Christmas is a time to flex your cocktail making skills and, besides shaking up our favourites, we also like to perfect something we’ve not tried before. This year we’re dabbling with a cocktail recipe from the 1930s that shows off the classic orange liqueur Grand Marnier and goes by the name ‘The Red Lion.’ Sounds like a pub. Must be good.
As with most cocktails there are numerous versions, with some recipes containing a long list of bitters and other specific drinks brands. We’ve stuck with the original, a competition winner created by Arthur Tarling, with just four main ingredients: Grand Marnier, Dry Gin (we’ve introduced Bulldog’s bark to the Red Lion’s roar), Orange and Lemon. Here goes…
How to make a Red Lion cocktail
Ingredients 30ml London Dry Gin 30ml Grand Marnier 15ml Orange juice 15ml Lemon juice Ice Caster sugar
First chill a cocktail glass then rub the rim with a piece of lemon and dip it into sugar (sprinkled on a plate) so your glass has a sugary rim.
Pour the gin, Grand Marnier, Orange Juice and Lemon Juice into a shaker with ice and give it a good shake.
Strain into the sugar-crusted glass and enjoy.
About the drinks
Grand Marnier Grand Marnier is a French booze brand that makes a few drinks but is best known for its orange liqueur (“Cordon Rouge”) made from Cognac, distilled wild bitter oranges and sugar. It’s one of the world’s most famous liqueurs and is a familiar site on cocktail bars all over the world. Well worth adding to your cocktail booze collection.
Bulldog London Gin, 40% This gin is easy to get hold of and very affordable. It’s got a few odd ingredients among its botanicals (Dragon Eye and Lotus Leaf) and a nice citrussy edge. A good value choice for cocktails.
A few weeks ago we were chatting with a booze industry pal about how much we like Danish brewery Mikkeller. “They’re in Sainsburys now” he revealed. “Rejoice!” we replied. And, with that, he set us a celebratory challenge: make a beer cocktail using a Mikkeller beer.
We’re suckers for a challenge, especially when it comes to booze recipes, so set about conjuring something up. When thinking about creating cocktail recipes (or any other booze recipes) we have three very simple rules that we like to follow:
Keep it simple
Use complimentary flavours
Keep it simple
And if we could add a fourth, it would probably be “keep it simple.”
With that mantra ringing in our ears we grabbed the nearest can of Mikkeller – a session IPA called ‘Evergreen’ – and pondered what would go with it. Inspired by a wintery chill that was sneaking in through the poorly insulated kitchen door we thought a touch of spice would be seasonally appropriate.
The easiest way to incorporate spice, we reckoned, would be to plunge a shot of spiced rum into the beer. But that on its own was a bit too unsubtle. What we wanted was to find something to act as a conduit between the fruity, hoppy beer and the spiky, boozy rum. We chose ginger beer, a drink that we know goes well with pale ales, and one that is regularly used in rum cocktails.
Now all we had to decide upon was the garnish. Lime is a common choice for rum and ginger cocktails, but we felt its distinctive sour flavour didn’t quite work with the beer. Instead we went for orange, an essential ingredient in spiced rums and something that would work well with both the ginger and the bitter hops. There’s no need for ice with this one, chilled IPA and ginger beer from the fridge is just fine.
Our cocktail recipe was now complete, with the punsome title ‘A Winter’s Pale’, and is presented below for you to enjoy. Cheers!
A Winter’s Pale – a Mikkeller spiced beer cocktail recipe
Ingredients Makes 2 servings 330ml can Mikkeller Evergreen (or similar pale ale) 330ml ginger beer (not an overly sweet one – we went with Fentimens) 50ml spiced rum (we used Lugger) Slice of orange to serve
Pour the ingredients into a jug and gently stir with a long-handled spoon.
Christmas is coming and there are loads of tasks you need to start thinking about now in order to be well prepared for the festivities ahead. There are the regular ones, like deciding what presents to buy everyone; the ones you always forget, such as pre-ordering the turkey; and, new for this year, teaching grandad how to use Zoom.
But perhaps the most important task, to be carried out with the utmost attention to detail, is deciding what drinks to stock up on.
To help you on your way we’ve come up with this handy guide of sippable and gluggable treats, each fulfilling a specific role in the festive drinking calendar that you might otherwise overlook until it’s too late. Each one has been personally tested by at least one of us to guarantee its fitness for purpose and, as we steadily test our way through more products over the coming weeks, we’ll add to this list.
