From a different approach to hot drinks to fresh takes on classics it’s time to experiment, writes bartender Iain Meldrum
The festive period has always been associated with iconic drinks – be it a warming winter punch, a smooth sloe gin or that most peculiarly American drink, eggnog.
For those of us who tire of tradition, however, a little experimentation can bring joy to the world and certain spirits will lend a definite yuletide character to a drink.
Aged rum’s sweet richness can be built on with other festive flavours or it can be used to replace the vodka or gin from some of the more summery classic cocktails – a rum Cosmopolitan, for example.
Brandy is a mainstay of Christmas cooking and features in several timeless tipples, but try switching to a kirschwasser or some other such fruit brandy for a different take.
The quintessential Christmas flavours often found in spiced rums or complex whisky-based liqueurs such as Drambuie can effortlessly give a cocktail a real pair of festive baubles.
You could also have a play around with modifiers based on nuts and stone fruits, such as plum liqueur or crème de châtaigne.
Hot drinks are as ubiquitous to the holiday season as mistletoe or toy adverts but, while the perennial mulled wine is rarely any better than the wine it started out as, mulled cider can turn an often flat, dry drink into a 3D blockbuster.
Try introducing some allspice, cardamom or anise to the usual line-up of cinnamon, clove and citrus.
Hot doesn’t need to mean high temperature, either – cayenne, chilli or horseradish can add a welcome kick to a cold drink.
The on-trade will have a fever for hot drinks, too.
This year will see some unusual takes on the usual toddies, swapping out the whisky for an aged tequila, a smoky mezcal or a fragrant gin. Some places are experimenting with winter-warmer versions of familiar cocktails like a hot Bramble or a peppermint tea Julep and expect to find hot buttered rum muscling in on more menus.
Following the culinary tradition of deconstructing classic (and often clichéd) dishes, the dated drinks of the ’80s party bars – like the Grasshopper, the Blue Lagoon or the Sex on the Beach – are getting 21st century make-overs with modern techniques and high quality ingredients.
The love affair with all things savoury will continue with menus slipping a few herbs, vegetables and even meat into their repertoire.
With all this innovation it’s shaping up to be a merry little Christmas.