Tag Archives: Christmas

The perfect Christmas party drink

My father started inviting his children to his Christmas parties when we were old enough to hand around canapés and pour champagne.

For some years, he had made his living as an art dealer. Back in the eighties, the London art world was a rather splendid melting pot of colourful and eccentric figures who had more style than most, and much more scurrilous anecdotes…..

We learned a lot, as we wove through the throng waving bottles of fizz, and scoffing smoked salmon when Dad wasn’t looking.

My favourite job was making the Champagne cocktails, and to this day, it remains a copper-bottomed Christmas classic – very simple, rather sophisticated and decadently delicious.

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  • Take one sugar cube.
  • Apply 2-3 drops of Angostura bitters.
  • Drop into the bottom of a champagne flute.
  • Cover (generously) with decent brandy (not the cooking stuff).
  • Leave until a guest arrives, and then top up with moderately good champagne (no need to use the Krug, but for God’s sake please don’t attempt with Prosecco)
  • Thereafter, circulate and top glasses up with fresh Champagne, and gradually the Angostura and sugar melts away until, by the second top-up, guests are drinking pretty much pure Champagne

As we approached our later teens, we were allowed a glass or two each.

The problem was always that I would put my glass down half finished, and then forget where I had put it (or someone else would pick it up), and I’d have to start another, with a fresh slug of brandy.

After three of these. I found the room would spin pleasantly, and everyone was much kinder, funnier and I became less shy and more talkative.

The parties were always hugely fun, and there was often an after-party that would end up in one of the many Indian or Lebanese restaurants that dotted the Edgware Road. Occasionally these would become rather loud.

After three or four of these parties I began to find my social footing, and discovered that interesting conversations only need a little bit of small-talk to get them going.

And I have been rather fond of Champagne cocktails ever since…..

Making Mulled Wine – Justin’s secrets revealed….

I can’t understand why anyone would buy a pre-mixed mulled wine.

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Available from supermarkets at this time of year, they cost between £4-£6 a bottle for a lightly spiced, sweetened red wine of about 9% alcohol. They are frequently brewed up in Germany using Europe’s cheapest source of thin red wines, and then industrially flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, orange, and other Christmassy flavours. When hot, they taste thin and weedy and artificial. Waitrose’s version maybe better than most, but still……

Here’s two methods that will guarantee you a decent drop.

1. The quick and easy method with a pre-bought syrup

– Buy a bottle of Mulled Wine syrup, or sachets of mulled wine spices
– Buy an inexpensive red, with a soft generous flavour, I find simple Cotes du Rhone a very reliable bet, or any other red that is ripe and not too tannic. If you are a millionaire, and you want to use Domaine of the Bee, that is fine by me, but it might be a bit of a waste….
(I sometimes use up red wine that has been sitting around open for a few days, as mulled wine is a bit more forgiving if the wine has become a little tired.)
– heat the wine in the saucepan with the recommended amount of syrup – or with the infusion of mulled wine spices steeping in the wine.
– add sugar or honey to taste
slice an orange into quarter slices and float in the wine
– be careful not to boil
– serve in heat-proof glasses when piping hot.

2. The slower and more complicated (but better) method by making your own syrup (serves 24-36)

Making the syrup

– boil 3-4 litres of water, and dissolve 1 kg of sugar
– when the sugar has melted, add 3-4 sliced oranges (you can also collect orange peel over 2-3 days before, and add this too)
– add 20-30 cloves, and 2-3 cinnamon sticks, snapped into 3-4 pieces
– add 5-6 star anise
– other spices can be added if you like the flavours – nutmeg and allspice are good
– allow the syrup to boil until it has reduced to half the original volume
– allow the syrup to cool a little, strain into jugs, or bottles (especially if you want to keep the syrup for a few days.

Mulling the wine

– Depending on how many guests you have, use 1 part syrup to 4 parts wine. (So 3 bottles of syrup + 12 bottles of wine will give you enough wine to serve 30-36 people)
– heat the wine (see method 1) and syrup together in a saucepan. (Don’t use all of the wine and syrup at the beginning, but brew it in batches as needed).
– float some freshly cut orange slices in the warming wine
stud a couple of small oranges with 12-20 cloves and float in the wine
– add port of brandy to taste (no more than half a bottle for 4-5 bottles of mulled wine)
– Counterbalance the extra alcohol of the brandy by adding some good quality apple juice (I find this works better than orange juice)
– balance the alcohol and fruit juice to suit your palate, and whether or not you want raucous singing and dancing on the tables
– ladle into jugs so that you can top up your guests glasses without needing to have them them cluster around the mulling pot
when you need to brew up some more, just add some more syrup and some more wine, and start again.
– if you have syrup left over, you can use it on another occasion, or even keep it for another year.

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Have a wonderful time – mince pies and Christmas carols optional…..

STOP PRESS – we’ll be serving some mulled wine and mince pies on Saturday 15th December at 44 Hertford Avenue if you stop by to buy some last minute Christmas presents, between 4-7pm.

Maybe see you then!