Spindle’s Guide to Christmas Wine, Beer and Cocktails

The holiday season is here and instead of getting your usual bottle of plonk or quickly grabbing whatever is the staff pick of the week (probably stuff they have ordered to much of or is not moving as quickly as they want, like the suspicious fish stew special every Tuesday at your local pub)

Take a peek at some quality wines, beers and spirits that won’t put a huge dent in your wallet, whilst making you look like a superstar whether visiting family, friends, or just having a general knees-up.

Beer

Beer is one of my favourite things to drink in the world. If I could get away with drinking it with every meal I would. Including breakfast! (I know what you’re all thinking, but until you’ve tried Stiegl Radler (2.5%) with a fry-up, you haven’t tasted beer breakfast heaven.)

These are a few crowd pleasers that you can buy on both sides of the pond that are great for entertaining.

Erdinger Weissbier – Germany 5.3%

This wheat beer from Germany is a great start to any evening, a medium gold colour with aromas of citrus, apricot, banana and bread. Slightly cloudy with notes of pepper, pear, orange and honey on the palate. Enjoy in a large glass with 2-3 fingers of head.

500ml $3.05 / £ 2.05

Duvel, Golden Ale – Belgium 8.5%

This bright gold beer from Belgium has a lovely nose of pear, cloves, a mixture of fruit and floral notes. The flavours of honey, apricot, creaminess and  bitter hops are balanced by the slight carbonation after re-fermenting in the bottle.

Be careful though, this amazing beer packs a punch: at 8.5% too many of these can take a nice evening and turn it into a scene from ‘Who’s Afraid of Vagina Woolf’.

300ml $3.45 / £ 2.05

Rogue Dead Guy Ale – U.S.A 6.5%

Rogue is a beer company from Newport, Oregon. It has a number of interesting and inventive ales, including Chipotle Ale and Juniper Pale ale. A partnership with nearby Voodoo Doughnuts resulted in Maple Bacon Doughnut Ale, they’ve also just released ‘Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale’. Dead Guy Ale was first made in the early 1990’s to celebrate the Mayan Day of the Dead.  Honey-amber in colour medium in body with strong smells of sugar malt and hops. The flavour is similar with added hints of caramel, mixed stewed fruit and floral undertones. This beer is great on its own or excellently paired with steak-frites or a heavy veggie dish.

650ml $6.25 / 330ml £3.49

Other great beers with a similar style include Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada, and Innis and Gunn.

Aperitifs

An Aperitif is served at the beginning of a meal to stimulate the appetite. Many different countries and regions have there own interpretation of these and it makes for quite a diverse list of drinks. A few of my favourites are:

Muscat De Beaumes-De-Venise

This popular sweet wine comes from Vaucluse in the southern Rhone Valley. It is made from the Muscat a petits grains grape. This wine is a VDN (Vin Doux Naturel (natural sweet wine)). It is made in the same way as port. Wine makers stop fermentation towards the end of the process by adding alcohol. This leaves residual sugars that make the wine sweet and also makes the alcohol level higher around 15% or more. The end result is a bright straw to lemon yellow liquid with orange blossom, honey, flowers, spice and exotic fruits. Should be drunk very cold and young. Best with soft cheeses or with foie gras. Whilst this is often treated as a dessert wine, it is historically used to waken the palate in French cuisine.

Aperol

A dark orange Italian spirit, with aromas of herbs, orange and spices. It has a complex flavour  of sweet orange, rhubarb and herbs and a slight bitterness on the finish. It is 11% alcohol, best enjoyed on the rocks or with soda. Also makes a great sour by adding lemon juice and sugar (shaken hard with egg whites if you`re so inclined) Aperol $23.50 / £12.15

Lillet

An aperitif style wine from Bordeaux, made originally just as blanc (white) but now available in rose and rouge. Lillet is traditionally made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and has aromas of honey, orange, limes and mint. It is sweet and fruity, with a slight bitterness. Can be enjoyed on its own or as a cocktail, like the Vesper Martini, famously invented by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale.

Vesper

3oz of Gin

1oz of vodka

1/2oz of Lillet garnished with a twist of lemon.

Lillet Blanc $15.25 / £16.00

Wine

Although cocktails and beer do go with certain dinners (some better than wine, in fact), for the sake of this article I`m going to suggest a few good wines that are worth trying over the holiday season.

Here are a few guidelines of what wines go with holiday fare.

