I know it’s all the rage in Instagram and Pinterest worlds to have a bar cart, but, as I already have a very beautiful vintage Heal’s cocktail cabinet, a cart would be somewhat redundant. What I have done instead, to ensure easy access to my most frequently used bottles, is to put together an old fashioned drinks tray, which sits neatly on top of said cocktail cabinet.
It’s very heavy and very beautiful vintage silver-plated tray (a steal on Ebay) to protect the cabinet from spills. It also has the added advantage that small hands can’t help themselves when visiting.
Hello, the gin
I seem to drink more gin than anything else at the moment. I like to have a mixture of bottles, covering the really classic blends of botanicals to new more modern combinations.
(For example, I’ve just tried the incredible brand new Connaught Gin which adds Amalfi lemons, along with red wine in its second distillation. It’s only available in a run of 100 hand-labelled bottles at £95 a pop but it would make a good present for the true gin aficionado. Do note that the bottle in the photo is a sample not the actual label or size of the real thing!)
Tanqueray London Dry Gin
This is what I produce when a visitor requests a really classic G&T. Created in the 1830s by Charles Tanqueray himself, Tanqueray’s London Dry Gin contains Juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander. I like to perk this up for myself with Schweppes 1783 Salty Lemon Tonic Water served with ice and a slice.
Whilst some of my guests will always choose a very traditional London Dry Gin, (like Tanqueray, above), I like to have some 21st century gins on offer to switch things up. Daffy’s, a copper pot single-batch distilled gin from Scotland, uses traditional coriander seeds, orris root, angelica roots and cassia bark, with the legally required juniper, alongside its very modern key note of Lebanese mint accompanied by Italian lemon peel, and Spanish orange peel.
It’s deliciously refreshing and has become my favoured gin for Christmas Eve as I start prepping for Christmas lunch. They’ve got a great website here.
I really got into Bombay Sapphire when I visited their English distillery in Laverstoke as part of a collaboration with the brand. I like its complex mix of ten botanicals, which includes not just the traditional juniper, angelica and orris root. but almonds, cubeb berries and West African grains of paradise. It’s a quite fragrant gin and I don’t think it needs much more than tonic water. However you could try it warm in this festive cocktail recipe for a spiced apple and gin warmer.
Ooh I do like a Mediterranean-style gin. I’m still a massive fan of Spain’s Gin Mare, with its unusual mixture of botanicals including Arbequina olives, rosemary, thyme, and basil.
But the latest to cross my desk is O’Ndina Gin, a small-batch gin, made in Italy by Gruppo Campari, using nineteen different botanicals, and small batch distilled using spring water from the Alps.
Deeply herbaceous, it includes the EU-required juniper, in this case from the Apennine Mountains, along with Grande Verde di Genova basil from Liguria, lemons and oranges from Southern Italy, orris root from Tuscany, liquorice from Calabria, and sage, marjoram, thyme and fennel from Piemonte and its neighbours.
There’s no vodka on my tray because I keep it in the freezer. Having a small London-apartment-sized freezer means there’s a limit on how many ice cubes I can make, so keeping the vodka cold means it doesn’t need quite as much ice when I serve it. I’ve got French Grey Goose on stand by for classic mixed drinks, and a small bottle of Polish Żubrówka bison grass vodka for shots.
WHISKY & BRANDY
You may have noticed that there is no whisky or brandy on the tray. That’s simply because a) I have too many bottles and b) I find that my collection of single malts, Cognacs and Armagnacs tend to be drunk after dinner rather than before so I keep them in the cabinet and produce as required.
I am very keen on a refreshing Negroni, and on an Americano, so there are two vital ingredients on my drinks tray: delicious Campari and red Vermouth. Although I prefer my cocktails on the bitter and dry side, so I’ve chose a dry vermouth rather than the traditional sweet vermouth that usually goes into both cocktails.
The recipes for both cocktails are on the blog here.
