Creating the Mood: What to drink at Christmas

The fire is a-blazing, your Pooky lights are a-glowing and everything is perfectly Christmassy. But the question is, what should you drink? Here’s a special guest post from top drinks writer Henry Jeffreys…

Drinks for surviving any kind of Christmas shopping


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The internet should make Christmas shopping easier but something has gone badly wrong with the Post Office in our part of south east London. Parcels and letters take weeks to arrive, we receive notes saying nobody was in when they were, and when I call to complain I am rudely accused of accusing our postman of lying. The nightmare scenario is a visit to the Lair Of The Postman: the dreaded place by the roundabout with its plexiglass window and one angry person on duty and a long slow queue around the block. Christmas Eve on Oxford Street suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. Anyway, after a hard day trying to track down those diamante-studded socks for Uncle Thomas what I crave more than anything is a nice pint of bitter. Nothing crafty or too high in alcohol, just something to soothe the soul. My favourites are either Harvey’s Best from Sussex or a pint of Landlord from Timothy Taylors in Yorkshire. The latter is easy to find by the bottle in supermarkets. Make sure you have lots in over the festive season.

For carolling

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In a rash moment you’ve agreed to go Christmas carolling. You’ll need some fortification. How about a glass of mulled wine? No? Thought not. Me neither, possibly because of a holiday I took with my wife in Vienna where every moment someone seemed to be thrusting a glass of sickly sweet, barely alcoholic gluhwein into our hands. I don’t think anyone really likes mulled wine. Much better is spiced cider. Gently heat lots of good cider such as Addlestones or Aspalls (both widely available) with chopped ginger, orange and lemon juice and zest, some cloves and a piece of cinnamon. Don’t boil. Cook for about 30 minutes. Add sugar to taste. If you’re feeling frisky add some rum, bourbon or best of all King’s Ginger liqueur. You’ll definitely be dinging and donging merrily on high after a glass or two of that.

For Christmas Day


Right on to Christmas Day. It’s very important that you structure your drinking carefully so that you are never too drunk or, even worse, too sober:

11am: a glass of champagne. You want a rich refreshing, properly-flavoured champagne; never let someone who claims not to like champagne buy the fizz as they will just buy cheap green tart stuff that confirms their prejudices. The Waitrose Blanc des Blancs is currently on offer for £17.99 is just the thing. Buy all you can afford. It is great with or without a hangover; I like to have mine with. Time to open the presents.

11:30am: first strop of the season. Probably caused by a present not having a label on it. We have a saying in our family ‘he who strops last, strops longest’. That is why it is very important to get your tantrum out of the way first so that it doesn’t spoil the day. I’d recommend a glass of something totally non-alcoholic at this moment - sparkling water, lots of ice, lime and a splash of bitters. Serve in a proper whisky tumbler.

12pm: a glass of sherry. Manzanilla la Gitana (currently on offer at Majestic £7.99 when you buy more than 6 mixed bottles) always hits the spot to be consumed with olives and cheese biscuits whilst others tidy up all the discarded wrapping paper. Even better if you can find it is the En Rama, unfiltered bottling from the same producer, Hidalgo. It’s richer, nuttier and even more moreish.

1pm: ‘help’ with the cooking. Now slightly tipsy, it’s time to steal some sausages from the kitchen by pretending to help with the vegetables. Open the vibrant, fresh and deceptively boozy Megaphone Ventoux 2013 (£13.99 House of Townend) which goes perfectly with pilfered pork products (and leftover turkey curry). It’s made by the Brunier family of Domaine du Telegraphe fame and has some of the magic of their Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

1.30pm: panic in the kitchen as mother has mistaken icing sugar for flour and poured it in the gravy. Luckily I am an expert at saving adulterated gravy.


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2pm: lunch time. Though it is a bore to cook, I do like turkey; I like the way it stands in the background whilst the wines take centre stage. The white has to be Burgundy and there is a toasty Vire-Classe 2014 from Christopher Cordier excellent for just this purpose (£13.95 from the Wine Society). For red drinkers there’s more Megaphone Ventoux .

3pm: traditional argument over whether to serve cheese before or after the pudding. At Christmas I’m with cheese later so that I can linger over the port whilst nibbling on nuts and stilton. This year, I’d recommend the Fonseca 20 year old Tawny. No need to mess around with decanters. You can just pour it straight from the bottle and admire its amazing combination of fruity intensity with mature notes of tobacco and walnuts. Sumptuous and at £35.95 from the Whisky Exchange not expensive for a wine of this quality.

4pm: post-lunch recovery. In our family we now normally split along antiquated gender lines: the men doze and the women play board games. I can never sleep in a chair and I’m terrible at Scrabble. So I tend to have another glass of port and read a book.

8pm: turkey and ham sandwiches, and some lightly-chilled Beaujolais to wash them down. The Chiroubles from Domaine de la Grosse Pierre (£13.40 Haynes, Hanson and Clarke) is probably much too good for this purpose but I can’t think of a better way to round off the day. Casablanca will be on soon and the lights will be low and cosy and the perfect Christmas will be at an end. And all your Post Office woes will be forgotten. Until next year.

Henry Jeffreys writes about drink, books and popular culture in The Spectator, The Guardian, The Oldie, The Lady and many other publications. He is the author of ‘Empire of Booze’ – a history of Britain told through alcoholic drinks.


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