, a pleasingly floral, crisp drink when supped neat.
As we said, we adore this in a G&T – it sings of that bright citrus splash, a judicious degree of juniper, and a little bit of spice (cardamom and cassia) to add depth. Delicate but not dull. Highly recommended.
As with most spirits, the price of tequila and mezcal can get very high, with the factors contributing to price usually down to rarity of ingredients and time.
The Lost Explorer has three mezcals on the market, each named after the variety of agave used to make them. Espadín uses agaves aged 8 years and costs around £60; Tobalá uses the rarer 10 year old wild agaves and costs over £100; and Salmiana, costing nearly £140, features a much less well known variety which is harvested at 12 years.
Lost Exporer’s Salmiana is harder to get hold of so we suggest you turn to Tobalá for some neat sipping action. It’s full of character, with the freshness underpinned by rustic notes of wood, leather and tobacco.
We also detected some hints of sweet, smoky vanilla and a slight burst of orange juice but, as with expensive Scotch whisky, every drinker will discover their own flavors within each sip.
Discerning rum lovers will often turn to Barbados, Cuba or Jamaica for a premium expression of the sunshine spirit.
But this solera rum from Venezuela is absolutely worth your time. The solera method is usually used in the production of sherry, where a mixture of different aged iterations of the same drink are blended together to aid oxidisation and create a consistently excellent drop.
The results, in the case of Santa Teresa Rum, are delectable.
With hints of vanilla, chocolate-leather on the nose, and a slight hint of nose, this is a smooth, satisfying sipping rum. Enjoy neat.
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Although Kentucky is undoubtedly the home of bourbon, production of the spirit isn’t confined to the county and, perhaps without the pressure to operate along traditional Kentucky lines, many of the new distilleries from elsewhere seem more inclined to do things differently.
Kings County is a Brooklyn-based distillery founded in 2010 (the first in New York City since prohibition) that has branched out into new territory, successfully dabbling with a peated bourbon.
Give it a sniff and it has the instant smell of sweet vanilla familiar to many bourbons, with the peat practically undetectable. Get your taste buds in on the action and that sweetness becomes more subdued, revealing dry leathery flavors and some bitter fruits among the toasted spices.
This is clearly a very different kind of bourbon, but without reading peat on the label you might be hard pressed to fathom why: instead of the briney smoke associated with Scottish peated whiskey, in this instance the peat seems to have provided some depth you normally associate with more aged spirits.
A very enjoyable departure from the Kentucky norm.