From buttered gin to fruit ice, here are five simple and affordable ideas to jazz up your drinks
We may pretend that the Christmas holiday is all about the little baby Jesus, family or goodwill to all men, but, deep down, we know it is about one thing: booze, and plenty of it, in an endless variety of forms.
With that in mind, I recently visited Gorilla in Manchester, a bar renowned for its gin parlour, to talk to manager Joe White, a man full of simple and affordable ideas about how you can jazz up your cocktails. For instance, at home, why fork out for a pricey cocktail shaker when a jam jar will do? Just use a second lid with six holes punched in it as a strainer.
Here are five of White's best seasonal suggestions - add your own pointers below. Cheers!
I was sceptical about this. I loathe most sweet alcoholic drinks and was dreading a gin with a buttery, fatty texture. But rest easy. All the butter is removed before serving. Essentially, it tastes like someone has liquidised a Cadbury's Caramel bar in a bottle of gin, but because the gin retains its clean, floral punch, it is in no way sickly. In fact, it is dangerously moreish neat over ice. At Gorilla, buttered gin is used with tonic, in a gin flip and also in hot buttered gin, which is warm milk poured over two shots of buttered gin, topped with grated nutmeg.
To prepare your gin, take one bottle (Gorilla uses Beefeater: "It's a key gin for me, really versatile," says White), 150g unsalted butter, 50g soft brown sugar and a vanilla pod. On a low heat, melt the butter and sugar, stirring as you go, before gently turning up the heat so that the sugar caramelises and darkens. "The trick is not to burn the sugar or butter. I can't stress that enough," says White. "I've done it countless times. The heat's a little bit too high, it's ruined, and you don't realise until you try it a day later."
Pour the gin and the caramel into a Tupperware container. Mix together. Split a vanilla pod and add it, then freeze for 24 hours. The butter will harden and separate from the gin. Cut a corner from the butter and pour out the buttered gin into a second container. Before using it, filter it two or three times through a paper coffee filter to remove any solids. The same recipes works for other spirits, such as the more common buttered rum.
Boozy hot chocolate
"Hot chocolate is all about texture," says White. "If you can get that thicker texture going on, so it's almost like you're eating chocolate, you can turn anyone on to liking it." So evangelical is he about thickness, he even recommends adding cornflour or icing sugar, if required.
For one mug, take 200ml full-fat or semi-skimmed milk, add a teaspoon of finely grated chocolate or malt (Horlicks, Ovaltine), two teaspoons of cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. Gently mix together and cook over a low heat for a few minutes. Add a shot of rum to a mug, then pour over the hot chocolate.
To make it even more indulgent, use buttered rum or a buttered version of creme de cacao, which tastes a bit like white chocolate. As it is only 20% proof it will freeze, so chill the liqueur in the fridge before filtering it. Only filter it once if using it for hot chocolate, to leave some of the butter solids in there. They will give the hot chocolate a richer flavour. Insanely sweet and chocolatey, buttered creme de cacao is very much an ingredient, not a sipper.
Take a baking tray or a large container, fill it with water to a depth of about 2cm and arrange various small fruits (blackberries, raspberries) and thin slices of orange or lemon peel in the water. The idea is that the fruit should protrude a little from the water. Then freeze it for 48 hours. To use the ice, knock it out on to a tea towel and, using the back of a large spoon, hit it a few times so it breaks into large shards. "It looks cool in negronis and old fashioneds," says White. "The fruit defrosts quicker than the ice, so you get nice flavours coming out, and those big shards last for four five drinks, so you don't have to constantly change your ice. Raspberries and lime peel taste great in whisky and ginger ale, and the red and green is a nice touch of Christmas colour in the drink."
Infusing alcohol with fruit peels or dried fruits, such as figs (do not use fresh fruit), could not be simpler. Bourbon and orange or vodka and lemon are good combinations. Using a potato peeler and taking care to avoid the bitter pith, shave off pieces of peel from two or three ripe oranges, gently twist and fold them to release the peels' oils and then, using a chopstick, push them down into a bottle of bourbon. How long you steep it for is a matter of taste (dip a straw in to check how it is progressing), but after a day or two - periodically, shake the bottle - you should be left with a pretty intense concoction. Eventually, anything over 30% proof will pickle the peel/fruit, so, while you can, there is no necessity to strain it. It will, of course, look great sitting on a shelf in the kitchen.
A little fresh cordial in the bottom of a flute is a great way to titivate a glass of cava or prosecco. Berry fruits work really well. "I'd go with frozen," says White. "It's picked and frozen at its most ripe, you get a lot more flavour and it's half the price." To make 850ml (1.5 pints) of cordial, hull 2kg strawberries, combine with 250ml water, 250g granulated sugar, the grated zest from half a lemon and one scraped vanilla pod. Bring the ingredients to the boil while stirring, then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the mix cool, then sieve it. Refrigerated, the cordial will last for seven days.
Enough gin and the New Year celebrations will definitely go with a bang. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA