Festive cocktails 2019

It's that time of year again when we love to let go, throw frivolous or outrageous parties and bring something special to our table. It's a good time to serve cocktails, so I've been thinking about what I should suggest as my festive selection for 2019. Here are the ones I love to serve and drink. They include a few you could serve together at a cocktail party, some that are particularly suited to aperitif drinking and one that's great for winding down when the guests have gone.

You'll notice a lot of overlap in the ingredients for these cocktails. The main reason for that is my love of certain spirits and liqueurs for their flavour and versatility. It's also so that you can put together a stylish cocktail party without buying a large number of different ingredients. The manufacturers of these ingredients have not sponsored me in any way, save by supplying a couple of photos for the blog.

Three White Ladies
The original White Lady cocktail is a thing of simplicity and elegance - pure 1920s. It started off with citrus and crème de menthe favours but quickly became what we know now: a combination of gin, triple sec liqueur and fresh lemon juice. I like to add egg white to mine, because it gives the drink better body and tops it with a festive layer of snowy foam.

In a shaker of ice, put

  • about 10ml of egg white
  • 1 measure of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 measure of Cointreau or triple sec
  • 2 measures of gin (York Gin's Old Tom gin works really well)
Shake hard for about a minute, then strain into a coupette or Windsor martini glass. Leave ungarnished or add a slice of lemon.

Once you've mastered the White Lady, you can then try a couple of variants that use other favourite ingredients of mine. The first replaces the orange liqueur with a ginger one. This is stronger and drier than triple sec, so you may like to add a teaspoon or so of sugar syrup. I've also reduced the proportion of gin, so it doesn't overwhelm the ginger. It remains deceptively high in alcohol, though, so I named it after a collection of short stories by Patrick Gale: Dangerous Pleasures
  • about 10ml of egg white
  • 1 measure of lemon juice
  • 1 measure of The King's Ginger liqueur
  • 1 measure of gin

My other variant White Lady contains Italicus rosolio di bergamotto, a relatively new Italian liqueur that combines traditional flavours of herbs and rose petals with the freshness of bergamot, the citrus fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive taste. Since the fruit is named after the beautiful town of Bergamo, in northern Italy, I have named this cocktail la Bergamasca, the lady from Bergamo.
  • about 10ml egg white
  • 1 measure of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 measure of Italicus rosolio di bergamotto
  • 2 measures of gin (Italian if possible)
Unlike the other two versions of the White Lady, I would insist on la Bergamasca being made with egg white. It really helps to round off the flavours and bring out the lovely, delicate flavour of the liqueur. La Bergamasca makes a delightful aperitif drink, as the opener to a holiday dinner party. Serve it with savoury biscuits, such as those from The Drinks Bakery (https://www.thedrinksbakery.com/)

Image courtesy of Italicus Ltd

A Mermaid's Kiss
Who doesn't love a bit of festive sparkle at Christmas? I've written before about the dangers of using Prosecco instead of Champagne in cocktails, but this one was created especially for the softer, milder experience of the Italian wine. Once again, it makes use of the Italicus liqueur's fresh and floral tones, and it comes in a glass with a salt & sugar rim, so that each sip leaves a tangy reminder of the siren's embrace. It was a cocktail I created for the Guardian newspaper's Zoe Williams this summer, and she has described it as "an outstanding cocktail - sweet, bitter, a little dirty... and exhilarating." One friend has suggested she was describing me, rather than the cocktail. So be it.

Start by preparing your glasses. Mix a teaspoon of fine sea salt with a teaspoon of caster sugar and tip them into a saucer. Dip your finger in a little of the Italicus liqueur and lightly trace it around half the rim of a coupette or other suitable glass. Dip the glass into the salt-sugar mix, shake gently and leave to dry while you mix the cocktail.

For about 4 small glasses, stir together in a mixing glass of ice
  • 10ml of fresh lemon juice
  • 25ml of vodka (I like to use the Lakes Distillery vodka, as it's so smooth)
  • 50ml of Italicus rosolio di bergamotto
Strain into the prepared glasses and add just a splash of Prosecco, no more than the same volume as the spirit mix. Serve this one either as the centre-piece of a cocktail party or as a New Years Eve aperitif - the perfect drink to get you in the mood for a celebration. Serve it with lightly smoked trout or potted crab toasts. Beware of that vodka, though: it hides the strength of the cocktail. The fish-lady can give you quite a punch if you kiss her too much!

A Yuletide Mimosa
It's common to mistake a Mimosa for a Bucks Fizz and vice versa. The basic difference is the alcohol content. Bucks Fizz is made with equal quantities of orange juice and Champagne. For a true Mimosa, on the other hand, the fruit juice is reduced, but laced with liqueur for an extra kick. My Yuletide Mimosa plays on those festive flavours of clementine and spice.

  • Dampen the rim of several Champagne flutes in Angostura Bitters, then dip them into a saucer of caster sugar. Set aside to dry.
  • In a jug of ice, mix 300ml of clementine juice with 200ml of The King's Ginger liqueur. Strain this mix into the flutes, to a depth of 5-6cm (a generous 2 inches) in each. Top up with Champagne.

Independent businesses in my home town have their own networking hour on Twitter each Monday evening. I created this cocktail for them last winter, which plays along the same spicy lines as the Yuletide Mimosa. It combines two of the town's greatest drinks, gin and tea, and is a lovely warmer on a cold evening. You can watch me making it here: 

Start by flavouring your gin. Take a Christmas spiced teabag and place it in a cup or jug with a measure of gin. Leave it to steep for a few minutes.

Place a sliver of green chilli in your shaker with plenty ice and add
  • a measure of Dubonnet
  • half a measure of The King's Ginger liqueur
  • the measure of prepared, tea-flavoured gin
Shake hard and strain into a coupette glass. Garnish with half a slice of clementine.

Chinese Dragon
When everyone's gone, and you're looking for a little night-cap, try mixing equal quantities of Cognac and The King's Ginger in a brandy glass. Give it a quick stir and sit back to enjoy the silence!

Next time: lots of bubbles


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