For now, grandad’s lesson can wait…
The booze-filled crackers
White Possum, Spirited Xmas Crackers (Gin)
In a bid to rid the environment of plastic tat we wholly endorse crackers that have abandoned more familiar plastic trinkets in favour of booze. There are now so many on the market that Rich recently rounded up a load for the Independent, testing bang mechanisms and jokes until he was so deaf he could no longer hear his own laughter.
This set of six gin-filled crackers from White Possum arrived too late for his review, which is a shame because they would be serious contenders for the top spot. They not only look and sound the part, but they contain the requisite paper hats and even the jokes are of an unusually high standard.
And as for the booze? It’s great. Six 50ml bottles of top notch gin from the likes of Aber Falls, Brokers and Sipsmith. Cracking stuff.
Mexican beer from Cerveza Loba, Propaganda Brewing, Cerveza Fortuna
We’ve attended lots of celebratory events on Zoom this year, including birthday parties, reunions and festivals, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about helping to get things going it’s to make your booze a talking point. Bragging about your booze breaks the ice, at least until the actual booze kicks in.
Earlier this year we were introduced to online retailer drinkscraft.com who specialise in nothing but Mexican beer, and the range provided an unusual talking point for our parties. The beer we enjoyed came from three breweries – Cerveza Loba, Propaganda Brewing and Fortuna – and each one of them was top notch quality.
Among the beers are plenty of sessionable IPAs, wheat beers and lagers, along with an outstanding porter from Cerveza Loba. All perfect party material. And to really excite the crowds, Cerveza Fortuna served up a couple of unusual products that are uniquely Mexican. ‘Cantabeerto’ is inspired by the Cantarito cocktail and is brewed with light touches of agave, grapefruit, orange, lemon and salt. And even more bizarre is Sourdino, a tamarind flavoured sour beer that comes with a sachet of Tajin (chilli and tamarind powder) taped to the bottle’s neck, like a Mexican beer version of the old salt and shake crisps.
So if you’ve been invited to a Zoom get together this Christmas then we recommend donning your sombrero and loading up on a party selection of the finest craft beers from Mexico. Bragging rights will be all yours.
Piesporter Goldtropfchen German Riesling Spatlese 2018 (£7.49, 75cl), 9%
Here’s a challenge. What single wine style would you recommend to cover all that Christmas can throw at you? From hefty lunches to an overload of sweet confection; for lounging in front of the TV or for revving it up a notch with a party?
We’re going to suggest Riesling, and this good value bottle from Aldi. It’s a medium-sweet wine, which might get some folk muttering with discontent, but we think a touch of sweetness helps with everything that Christmas brings. It also has a crisp edge of citrus and a minerality which helps keep it fresh when your taste buds are under pressure from the Christmas gluttony. If it has been a while since you had a Riesling then give this a go – we reckon you’re in for a sweet surprise.
In years gone by, the last day of work before Christmas would have us piling into the pub at lunchtime before finishing off the present buying on the way home. These days, a G&T in the kitchen at 5pm is more in keeping with the work-from-home era.
We could pick any number of new gins to fill this slot but have chosen The Outdoor Guide’s gin as a reminder that access to fresh air and the outdoor environment has never been more valued than during this year of lockdown misery.
The gin is a collaboration between TV walking champion Julia Bradbury’s The Outdoor Guide and the Derbyshire Distillery, with inspiration coming from the Peak District National Park. It’s a smooth and clean tasting gin that doesn’t go heavy on the juniper, allowing lots of floral flavours to come through along with some grassy sweetness and a minty freshness.
Best enjoyed on top of the Peak District but, failing that, at 5pm in the kitchen makes a perfect alternative.
Everyone should mull some booze over Christmas, if only to infuse the house with the quintessential festive aroma of cinnamon and cloves. While we usually advocate mulling your own drinks (it’s handy for us to rejuvenate less than perfect cider making experiments), there’s no harm in taking the short cut of buying a pre-mulled bottle.
If you’re going down this route then don’t splash out a fortune. A fiver is plenty, which is all you need for Aldi’s Specially Selected mulled wine. With this bottle you’ll get a drink that ticks all the right mulled boxes: fruity wine, spicy flavours and the all important festive aroma. And if you want to make it a bit more fancy, stick a cinnamon stick or slice of orange in each mug when you serve it.
