beverage REPORT : The really taxing issue for election night is what drinks policy to vote for? We line up a range of reliable, colourful candidates
THIS THURSDAY, a lot of people are going to be staying up late - not because they're insomniacs or ravers but because they're waiting for election results to roll in. If you're planning to be one of them, you'll develop a thirst at some point. And you should quench it happily but cautiously, since the haul is a long one. Pace yourself, please, or risk early retirement on medical grounds.

Serious psephologists may limit themselves (at least initially) to the non-alcoholic bevvy. If needed, they can prop open the eyelids with Taylors Hot Lava Java Coffee, a high-caffeine blend (Java and Africa) sold by Waitrose (pounds 2.25 for 227g). Is tea on your drinks menu? Then pop into a branch of Whittard of Chelsea or try their mail-order service on 0171 924 1888. From May onwards, they'll have the UK's first shipment of 1997 Darjeeling First Flush (at pounds 5.99 for 125g), fine tips picked after the first spring budding ("flush") at the Margaret's Hope estate. If it's not available yet, their product director Giles Hilton assures me that the 1996 vintage is still drinking well. He says that it should really be sipped without milk; follow your own conscience.

Election-night winos should pick up something they'll be able to sip happily but casually; they certainly don't want to be distracted from the swingometer by anything fancy. I would go with an easy-drinking kind of wine, a French regional or something from one of the newer worlds. And red in preference to white, for prolonged sipping. Asda has two candidates free from sleaze: the South African Blue Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz 1996 (pounds 4.49) and Domaine La Baume Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 4.79). Euro-sceptics will prefer the South African, but the La Baume has greater subtlety. Enthusiasts of good cheap claret (a contradiction in terms perhaps?) might be content with Marks & Spencer's Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (pounds 5.99) - a real Chilean beauty with lovely, deep fruit, soft tannins and a nice dose of oak. Or if it's true claret they crave, I commend to the house a half-bottle of B&G St Julien "Tradition" 1994 (Safeway, pounds 4.99), which has proper length and a fine balance of tannin and fruit. But the biggest bargain of all right now is Domaine de Borios St Chinian 1995, smooth, round, ripe fruitiness costing just pounds 2.79 until the end of the month at Co-Op (and a mere pounds 3.49 thereafter).

If your party ends up winning, you may feel like cracking open a bottle of champagne. Don't. Save it for the weekend.

A glass of malt makes another wise choice for slow and careful consumption as the constituencies report back, and Oddbins sells the most interesting selection in the high street. I've been particularly impressed by their own bottlings of three 15-Year-Old Speysides, each matured in either Madeira, port or sherry casks. The differences are mark-ed, and they all have their merits, but the vanilla smoothness of the Madeira version (pounds 19.99) registered the biggest movement on my own swingometer. Moving up a notch in price, Cask-Strength Glenmorangie (pounds 27.99) at 43 per cent and finished in Madeira casks, had even greater weight and intensity of flavour, with a finish that seemed to last forever.

Yet another notch up the price scale, they still have bottles of a 27-Year-Old Benromach, again a Speyside and this time finished in port casks. Folks, the adjectives fail me: this is one of the greatest, most sumptuous drinks ever to pass my lips. And it comes at a sumptuous price too, pounds 49.99. Now, I'll admit that the idea of spending pounds 50 on a bottle of anything seems pretty loopy. But look at it this way: you can pay even more for a bottle of prestige cuvee champagne which lasts for one evening, whereas this bottle could go on for months and months.

Or, try looking at it another way: your bottle will yield 30 measures (25ml) each costing around pounds 1.60. You can pay more in a pub for a shot of blended Scotch. But in this case, the money will buy you a drink that is, in whisky terms, the equivalent of Chateau Latour.

Value for money? I think so. And no better companion for the election night vigil comes to mind - whether you're cheering, moaning, or merely watching. !