Here’s to a fab­u­lous fes­tive sea­son!

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Christ­mas cock­tails

In my 20s I spent a cou­ple of years back­pack­ing around South Amer­ica. About a year into my trip I ex­pe­ri­enced a ter­ri­ble bout of food poi­son­ing in Peru, which landed me in bed for a cou­ple of weeks. To re­cu­per­ate I headed over to the other side of that vast con­ti­nent to the ritzy seaside town of Buzios, where some friends were liv­ing. Like Ibiza, Buzios was the kind of place that drew scores of well-heeled and deep-pock­eted Ar­gen­tini­ans and Euro­peans each sum­mer, and even Brigitte Bar­dot had a man­sion on the beach.

In ex­change for free rent and use of the kitchens I man­aged a lit­tle ho­tel and its bar dur­ing the afternoons. (I started my first busi­ness here, mak­ing crois­sants, but that’s another story.) The owner would head out sail­ing af­ter lunch each day, and I would take over the reins of the ho­tel, look­ing af­ter new customers and whip­ping up caipir­in­has be­hind the bar.

It didn’t take me long to work out that a good cock­tail made ev­ery­one happy and, af­ter about a week, I nailed that fab­u­lous drink — mud­dling chunks of juicy limes and sugar, then adding the cashaca be­fore pour­ing the lot over crushed ice in a tall glass. To this day a caipar­inha is still one of my favourite cock­tails, but I can turn any spirit into a great drink, thanks to know­ing that par­tic­u­lar for­mula.

In the lead-up to Christ­mas, I like to break the ice and get a party go­ing with a cock­tail or two. Peo­ple al­ways feel treated when you serve them cock­tails. They’re are such an ex­pen­sive drink to buy at a bar, but are of­ten a cheaper choice than wine to serve at home.

A great cock­tail isn’t about knock­ing peo­ple’s socks off with al­co­hol. The bal­ance of acid­ity and sweet­ness is key, and there needs to be just enough al­co­hol to de­liver a pleas­ant but not too pow­er­ful hit. You don’t want ev­ery­one pass­ing out on the sec­ond drink. Have ev­ery­thing chilled and keep the spir­its in the freezer. Don’t for­get the ice, as cock­tails need to be crisp and cold — if they aren’t, the flavours be­come mud­died and dull.

If you’re mix­ing for a crowd, make up your base in a big pot or jug, rather than pour­ing each drink in­di­vid­u­ally. Have to hand any garnishes and a good sup­ply of crushed ice in the freezer.

Be sure to of­fer lots of nib­bles to soak up the al­co­hol and have some non-al­co­holic drink op­tions handy. Most cock­tails will taste good with­out the al­co­hol, so if you make up the base flavours sep­a­rately you can add the al­co­hol to or­der — that way you’ll keep ev­ery­one happy.

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