Drink: The spirit of Christmas past
Champagne cocktails, fine sherry, hot toddies: the perfect recipe for a night with friends. We asked drinks connoisseurs from around Britain to suggest traditional, festive tipples that you can enjoy at home
Saturday 11 December 1999
Traditionally produced for Christmas by one of Belgium's many independent breweries - this one's family-owned and based in an old abbey - Cuvee de Noel is a smooth, rich and dark ale with a touch of bitter chocolate and spice. It even has a warming aftertaste - possibly because it is 9 per cent ABV - and it goes well with Christmas pudding, apparently. It is one of more than 100 Belgian beers served at Bierodrome bars and Belgo restaurants in London and Bristol, but, for pounds 2.10, bottles can also be bought to take away. The three Belgo restaurants in London also sell Cuvee de Noel gift packs, for pounds 18.25, of four bottles and a goblet which has been shaped to accentuate the aroma.
Belgo Centraal, 50 Earlham Street, London WC2 (0171-813 2233).
For 80 years, Harrogate-based Bettys has provided Yorkshire with coffees, teas and cakes. At this time of year, Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms offers its own blend of Christmas Coffee to those who stop by for a treat. This medium-dark roast is a blend of Ethiopian mocha and coffees from Zimbabwe and Indonesia: aromatic, spicy and ideal for drinking with mince pies. A splash of brandy, Cognac or Irish whiskey can be added for greater cockle-warming effect. Brewed in a cafetiere, it is served with a choice of hot milk or cream. Bettys Christmas Coffee berry is pounds 8.80 per lb and a 125g caddy of the ground coffee is pounds 4.50, from mail-order sister Bettys & Taylors.
Bettys Cafe Tea Room, 1 Parliament Street, Harrogate, North Yorkshire (01423 502746). For mail order call 01423 886055.
Chocolate Martini from Match Jonathan Santer, based at the new Match bar in London's West End, calls this a "nouveau classic". Chocolate Martinis are "no longer outrageous, they're dead simple, good for a dabble at home," he says. The chocolate isn't immediately obvious as they're made with white creme de cacao chocolate liqueur. They're a great indulgence after dinner, but not too sickly before a meal, either. The Match version includes Marie Brizard Vanille de Madagascar for enhanced aromatic essence; it's called a Vodka Blondie. Pour 50ml Wyborowa, 25ml Vanille de Madagascar and 15ml white creme de cacao over ice into a Boston shaker. Shake and strain into a frozen Martini glass. Garnish with a white chocolate button.
Match, 37-38 Margaret Street, London W1 (0171-499 3443).
Ardbeg whisky from the Bow Bar
Of 150 malt whiskies at this Edinburgh bar - recommended by the Scottish Malt Whisky Society for its splendid range - this is the one most readily suggested by manager Lee Thorburn. Many connoisseurs agree with him. A 17-year-old Islay single malt with the smoky, peaty characteristics of malts from that island, it has a particular complexity and delicacy attributed to a purifier on the still and Bourbon-matured wood. The distillery was taken over by Glenmorangie two years ago, and it has been described as the greatest on earth. At the Bow Bar, Ardbeg costs around pounds 1.80 a shot - served straight, with water on the side if required. Larger Sainsbury's, all Asdas and Oddbins sell it for around pounds 29.99 a bottle.
Bow Bar, 80 West Bow, Edinburgh (0131 226 7667).
Fino Jarana, Lustau
from Corney & Barrow
Corney & Barrow, the 200-year-old wine merchant which also runs wine bars, has chosen a sherry that should surprise with its dryness and elegance. Emilio Lustau is a family-owned sherry shipper, committed to restoring traditions. It allows its wines to mature especially slowly, bringing out complexity and elegance. Fino Jarana is the lightest of its Reserva range, with a crisp freshness akin to that of Manzanilla. Normally drunk as an aperitif, it also works well with shellfish and seafood. Drink it by the glass at the bars, or buy a bottle for pounds 9.17 at the shops.
Corney & Barrow, 116 St Martin's Lane, London WC2 (0171-655 9800). For shops and wines by the case, call 0171-251 4051.
from Claridges' Bar
In the grandest of Mayfair hotels, Paolo Laureiro, manager of the beautifully restored Art Deco Claridges' Bar, has no hesitation recommending a classic Champagne cocktail as a winter pick-me-up. "It's a powerful drink and warms you up," he says, "especially if you have two or three." His recipe follows the original, with the addition of Grand Marnier liqueur for seasonal spice and a sweet, orangey aroma. Put one shot of brandy, a little dash of Grand Marnier, one sugar cube and three dashes Angostura Bitters straight into a champagne flute. Top up - gently - with Champagne.
Claridges' Bar, Davies Street, London W1 (0171-629 8860).
Sandeman Vau Vintage port, 1997 from Hotel du Vin
Vintage ports are the wines from a single, great year. They are aged for two years before bottling, then matured in the bottle for 10 to 15 years. But Sandeman's Vau Vintage is intended to be drunk young. "It's the first year I've seen a vintage port this young," says Denis Frucot, manager of the bar in Bristol's Hotel du Vin. He's been won over by its light, lively style. It would complement a dessert of red fruits as well as the chocolate or cheese courses with which port is usually partnered - or drink it on its own after a great meal. Oddbins sells it for pounds 24.99 a bottle, pounds 12.99 for a half bottle, and pounds 49.99 for the 1.5-litre size.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro, Narrow Lewins Mead, Bristol (0117 925 5577).
Dark and Stormy
from The Eagle
The original gastro-pub was a pioneer in London's fashionable Clerkenwell, and it still gives its many new neighbours and imitators a run for their money with its blend of loose-limbed music, open-grill cooking, wines, ales and this winter warmer called a Dark and Stormy. Rum and ginger beer combine in a dark spirit and spice mixture that is refreshing and warming rather than sickly. Ginger beer is a great drink, though tragically many bars haven't heard of it. Do not be palmed off; ginger ale is nothing like it. On a blustery day a Dark and Stormy is just the drink to dive indoors for. Quarter a lime, squeeze the juice of each and drop what's left into a tumbler. Add lots of ice cubes, and a large tot of dark rum - at the Eagle they use Havana Club. Top up with Fentiman's ginger beer.
The Eagle, 159 Farringdon Road, London EC1 (0171-837 1353).
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