The glory of the winter cocktail
By James Walters
Christmas is closing in upon us, and as such many will be heading home to family houses scattered across the country, and in some cases across the world, to celebrate and join the jovial Christmas spirit.
In some of those cases, the Christmas spirit will also mean Christmas spirits, and what better way to enjoy the festive season than sipping away on a fine cocktail.
For those lucky enough to be heading to warmer climates, the great summer drink is mostly a cool gin and tonic, with a splash of lime and a decent amount of ice. But what cocktails go well with the cold northern hemisphere Christmas celebrations?
We suggest starting with a sophisticated classic. While the name ‘Monkey Gland’ doesn’t seem all that above board, this 1920s treat was the invention of Harry McElhone. By combining two shots of gin (3 oz.) with one shots’ worth of orange juice, and a dash of both grenadine and absinthe in a shaker with ice, and adding an orange peel to the resultant drink, you’ll have a festive treat that looks the part. Just be careful on the absinthe…
Sweet Gin Symphony
This next one, and one of our favourites, is a bit more complex, but pays off in the fact that it will comfortably serve eight people. Make a mint tea syrup by combining one cup of sugar to a cup of water in a saucepan, at mid-high heat, until the sugar dissolves, then add 2 tablespoons of dried mint tea leaves and reduce the heat. Leave it for five minutes to infuse, then take it off the heat.
In a punch bowl mix two and a half cups of gin with four shots of lemon juice, two shots of lime juice, the cooled mint tea syrup, and a shot of maraschino liqueur. You can either add a touch of absinthe (think about ½ a shot) to the mix, or can put a little absinthe in a spray bottle and spritz each glass with a spray before serving. Use lemon peel and an anise star to garnish. Say hello to the Sweet Gin Symphony!
The Thandai adds an exquisite difference to the festive season. Combine a third of a cup of raw whole almonds to three tablespoons of melon seeds, three tablespoons of poppy seeds, two tablespoons of raw cashew halves, and a tablespoon and a half of pistachios to two cups of water, and soak for an hour. Once done, remove and discard the skins from the almonds and pistachios, and drain the seeds.
In a small saucepan, bring four cups of milk to the boil. Add sugar and saffron, then stir until the sugar dissolves and put it to the side. Use a skillet to toast a teaspoon of fennel seeds, 10 black peppercorns, 10 cardamom pods, and a broken 11 inch cinnamon stick for about four minutes. Put this into a food processor, along with the nuts, a tablespoon of the milk mixture, and twenty rose petals. Puree it into a smooth paste, then whisk it into the remaining milk mixture and sieve it into a bowl. Add five shots of gin, and garnish with grated nutmeg and a few rose petals. At these measurements, you’ll have enough to serve about four friends or family members.
James is an international traveller, who has managed to scour the world for new and interesting experiences, having stumbled into some of his favourite places, people and roles quite by accident.
This open approach to life has taken James across the Pacific, the United States, East Asia, and Europe. He has worked in bars in France, worked on high-end television programmes in the UK, reviewed music festivals and interviewed bands in New Zealand, and driven through America.
It’s also allowed him to look at life as always an opportunity, and embrace what may come his way. And James has encountered more than a few drinks along the way, allowing him to compare and contrast a plethora of tastes and experiences the world over.