Not many drinks can see off a nip of winter’s chill quite as efficiently as rum. And for extra cold busting properties, a rum-based winter cocktail is hard to beat.
As to what rum to plunder into your Toddy, Hot Buttered Rum or Maple Winter Warmer we would like to suggest Lost Years Four Island Rum. Not only does this Caribbean blend have the warming festive flavours of cinnamon and orange, along with a smooth caramel sweetness and prickly, peppery spice, but when you buy a bottle you’ll also be helping to save sea turtles.
These special creatures are under threat and, through a donation of sales, the makers of Lost Years reckon that every bottle sold can save up to ten baby turtles. As for the Lost Years name, this refers to one of nature’s great mysteries. After hatching, the baby turtles disappear into the Caribbean waves and won’t be seen again for up to a decade. Drink rum, stay warm, save the turtles – everyone’s a winner.
Raspberry liqueurs have always been right up there in our ‘favourite liqueurs list’. It was one of the first recipes we put up on the site, and one we spent a long time perfecting for our book Brew it Yourself, introducing thyme to the infusion.
We like to sup it neat and use it for lending a vibrant red colour and tart fruity flavour to numerous cocktails, but perhaps its best use is to sink a measure into a glass of fizz when we’re pulling out all the stops to impress over Christmas.
It’s getting a bit too late in the year to make your own for Christmas but thankfully liqueur aces White Heron have recently released a British Framboise, made using the finest Herefordshire raspberries. It’s vibrantly red and loaded with sweet and tart fruity raspberry flavours – we don’t know where they got their recipe from but it’s most definitely a winner.
With lockdown limiting our ability to go to bars there has been a huge surge in businesses offering pre-mixed cocktail delivery services for the home sipper. One such supplier is NIO Cocktails, an Italian brand who have impressed us with their letter-box friendly slimline packs of cocktails.
The list of cocktails they provide is long and mostly comprises classics (we were mightily impressed by their Negroni) with each one well made from good ingredients. They’ve also thrown in a few Christmas specials, such as an Apple Rum Punch (with a hint of absinthe), that are equally simple serves of top notch quality. And there are even a few options for the fry drinker.
Order online by selection a build your own box of 3, 6 or 9 cocktails, or plump for one of their luxury sets instead. Christmas may be a time for sharing and giving, but it’s also a time to be lazy, so if you fancy a few quality cocktails without the effort that goes into making them then NIO certainly fits the bill.
Note: Each one of these products has been sent for us to review and we have chosen our favourites from the many suggestions we receive each week. We use affiliate links on some of our product recommendations.
Over the past few months our New Business Team* has been working away to secure a top notch deal with ace bulb specialists Dutch Grown. The main thrust of the deal will see our Content Provision Team* produce guest blogs for the UK version of the Dutch Grown website when it launches (the first feature is on the remarkable looking Tulip Nachtwatch).
To help cement this working relationship we’ve also agreed to write about some of Dutch Grown bulbs, and they kindly sent down a selection of mostly tulips for our Garden Build Team* to test out. We will go into these in more detail next spring when they’re in full bloom, but until then here’s a handy guide to planting tulips…
How to plant tulip bulbs
Tulips are great for folk like us who prefer maximum rewards from minimum efforts, as growing them involves little more than sinking bulbs into the ground and letting them get on with it. But for your best chances of success there are a few basic rules it’s worth following.
When? October and November are your best months for tulip bulb planting, although you could get away with it a little later providing your soil isn’t rock hard from frost.
Where? Tulips prefer a sunny position (and look much better in the sunshine) and are best planted in groups or en masse. They’re suitable for borders and pots but won’t tolerate over-saturated ground, so dig in grit if you think this could be a problem.
How? Pop them in holes around 15cm to 20cm deep (according to size of of bulb) and make sure you place the pointy end upwards. Keep them around 20cm apart, although you can pack them tighter for smaller groupings (such as in pots).
Care? If your soil is a bit tired and lacking nutrients then pep it up with some good compost before planting. After they’ve been planted they need little attention, other than watering in the unlikely event of a prolonged dry spell (although tulips in pots will almost certainly need occasional watering).
