Christmas drinks: what to offer

So it’s the 20th, so we can no longer be in denial – Christmas is really very soon. So of course I’ve got my shopping sorted and now it’s time to consider what to offer people when they arrive. This isn’t a cookery page; wiser heads than mine will advise you on how to cook turkey, vegetarian alternatives and soforth. I usually get asked to chop some veg, set the table up and soforth. Oh, and sort the drinks.

Here’s the plan: first have loads of non-alcoholic drinks available. Many people assume you have to booze all day at Christmas and they’re wrong. Someone will be driving, someone just won’t fancy it – so juices, teas, coffees. If you want something with a bit of non-alcoholic kick then Sainsbury’s is doing a nice apple, pineapple and lemongrass juice at the moment.

Always good to offer people a welcoming drink. On the alcoholic side there’s sherry. This is not, repeat not, to be served at room temperature – the Spanish, who make it, keep it in the refrigerator. Gonzales Byass has sent me a bottle of Tio Pepe, the fino variety, which is very dry and needs to be kept chilled; if I’m honest I prefer something a little off dry but this would go well with snacks for people with sterner palates.

People may not fancy anything that strong. Champagne is always good but consider also the less expensive alternatives. Casillero del Diablo is offering a nice sparkling chardonnay, £8.99 from Waitrose. It tastes clean, limey, citrussy. This or one of the many proseccos available will do well abefore lunch – but do be careful, some of them are extremely dry at the moment.

If you have an unduly dry prosecco and are concerned people won’t like it as much as you do, there’s always the lower-alcohol cocktail option; a restaurant I visited on holiday, the excellent Moonraker’s in Alfriston, Sussex, gave us a mix of prosecco and elderflower juice on the way in earlier this year. It’s a fine, light start and a good variation on bucks’ fizz – but people are less likely to have had it before.

Others may prefer something a little stronger. My own preferred tipple is a single malt whisky, of which there are many on the market. This year I’ve been trying Highland Park, which is a good all rounder, plus the Macallen, which is a little more peaty. My own favourites remain the clean-tasting, unpeated Penderyn, notable for being the only Welsh single malt so it’s a talking point (albeit a short lived one once you’ve made the point), and Glengoyne, one of the few unpeated Scotch whiskies (it was the only unpeated one last time I looked but I’d need to check to be certain). People who prefer a smokier flavour could look at Talisker, while people who want something lighter and multipurpose would do well with Auchentoshan. Don’t be fooled by the lighter taste, this and all the others are 40% proof and need to be drunk with respect to your liver. These are all premium whiskies and not to be drunk with mixers – this isn’t a snobby thing, just don’t spend £30+ on something you’re barely going to taste.

For a longer drink Magners has some new ciders on the market flavoured with rhubarb, honey and cinnamon; they’re pleasant if you like something sweet to start you off. I’d rather have an ale like Black Sheep, but at Christmas a lot of people want something a bit different so the Magners is a good option.

If you really wanted something a little different then Mount Gay rum is a good alternative to the single malt – few people think of drinking rum without a mixer (that’s a really white middle classed statement I suspect) but it’s a premium drink like all of the above, hints of raisins and spices and utterly excellent.

For the meal itself I prefer a red wine accompanied with buckets of water. Vina Pomal Reserve 2006 is available from Majestic Wine and at £12.99 or £9.99 for two is as fruity and rich as you could want to accompany the turkey, stuffing and everything else we all try to cram on our plates this time of year. White drinkers might go for a NZ Sauvignon or continue with the sparkling chardonnay above.

If people want something a bit festive with their dessert – good grief, the stamina some people have – then one of my in-laws swears she will only drink Bailey’s. I might try her on Merlin, from the same people who make Penderyn; it’s a cream liqueur (not my usual thing I admit) but you can taste the whisky flavour considerably more than you can through a Bailey’s. Maybe that’s what she likes about it and I’ll be doing her an enormous disservice. For my own dessert I’ll be attacking a vodka liqueur we came across at a school Christmas fete a week ago; from Howard’s of Kent, whose website seems to be down (howardsofkent.co.uk when it’s back up), Christmas pudding flavour and tastes just like it says on the bottle.

All of that said, I’ve just remembered whose turn it is to drive at Christmas. So I’m actually more likely to be on the orange juice than anything else. Which is certainly healthier and I’d really, really recommend responsible drinking and not a drop when you’re driving.

Maybe I can let my hair down a bit on Boxing Day…

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