Giving a bottle is a good way to get you off the Christmas present hook, but picking the right one can be a bit of a minefield. If it’s the same bottle you give every year, it might look as if you just couldn’t be bothered to think of something more imaginative – the booze world’s equivalent of a pair of socks. And if it’s a drink on which the beneficiary is something of an expert – whisky, say – you might well choose the wrong thing.
My strategy, then, is to focus on something I think the recipient would like, but not something they would necessarily expect. So, for example, if they’re into cream liqueurs, make it the stylishly bottled and wickedly good Kyrö (£19.95 for 500ml Master of Malt, 16%), which is a sort of grown-up Baileys; or the delectably nutty tawny port bottled under its own label by the Port of Leith distillery (£14.95, 19%). Even a small twist can make a bottle interesting: I can’t say I’d be over-thrilled to be given a bottle of tomato juice, but make it the Pickle House’s Spiced Tomato Mix with pickle juice (£4.95 Ocado, and perfect for non-drinkers and pickle-lovers alike), and I’d be more than chuffed.
I also like the idea of supporting local drinks businesses, which in my case means Somerset. As you may have read a few weeks ago, I’m massively into cider at the moment, and the deeply appley Sandford Orchards Ice Cider (£19.50 for 500ml, 15%) would make a great companion for a Christmas cheeseboard. I’ve also been a long-time fan of the Somerset Cider Brandy Company, whose deliciously almondy Somerset Morello Cherry Liqueur (£14.50 for 35cl, £16 hometipple.com, 17.5%) is made with apple eau de vie and is, if anything, even better than the company’s pure apple-based products.
The big drinks story this year, however, has been ready-mixed cocktails. M&S has brought out its own range, the Marksologist (geddit?), of which I like the Espresso Martini best (£18 or online from Ocado, 17.5%; you can buy the full set of six for £108 from Marks & Spencer online). Bear in mind, though, that Lidl’s perfectly decent 19% version is only £9.99. Lidl also has a bit of a bargain for us smoky whisky lovers in the form of its Abrachan Blended Malt for just £15.99 (41%). Laphroaig it ain’t, but it does hit the spot.
For those who are looking for wine, small or large bottles feel like more of a treat than a standard-sized one. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is seen by many as the quintessential Christmas wine, and Marks & Spencer’s very well priced magnum (£36, 14.5%) would go down a storm with anyone hosting you this Christmas. At the other end of the scale, few would turn up their noses at a half-bottle (or six) of champagne, and this year I’m impressed by the classy little Fourny & Fils Champagne Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru (£17.99 The Solent Cellar, £20.45 The Whisky Exchange, 12%). You could almost tuck one into a stocking, as indeed you could a bottle of Sainsbury’s rich, malty and very affordable Taste the Difference Winter Warmer Ale (£1.50 for 500ml, 5.3%).
The other big trend this Christmas is the boozy advent calendar, which have been around for a while, but suddenly everyone seems to be doing one now. If you’re tempted – and assuming they’re still in stock by the time you read this – Laithwaite’s has an impressive one for £79.99 that includes a nice surprise for Christmas Eve (no spoilers).