What we’re growing
Here’s a run down of the tulip varieties we’ve been sent to trial, along with a few other bulbs. We’ll be sharing some of these with friends to compare results.
Tulip Dutch Dancer: Big tulip with fiery orange petals. Looks a real beauty.
Tulip Elsenburg: A fancy ‘Parrot Tulip’ with pink and white ruffled blooms.
Tulip Wow: A very unusual looking tulip, the likes of which we’ve not seen before. Massed with indigo petals that are white at the base. Looking forward to this one.
Tulip Gorilla: Despite the name, this one looks a bit posh. Rich purple in colour and with a dainty fringe to the petals.
Tulip Clusiana Mix: Clusiana tulips are small and pointy. We’re guessing this mix will contain several varieties for a kaleidoscope of colour. We will find out…
Tulip Harbor Light: Another unusual tulip. Its white petals look like Mr Whippy has got a bit carried away filling a leafy green cone.
Hyacinth Dark Dimension: A mass of purple flowers that are so dark they’re almost black. Grow these right and we could have a showstopper on our hands.
Hyacinth Carnegie: The dainty white ying to Dark Dimension’s yang.
Allium Art: The alliums we’re most familiar with open into cylinders made up of tiny flowers. This allium has gone renegade, shooting off flowers in all directions.
Dichelostemma Ida-Maia Pink Diamond: Clusters of dainty tubular bloom that are bright pink with paler pink tips.
We’ve been writing a lot about whisky of late meaning that a lot of new releases have been heading our way in the run up to Christmas. We’ve set some aside for guides we have planned for Christmas and New Year, but we’ve got so many great samples that we’ve decided to review a handful separately.
This list features whisky from a new English distillery; a new release from our favourite English distillery; an award-winning Scottish blend; a 38 year old Scottish single malt; and an unusual bourbon from Kentucky. Whatever your taste in whisky we think there’s something new here for you to discover…
Dartmoor Distillery, Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky. 46%
We’re lucky that one of our favourite whisky makers, The Cotswolds Distillery, is within striking distance of our Somerset residences. And we’re now even more pleased that there’s another decent whisky distillery within easy reach in the opposite direction on Dartmoor.
The release of the Dartmoor Distillery’s first three whiskies took us by surprise, but we’re glad to have been introduced to them because, even at just three years old, they’re tasting great. The three releases comprise an ex-Oloroso Sherry cask, ex-Bordeaux cask and, our favourite, an ex-Bourbon cask.
This latter whisky has a touch of fruity new spirit about it on the nose and quite a light taste, with some very nice subdued damp oak flavours coming through in the flavour. On sipping, we think the fruit flavours veer towards prunes, which obviously gets a thumbs up from us, and we also appreciated the whisky’s drying finish. It tastes young but is not at all harsh, making it well worth enjoying now and giving us full confidence that it will mature into an excellent whisky in years to come.
Speaking of the Cotswolds Distillery, they too have a new release which we’ve been lucky enough to sample. It’s a whisky that has been matured in American and Spanish oak hogsheads and butts, seasoned with Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries.
It immediately tastes like it belongs in The Cotswolds Distillery family, which is always a good sign, with lots of sweet dark fruits upping the richness factor. The sherry sweetness has a honeycomb tinge to it and there’s plenty of warming ginger and peppery spice. As you sip, the oak flavours snag the back of the tongue and hang around for a while. To us it feels like the kind of dram that would be appreciated on a rainy, wintery Saturday afternoon – and as we get a lot of those, a bottle surely won’t last long.
The Singleton of Glen Ord 38 Year Old Whisky, 49.6%
It’s not often we get our hands on single malt Scotch whisky that’s 38 years old, particularly a limited edition priced at over £2,000 a bottle, but a small sample of Diageo’s recent release from The Singleton of Glen Ord has found its way to us for reviewing purposes.
We were tempted to squirrel it away for an extra special occasion and simply repeat the tasting notes from our sample bottle – ‘notes of baked apple and caramel drizzle’ – but that would be against our reviewing policy. So on a rainy November Monday afternoon it got lined up for a tasting session and was poured with expectant, trembling hands.
There’s definitely baked apple to be enjoyed, but it’s an apple that has been laden with spices – cinnamon, earthy ginger, dried orange and some pepper with one heck of a kick. It’s the kind of whisky that instantly warms, and the thermal heat it provides lasts a long time, making it one to savour at a slow pace.