Turkey with all the trimmings

Turkey has a relatively mild taste so it’s best not to overpower the meat with too heavy of a wine. If drinking white opt for slightly or an unoaked Chardonnay, like Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010. VQA. Canada $16.95.Red should be light in body, a Beaujolais Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2012. France $14.95or a Pinot Noir, Au BonClimat, Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley. £15.75

Roast Beef

Roast beef screams to be married with a heavy full bodied wine, an Australian Shiraz works perfectly: D’Arenberg – d’Arrys Original McLaren Vale Australia. $19.95 /  £12.50

A Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is also a great match: Marques de casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon Mapio Valley. $17.95 / £9.00

If you prefer white over red, try a rich and oak driven wine. Lighter styles tend to get lost and don’t complement the dish very well.

Ham

Ham is quite versatile when it comes to wine, although I enjoy the freshness of a white over a red.

A Chablis would work well, along with Semillon or even an Alsace Pinot Gris.

Pierre Sparr Réserve Pinot Gris 2009 $14.95 / £8.95

Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2011, Hunter Valley, new South Wales. Australia $19.95

Digestifs

Digestifs are the perfect end to a great meal with friends or family. There`s no need to unbutton your trousers or feel like going into a food coma with these little beauties to help aid in digestion. They`re also great with a fine cigar, and allow for some time for fine conversation once everyone has satisfied their gastronomic urges.

Amaretto

Comprised of a blend of apricots and almonds with a rich orange amber hue, this bitter sweet drink was made out of a love that never came to pass.

In 1525 artist Luiani Bernadino was visiting Saronno, Italy to paint “Adoration of Magi” in the local church. His model was a local innkeeper, and the two fell in love though unfortunately she was mourning her late husband. Unable to satisfy his lusty cravings, she created for him a gift of Amaretto liqueur. Sad for him, but great for everyone that has loved it since.

There are many brands out there, but DiSaronno is said to be made from the original recipe. Enjoy on its own, on ice, or in coffee or tea.

DiSaronno $28.95 / £12.00

Calvados

This apple-based brandy has a light green gold to dark amber colour with aromas of cloves, raisins, cinnamon and cider with flavours of oak, vanilla and apple.

Only brandy that is produced in the French regions of Normandy, Brittany, and Maine can be called a Calvados. Up to 50 different types of apple can be used in the making of Calvados, and the resulting spirit can be aged up to 25 years in oak, which leads to many variations in style. Top producers are Boulard, Coquerel, Busnel and Morice. Enjoy straight or with a drop a water, or 1-2 cubes of ice.

Most range in price from $37 / £20

Whisky

The word whisky is Gaelic: uisge beatha. meaning “water of life”. Some think of this as a reference to the medicinal purposes of the magical stuff. Whisky (without an e, we’re talking about scotch; international styles are referred to as whiskey) is broken down into 2 categories: single malts and blended whiskies. Single malts use only one expression of malted barley distillate, always from a single source. Blends can incorporate different grains and different distilleries.

Internationally, whiskey falls under all sorts of local production bylaws. Bourbon, for example, must be made with at least 51% corn, and is aged in new oak barrels. Scotch is traditionally aged in barrels that have first been used for something else, like sherry, or, as is nowadays common, bourbon!

Single Malt: Bowmore 12 years. $ 51.50 / £22.    Blended: Te Bheag $ 36.95 / £18

Bourbon: Wild Turkey 81 $28.95 / £22

There are so many different variety of cocktail bitters out there, it’s hard to know what to do with them all. One truly stands out for the holiday season: Dr. Heather Duncan’s Christmas Bitters ($21 / ?10.55). It’s part of Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s line of cocktail requisites, which are all made in Scotland with the range showing off some wonderful flavours, including Dandelion and Burdock (in keeping with the original recipe); Teapot bitters (combining black and Yerba Mate teas); and the lovely Aphrodite bitters, with notes of chocolate, ginger, coffee, ginseng and chillies. Any of these can be used to spice up an exciting cocktail or punch.

Holiday punch recipe:

1 Bottle of Dark rum

4 oranges juiced

Oleum saccharum ( place the peel of 2 lemons in ½ cup of sugar for 2 hours)

8 cups of sweet apple cider.

Cloves

3-4 cinnamon sticks

star anise

1 ounce of Dr. Heather Duncan’s Christmas Bitters

Let sit for at least 1 hour before serving.

Hopefully you’ve picked up a few ideas of what to stock up with for the entertaining season. Do remember that everything listed here will get you drunk if you dunk your face in it too much, so take it easy, unless you want to be remembered for all of the next year for exposing yourself to the intern / boss / teenaged second cousin (twice removed).

Happy imbibing!

Jen Hunter is Spindle’s Toronto Food & Drink Correspondent. You can follow more of her gastronomic misadventures on Twitter @JennyTreehorn