It’s fair to say that this year Christmas will be a little bit different. Parties? Probably not. Vast gatherings of friends and extended family? Unlikely. Trips to the panto? Er, no.
But let’s accentuate the positive – low-key festivities can be cosy, intimate and full of personal touches. They might even be relaxing, for a change. But one thing’s for certain – we’ll want to raise a glass to say a firm (and not so fond) farewell to 2020 while welcoming 2021 with optimism.
From the field to the bottle
Wherever you live in the UK, it’s quite possible there’s an innovative craft distillery or flourishing vineyard in close proximity. The wines and spirits they produce will have distinctive flavours, uniquely influenced by local ingredients and the surrounding natural environment. By supporting local producers, we can be sure of the provenance of what goes into our festive drinks – sometimes down to the field in which the ingredients grew. Oh, and of course, we can be certain of enjoying something really delicious.
Vodka made from milk? Surely some mistake. But no, on a farm in West Dorset, magic (or should that be alchemy?) happens. The combined genius of Jason Barber and Paul Archard takes inspiration from the ancient Mongolian custom of fermenting milk to make alcohol.
This is combined with Northern Europe’s tradition of producing high-proof, clear vodka. And it’s all done using whey – a co-product from the farm’s cheese-making activities.
It’s not far from the field to the bottle in this process, with distilling and bottling taking place in sight of the grass-fed cows that provide the milk. This is a warming and sophisticated shot that’s uniquely creamy and so exceptionally super-smooth it can be sipped neat.
Family run for four generations, Arbikie Estate is a working farm found at Lunan Bay on the east coast of Scotland. A trio of ambitious brothers – John, Iain and David Stirling – came up with a plan to turn the traditional crops grown on the farm into top-notch spirits. That means using potatoes for Tattie Bogle vodka and Kirsty’s gin (a gluten-free option), as well as wheat for Haar vodka and AK’s gin.
A drive for innovation and environmental responsibility led to the development of Nàdar gin and vodka – ‘nàdar’ meaning ‘nature’ in Gaelic. Made in a secret process using peas, these revolutionary spirits have a negative carbon footprint, making them climate positive. Clever.
The largest single-estate organic vineyard in the UK, Oxney soaks up the sun in beautiful East Sussex. The vineyard is part of an 850-acre farm and only its own grapes are used in the low-intervention winemaking process. The result is an impressively light carbon footprint and full traceability.
Among the 35 acres of vines are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc varieties. The estate’s sandy soil is enriched with manure from the farm and careful weeding – often done by hand – helps the vines thrive.
A Grade-II listed square oast house is home to the state-of-the-art winery, where some extra-special (and award-winning) sparkling and still wines are expertly made.
A young business with big ambitions, Black Chalk is located in Hampshire’s Test Valley. The wines are crafted in small batches using locally-sourced grapes. Phase two of the company’s development is to harvest grapes from its own 30-acre vineyard and build an ever-more sophisticated winery. International awards have been quick in coming forth for Black Chalk’s small-but-perfectly-formed collection of exceptionally elegant sparkling wines.
Thanks to the Goldilocks climate of West Sussex (not too hot, not too cold), the grapes in Ambriel’s family-run vineyards enjoy a leisurely ripening season. That means they develop plenty of deep flavour while holding onto all-important freshness. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes are grown across 23 acres on greensand, a rare type of sandstone.
To ensure minimal impact on the environment, much of the work in the vineyard is attentively carried out by hand. The meticulous winemaking process is carefully controlled and expert blending is at the heart of the production of Ambriel’s singular wines.
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2020
Eagerly anticipated every year and guaranteed to be a hit at the Christmas table with an ale roast goose. This iteration is absolutely chock-full of beautiful berry flavours, overlaid on the lightly chewy caramel base, and is the perfect cut-through for rich meat dishes.
McColl’s Sugar & Spice
A nice lightly-flavoured wheat beer that would make a wonderful accompaniment to smoked fish starters and then the triple-spiced stout would be spot-on with a slice of dark Christmas cake or hot mince pies and ice cream.
Weird Beard Black Christmas
Bring on the bonkers: this is a wonderful example of taking a Christmas tradition and turning it on its head. Coffee roast character interplays with the cranberry, and Japanese Sorachi Ace hops bring a bit of dill and coconut to the party. It’s like drinking a festive-themed chocolate granola bar to be honest!
Big Drop Kinzig
Who doesn’t want a beer based on the idea of a black forest gateau at Christmas? And the fact it doesn’t have any booze in it is almost even better – you get all of the indulgence without any of the hangover. We’d give you tasting notes but, as the old saying goes, it does exactly what it says on the tin!
Whether you’re an adventurous mixologist or strictly a straight-up G&T drinker, there’s a cocktail to suit all tastes and every occasion. A simple sugar syrup features in lots of recipes, so it’s worth making one in advance.
Just combine two parts sugar to one part water (so, 300g sugar to 150ml water, for example) and warm it gently over a low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Cool, pour into a bottle or jar and store in the fridge.
- 50ml Arbikie Chilli Vodka
- 20ml lemon juice
- 20ml sugar syrup
- 5ml Fernet Branca bitters
- 3 plum tomatoes
Muddle the plum tomatoes then add all of the ingredients to a shaker and shake vigorously. Fine strain and serve in a highball glass with a cherry-tomato garnish.
Peated Whiskey Sour
- 50ml Dunville’s Three Crowns Peated Irish Whiskey
- 25ml fresh lemon juice
- 10ml sugar syrup
- 1 egg white (optional)
- A dash of cocktail bitters
Add all of the ingredients to a shaker and shake as hard as you can. Strain over ice into a rounded, stemmed glass. To make a Penicillin, add some fresh ginger to the mix and use runny honey instead of sugar syrup.
Classic Tom Collins
- 50ml of your favourite gin
- 25ml fresh lemon juice
- 20ml sugar syrup
Pour the ingredients into a highball glass, stir and top with soda water before garnishing with lemon.
Christmas Pudding Champagne Cocktail
Pour an inch or so of Black Cow Christmas Spirit Vodka into a flute, top up with champagne and garnish with a twist of orange.