There’s also a creamy fudge texture and sweetness that gives it some extra richness and helps its sippability, even when undiluted at 49.6% ABV. It certainly lifted the mood on a wet Autumnal Monday and we’re confident it will turn any day into a special occasion.
MacNair’s Lum Reek 21 Year Old Peated, 48%
The first question we asked when receiving a 30ml dram of this whisky was, “what is a ‘lum reek’”? A quick google search revealed that it’s a Scotticism, translating as ‘chimney smoke’, that is used in the toast ‘lang may yer rum leek’, which is a Scottish way of wishing someone a long life.
Having answered that question we were fairly confident that this would be quite a peaty dram. With 21 years of maturation behind it, the peat has mellowed into tobacco and leather territory, with ashy wood revealing itself towards the finish. There’s plenty more going on too, and we can detect some buttery sweet vanilla and another flavour that we’ve decided is like milk chocolate coated raisins (but we might equally decide it’s something else on another day).
The whisky is a blend of GlenAllachie whisky and peated malts from Speyside and Islay that has been created by Master Blender Billy Walker in an interpretation of a whisky style from 100 years ago. And this modern masterpiece has been deemed so good that it was recently voted the World’s Best Blended Malt 2020. We will gladly raise a toast to its success.
Kentucky distillery Rebel has recently launched a bourbon finished in cognac casks and we managed to get a 50ml sample of it before it becomes widely available in the UK. 50ml is plenty enough for one good serving, but how best to enjoy it? We gave it a sniff and a tiny sip… corn sweetness, a boozy charred oak punch, and a deep fruitiness that sets it apart from their other releases. It’s a very sippable spirit and we were tempted to serve it with nothing but ice. But lately we’ve been in the mood for Old Fashioned cocktails and we thought this would be the perfect vehicle for a thorough test drive.
Just as we were assembling the ingredients, and perhaps inspired by the brand’s rebellious name, we decided to go off piste and ditched the recipe’s Angostura bitters in favour of a controversial few drops of peach bitters instead. Did it work? Did the peach bitters marry perfectly well with the orange garnish to set off the bourbon’s fruitiness a treat? And did the punchy booze cut through the lot in a way that makes Old Fashioned cocktails so appealing. Of course it did. If only we had another 50ml…
We have to admit, but when we were first approached to test this gadget, our ‘snake oil’ warning sensors started to flash. “How can a battery operated gadget ease sting-pain?” we gasped out loud to no-one in particular. “Can it really perform as well as the fleshy dock leaves that roam wild and free on our allotment? Will it be an improvement on the 40 year old, encrusted tube of savlon that lives at the back of the tea towel drawer?”
We’re not short of sting-y scenarios to test out the Bite Away – Rich’s garden maintenance business often sees him flailing around in all sorts of spiky undergrowth and foliage. We’ve also got a wild bee hive down on the allotment which – any time soon* – will be full of lovely honey and obligatory bees, which are sure to turn cantancerous as we steal fistfulls of their sticky golden treasure. For convenience, however, we turned to our old pal the nettle and proceeded to self-flagellate for the purposes of this review.
The instruction manual tells us that the Bite Away is designed to deliver a small burst of heat (called ‘localised hyperthermia’) that encourages a natural response from the body to reduce pain. It does this through the small ceramic pad situated on its snout – the pad is positioned on the epicentre of sting, and the user can select either a three second burst (for sensitive types) or a six second burst (for macho heroes).
The three second heat burst we self-administered felt a bit freaky at first, but once once you realise it’s not going to intensify to horrendous levels and sear your flesh in the manner of a sadistic, cigarette-wielding bad guy from a gangster flick, you can relax and let the gadget do its stuff. Clever – and it actually works. After a single application, our scratchy, self-induced nettle injury was left appeased and itch-free.
Bigger tasks may await. We are currently embroiled in this year’s cider making which is resulting in an absolute wasp-fest** as the local stripey pests clamour for our delicious juice. No stings have been registered at the time of writing, but our Bite Away remains on red alert, just in case.
The Bite Away costs £26.99 and you can buy one HERE
* It remains currently unoccupied, but we’ve reduced the rent to see if that makes a difference.
** Accompanied by the sound of loud, sustained swearing.