Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas book competition: the results!

To win a copy of Victoria Moore’s new book How to Drink at Christmas, I asked you simply to tell me what your favourite Christmas drink was, in whatever manner you chose. After much deliberation, bribery and a steward’s enquiry, I can reveal the winning entries.

Mr Giles Culpepper was quick to jab in his response: “My favourite Christmas tipple is a tumbler half full of red wine topped up with Scotch, commonly known as Queen Victoria’s Tipple.” As an afterthought he adds, “Go easy on the Scotch unless you’re keen on an evening of utter oblivion.”* Well, if you can’t embrace oblivion at Christmas, when can you do it? This makeshift and appealingly desperate-sounding drink is nicer than it sounds. I tried a half-and-half mix using a bottle of Primitivo I had open and some Johnnie Walker Red Label and it was actually rather unpleasant—somehow more astringent than either of the component ingredients. But when I increased the wine to two thirds it suddenly began to make more sense. I’m not sure if it is supposed to be drunk on the rocks but I doubt it would do any harm.

A Secret Martini, made using a miniature
shaker that I picked up from Shaker & Co:
very handy for one-person cocktails
Our next winner is Mr Maximillion Conrad, who submitted a cocktail recipe with accompanying haiku:

Fucking Christmas... Shit!
The New Sheridan Club, ahh...

Brings me Chappish joy. 
Secret Martini (a good name for the New Sheridan Club spy-themed party, no?)
3 oz. Gin

1 oz. Lillet Blanc

2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake with cracked ice (preferably to the rhythm of "Jingle Bells") and strain into a chilled martini glass. I find it to have the perfect balance of inducing forgetfulness, and making conversation flow effortlessly.

Related to the Vesper Martini (from the James Bond novel Casino Royale: 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka, ½ part Lillet, lemon twist), this drink does away with the vodka, and doubles the presence of the Lillet Blanc. The Vesper was originally made with Kina Lillet, which contained quinine and would have had a bitter edge, like the red vermouth Punt e Mes; as here, many modern bartenders add Angostura to replace the lost bitterness, though of course this also adds colour. (As an alternative try Cocchi Americano or China Martini.) I knocked one up using No.3 gin and the resulting cocktail was relatively sweet, both from the sweet orange in the gin and the orangey sweetness of the Lillet.

Ms Sadie Doherty submitted this intriguing blend:

My favourite Christmas tipple would have to be 1 part Goldschläger (or Becherovka if you can get your hands on some—I’ve only had it once but it was lovely), 1 part ginger wine, 1 part lemon juice, shaken with plenty of ice and topped up with fiery ginger beer. It doesn’t really have a name so I will call it a Gingerbread Fan for want of better pun.

A Gingerbread Fan made using Becherovka.
That garnish is a slice of ginger, by the way,
not a potato crisp
Ginger and cinnamon flavours make this a very Christmassy drink, though the hearty dose of lemon counters the sweetness of the liqueur and actually makes it sharp and refreshing. It’s not too alcoholic, if that should prove a factor. Becherovka is indeed not that easy to get hold of here (though ubiquitous and dirt cheap in the Czech Republic).

Ms Elaine Myburgh’s offering comes with an elaborate origin story:

It was a treacherously dark and stormy night, with howling winds and shrieks galore, when two aspiring mixologists called on help from above to create a drink so potent as to bleach all their nefarious deeds from their fellow mens’ memories.
Out came the Sailor Jerry’s rum to warm their cockles, the port to put hair back on chests that had long forgotten what it felt like to puff up in pride, the orange flame to hearken back to days in sunny splendour on far of shores. 
Stirred slowly over ice, with the bartenders version of Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble softly repeated four times to hide the true potency of this devilishly delicious concoction it was then finished of with a dash of fresh OJ and a cinnamon stick to stir as garnish.

Sailor Jerry’s is not my favourite spiced rum—too sweet with cloying vanilla for me—but in the right combination it can work. Elaine has so far not given me the actual recipe, but it clearly involves Sailor Jerry’s, port, orange juice plus the cryptic reference to the “orange flame”. Sounds a bit sweet, but certainly Christmassy.

A Sloe Gin Fizz
The final prize goes to Ms Claire Wallin for reminding us that Champagne and sloe gin are an excellent combination, with the dry acidity of the wine balancing with the sweetness of the fruity spirit. “The mix of bubbly goodness with what I class as (almost) one of my five a day is a perfect
seasonal treat!” she says.

As it happens this drink is in the very book that you have been competing for, as a Sloe Gin Fizz, mixing one part sloe gin to three parts sparkling wine. I would probably use less sloe gin than this, but it depends on the intensity and sweetness of the brand (or homemade special) you have to hand.

Those are our five winners, though honourable mention must go to Mr Rob Harrison, who introduced me to the Gin Basil Smash, a drink invented at Le Lion in Hamburg and which went on to win Best New Cocktail at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, but of which I don’t think I was aware. Not only that but he presented his recipe in limerick form:

“Hendrick's smash”, a delectable sin:
Take lemonade, ice, to begin,
A fistful of basil,
A lemon to dazzle,
Then fill to the top with some gin!

You can see that Rob is firmly in the Hendrick’s camp, though I notice that Jörg Meyer, the inventor, doesn’t specify a brand. Interestingly Rob uses lemonade, whereas most recipes combine gin and basil with sugar syrup and lemon juice: take a good handful of basil, muddle it in a shaker with half a lemon to extract the juice from both. Then add 20ml sugar syrup and 60ml gin. Shake it all vigorously with ice and double strain into a glass filled with cracked or cubed ice. The result is quite green.

However, in the final analysis, interesting as this cocktail is, I decided it wasn’t Christmassy enough to make it into the winning five! Sorry, Rob.

Thanks to all who entered, and a Merry Christmas (with the emphasis on merry) to all our readers.

* Kingsley Amis’s advice for making this drink is: “The quantity of Scotch is up to you but I recommend stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler.”


  1. Elaine has now furnished me with the full recipe:

    40ml Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
    20ml Port (any will do but preferably from the Quinta do Crasto estate in the Douro Valley—Portugal as they have an amazing range of ports that you could prob find at your local Majestic!)
    10ml Campari
    2 Orange wedges
    Dash OJ

    Orange Flame
    Cinnamon Stick

    Glass: Rocks

    Method: Fill rocks glass halfway with fresh cubed ice. Squeeze orange wedges over ice and discard. Slowly stir in Sailor Jerry Rum (should take about 4min) then stir in Douro Port (total stirring time is 6 min). Top with dash of OJ.

    Garnish with orange flame, and one cinnamon stick instead of straw as this is a quality sipping beverage and anyone that wants to gulp it down through a straw should be shot on sight!

  2. Thanks! I would love to make this recipe on Christmas eve. But first, I have to test If I can get the right taste for it. I should also take note of my responsible alcohol retailing guidelines before I try probably to sell this one but only to my relatives. Kidding. :)