Going out is fun, but staying in and throwing a drinks party around the Christmas tree, tinsel, fairy lights, and festive vibes is even more so. There’s something so wonderfully warming about playing host to loved ones over the Winter season, when it’s too cold and rainy (or snowy) to summon the will to traipse to a bar outside, and when the short days make us feel particularly fatigued and wanting for some hygge vibes. As a slightly hedonistic lover of good food, wine, and spirits, I love this time of the year for this very reason. It’s the perfect opportunity to lavish my friends and family with delicious treats – and what better treat than a range of tasty drinks for us all?
I decided one Saturday evening to bring in a range of up and coming new spirit beverages, and do a taste test with friends before letting us get mixing to create cocktails late into the evening. It’s always fun to do blind tastings and discover new brands, whilst also bringing out our inner mixologist by candlelit, the crackling of the fire and glittering tree lights creating the perfect backdrop. Having already hosted an evening of gin, this night I wanted to dabble with other drinks – starting with some gin, of course (my favourite), but also branching out to exciting new rums, whiskeys, and liquors. Canapes at the ready, and nibbles adoring my apartment, I invited folks over and got to work with the tasting
To start, I wanted a light beverage that would act as a palate opener and allow for people to mingle, chat, and start the night off slowly. Looking for a low alcohol cocktail style beverage, I was thrilled to discover Quarter Light G/N. The world’s first quarter strength gin, one would never know that this is not at full strength. A light 12%, this sparklingly reviewed beverage is a London Dry and brings the usual suspects of juniper, coriander, and Angelica – but surprises with notes of orange peel, grapefruit peel, and sweet orange. Citrusy and almost like those orange sherbet sweets of our childhood, this gin goes down so well it almost negates the fact it’s low alcohol with its appeal.
Staying in the UK, we next tried Rock Rose Citrus Coastal Edition of the Premium Scottish Gin, a multi-award winning Premium Handcrafted beverage. Flavourful, fresh, yet interesting with its botanicals, featuring rose and berry notes, this full-bodied, rounded gin is sharp yet smooth, with a lingering finish. This edition is particularly interesting, with its notes of salt, lemon verbena and kelp, offering a truly bracing sea air finish. Citrus yet balanced with oceanic umami flavour of kelp, there is a hint of salinity from the liquorice salt. The lemon verbena is actually picked from the distiller’s own garden, rendering this a truly home grown gin that made us all feel that extra bit more cosy on our winter’s evening. Just lovely…
Next we went further afield, moving to Africa to try Procera– an African Juniper gin in a stunning hand-blown bottle. Founded with the vision of bringing the very best of Africa to the world, this gin is distilled in Nairobi, Kenya, at 1638 metres above sea level. The world’s first gin to use Juniperus Procera, harvested at 70 kilometres from the distillery, it stays strong to its roots. The berries are harvested at the end of the short rains with the local community that live near the highland forest of Kijabe at 2,200 metres. Done at high altitude, these distinctly nutty and earthy berries evoke Procera to its fullest – and made us all feel a pang of yearning for adventure. An interesting gin with a story to tell.
Before we got too carried away with thoughts of Africa and adventure, we returned to Christmas spirits with some rum. Starting with The Project for #173 Christmas Pudding Rum. With a wealth of yuletide flavours, this is the perfect rum to sip with a Christmas pudding, or have as an aperitif in a cocktail and save on the calories. Flavoursome with raisin and sultana notes, candied orange peel, and a hint of mince pie filling goodness, this rum oozes with fragrance of ginger and cinnamon. Heavenly on the palate too, it is buttery, vanilla laden and fruity, with a smidge of tropical and honey notes – truly like the most delicious Christmas pudding. An unexpected favourite among the group.
For our next two rums, we decided to solidify our tasting by going to a more traditional territory overseas. We started with Las Olas Rum, a bold and authentic premium spiced rum inspired by the distilleries of Barbados and Jamaica, yet made in the UK (saving on climate airmiles no less). Founded in 2018, by Londoner Samuel Williams, Las Olas rum takes its spirit from Barbados, its birthplace – this is the first known island to distil rum in 1703. Las Olas uses a blend of white rums from Barbados and Jamaica, and brings quality, raw ingredients like vanilla, gold cherry, and roasted coffee beans to create a truly spectacularly spicy rum that is extremely, extremely moreish. Perfect on its own or in a cocktail, this one is well worth trying.