I grew up with Campari as my both of my parents love it. Invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy. It was originally coloured with carmine dye, derived from crushed cochineal insects, which gave the drink its distinctive red colour, and its actual ingredients remain a closely guarded secret: essentially it is an alcoholic spirit obtained from the infusion of bitter herbs and spices.
In addition to drinking it in Americanos and Negronis, I like it with freshly squeezed orange juice, or just plain with soda over rocks with an orange slice (very thirst-quenching).
Regal Rogue Bold Red (Vermouth)
This is a very unusual vermouth, made by clever Australians who wanted to re-write the vermouth rule book. Formerly known as Rosso, Regal Rogue Bold Red Vermouth is made using Semillon and Shiraz wines combined with wattle seed and pepper berries.
I like to have a few liqueurs and spirits that can be used either for after-dinner sipping, or added to perk up white wine, sparkling wine and Champagne
I love the gentle perfumed elderflower notes of St Germain – it works rather well as an alcoholic cordial served just with sparkling wine, but the signature St Germain serve is 2 parts sparkling white wine, followed by 1.5parts St Germain, topped up with 2 parts sparkling water, served in a Collins(tall) glass. I also offer it in a gin cocktail, splashed over ice in a copa glass and topped up with classic tonic water.
Crème de Cassis, Crème de Mûre, Crème de Framboise
One of the two classic serves for Christmas morning (the other is a Buck’s Fizz) is a Kir Royale, made with sparkling wine, or Champagne, and Crème de Cassis, a delicious blackcurrant liqueur from Burgundy.
(This is a great buy when in France as it’s less expensive, but it is worth buying the best you can afford. Look for bottles labelled Crème de Cassis de Dijon or Crème de Cassis de Bourgogne.)
In the UK I recommend Fortnum’s delicious English Cassis, which is made in Herefordshire.
Whilst I love the sharpness of cassis, I’m also very into Crème de Mûre – the blackberry version, and Crème de Framboise, the raspberry one. Turns out I love Crème de Mûre so much I have three bottles in my drinks cupboard… I bought all my bottles in France (it’s also a vital ingredient in the trifle in my cookbook), but you can find a wide selection of both Mûre and Framboise over on Amazon, of all places, here.
If you like the idea of a raspberry liqueur and you can’t easily find Crème de Framboise, then Chambord is a reasonable substitute.
Boodles Mulberry Gin
Still in the sticky fruity camp is Boodles Mulberry Gin. A British gin, Boodles was first released in 1845, and named after Boodle’s Gentleman’s Club in London.
Inspired by sloe gin, this variation on Boodles’ classic gin substitutes sloes for British mulberries, along with very appealing notes of raspberry and currant, which sit very well alongside Boodles gin’s wintery botanicals: rosemary, nutmeg and sage. I use it as I would a Crème de Mure, and it would also be very nice for post-Christmas lunch sipping.
Whilst there is always a place for French Cointreau in my drinks cabinet, the Italian Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur is a sharper 21st century take on an orange-based liqueur. Made on the island of Sicily and was developed by Master Distiller Lesley Gracie, who is also the creator of Hendrick’s Gin. Solerno is particularly nice served in a little glass alongside the Christmas cake. Available here
My non-alcoholic drink of choice is a slug of Seedlip Garden 108, served in a copa glass filled to the brim with ice, and topped off with Schweppes 1783 Cucumber Tonic Water which perfectly matches Garden’s primary pea and hay notes. Over Christmas you might find that Seedlip Spice 94, with its notes of allspice and cardamom, or Seedlip Grove 42, which celebrates all things orange, including mandarin and blood orange are suitably festive choices.
You can buy all the Seedlips here.
I’ve also written about my recommended and favourite bar kit over on this post, from ice buckets to cocktail shakers.
Please drink responsibly
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In this post I have been given bottles over the years by: Daffy’s Gin, Bombay Sapphire, The Connaught, St Germain, Boodles Mulberry Gin, O’Ndina Gin, Solerno, Regal Rogue Rosso, Schweppes, and Campari.