Next we moved to its neighbour, and had the Duppy White Jamaican Rum. This vibrant celebration of Jamaica features a colourful bottle and absolutely heavenly rum with flavours of mango, pimento and fresh thyme. Produced and co-founded with musical pioneer Kano, this rum took 5 years to develop – and no wonder, given its combined elegance and zest. A perfect combination of finesse and fun, this white rum works well drunk neat or in shots, as well as in cocktails. We returned to the UK with One-Eyed Rebel rum, a spiced rum made in the heart of Manchester. This new botanical spiced rum is rich with ginger, vanilla and a bursting heart of rich cassia. A warming finish and surprising entry from up north, we would never have imagined this was a Manchester beverage given its tropical notes and fiery vibes. A cracker for Christmas.
After all that spicy rum, we were feeling warmed up and ready for some whisky. Deciding to do things properly, we started with the GlenAllachie 8 year old, a Speyside whiskey matured in sherry, red wine, and virgin oak casks. Indulgent and fruity, this whisky kicked us off with a fruitcake character not too dissimilar to the pudding rum we had earlier, reminding us that it is indeed Christmas and we are here to celebrate. Dark chocolate truffles, stem ginger, and nutmeg covered eggnog notes abound in this drink, and got us off to a very merry, festive start.
Next we tried the GlenAllachie 12 year old, their flagship whiskey that comes matured in a mix of virgin oak, oloroso sherry and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. The flavours are redolent of the casks, with notes of honey, marzipan, bananas and butterscotch. This was my favourite so far. The butterscotch nose was addictive.
We then had the Torabhaig Allt Gleann Single Malt Whiskey, a new and distinctive take on heated malt whiskey. Made by exceptionally esteemed producers, this drink truly showcases the wealth of skill and understanding of the complex processes in its ability to go against the grain of typical heavy, peated whiskeys. Smokey and salty on the nose, it is surprisingly refined and has a complex, characterful maritime personality. Capturing the essence of the Isle of Skye where its casks are from, this is definitely a premium whiskey that would make a fantastic gift for a connoisseur.
Bushmills 10 year Irish Whiskey. This is the world’s oldest licensed distillery, and so naturally comes steeped in family and tradition. They have pioneered Single Malt whiskeys for over 400 years, and are triple distilled form 100% Irish malted barley in copper pot still. No wonder that they are renowned for their smooth taste. This 10 year old comes from a minimum of 10 years in bourbon seasoned barrels, and has a wonderful fresh and zesty nose with aromas of honey, vanilla, and milk chocolate. Excellent neat, and in a cocktail. We liked this one a lot.
The Caisteal Chamuis Blended Whiskey comes in a beautiful bottle that tells the story of the ruined Caisteal Chamois – the old fortress on the Sleat Peninsula of Skye which was fought over by the Mcleod and MacDonald clans throughout history. Fragrant, layered and complex, it has honey and pepper notes with a sweet spice and creamy vanilla flavour. Complex and soft, one can taste the fact it has been aged in American oak barrels, the rich flavour being quite telling.
The MacNair’s Lum Reek 12 year old came next, a mix of Single Malts from Speyside and Islay, featuring both seated and unseated spirit. This gave it a lovely balance with a healthy complexity. With a hand-drawn fireplace illustration on the label, this was the perfect whisky for our evening by the fire.
Next we had the White Heather 15 year old, a Sherry, Bourbon and Virgin oak casked matured while made in a premium small-batch blend. Featuring single malts from Speyside, the Highlands and Islay, as well as some specially selected grain whiskies, this was a charming Christmassy whiskey with notes of cloves, orange, sticky toffee pudding and a hint of smoke. Like the crackling fire in the background, this warmed us up in abundance.
All whiskied out, and to be honest, quite merry at this point, we decided to slow our evening down and wrap up with some liquors. Whilst my friends were hell bent on getting onto the espresso martinis and re-starting the party, I wanted to try three liquors – Caru Spirits, artisanal brandy liquor, the Carthy and Black Gin Cream Liqueur Yorkshire Original, and Espresso Gin Cream Liqueur. The Caru Brandy Liquor, is named after Caru, the verbal noun for ‘love’ in Welsh and old English word for ‘care’. An artisanal brandy liquor, has a sweet seductive aroma of brandied raisins, vanilla, and fresh orange. The palate gives way to a lovely velvet cocoa and coffee give way to light spiced prunes with a subtle hint of ginger to close. The slight spice notes give it that warmth and comfort we look for this time of year. A lovely brandy to close the evening. The Carthy and Black is a cream liqueur made with award-winning Slingsby gin and the most decadent, silky cream. Better than any other creamy liquor I’ve had, I couldn’t get enough of this one. We decided to mix it with some double cream and Kahlua, as well as a bit of chocolate sauce and splash of milk, to make an after dinner/drinks cocktail. Yum. After trying the Original, we began dabbling with the Espresso version which was equally delicious and got us in the Espresso Martini mood, but without the danger of the Martini. An excellent end to our evening, and one that we can highly recommend repeating! Have a VERY merry Christmas and don’t forget to stay hydrated with all this drinking!