The spir­its of Christ­mas present

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

When peo­ple talk about get­ting into the Christ­mas spirit, I take them lit­er­ally. Well, not that lit­er­ally. I don’t run my­self a bath of ar­magnac or pot­dis­tilled Bath­tub gin (this brand does ac­tu­ally ex­ist, won­drously) but I do think about the sort of merry Christ­mas that is in­volved when you open a bot­tle of spir­its, or give one as a present.

Thanks to growth in pop­u­lar­ity of craft dis­til­la­tion over the past 10 years, buy­ing and drink­ing spir­its is more ex­cit­ing than it ever has been. As well as an ever-in­creas­ing range from the big­ger pro­duc­ers there are new, small-pro­duc­tion spir­its such as the milk-based Black Cow, which is made by a dairy farmer who uses whey to make cheese and the curds to make vodka, pop­ping up all over the place. And more new gins than even I, a con­firmed gin ad­dict, can keep up with.

There’s the blush of Pinkster gin which is made us­ing rasp­ber­ries; The Lakes gin, dis­tilled in Cum­bria us­ing lo­cally for­aged botan­i­cals such as bil­berry, hawthorn, mead­owsweet and heather; Pick­er­ing’s Gin, made on the site of a for­mer an­i­mal hos­pi­tal in Ed­in­burgh and based on an orig­i­nal Bom­bay recipe – and that’s just for starters.

On­line is a good place to look for spir­its. I highly rec­om­mend the Master of Malt web­site (mas­terof malt.com) and not just for whisky. Ma­jes­tic is also a happy hunt­ing ground. Buyer Chris Hardy was re­cently let loose on the spir­its sec­tion and he’s bought all sorts, from a Texan vodka to a rum from the Philip­pines to a Cal­i­for­nian gin made with Dou­glas fir (the smell of pine is quite close to that of ju­niper) and bay to glo­ri­ous cal­va­dos. Over at Fort­num & Ma­son, über-buyer Tim French has also ex­panded the spir­its sec­tion, mov­ing it into a whole new area of the store to give it more space.

If you’re look­ing to get into the spirit this Christ­mas, here’s a hand­ful of rec­om­men­da­tions.

Sa­cred Christ­mas Pud­ding Gin

(40%, £33.85, sa­cred­spir­itscom­pany.com) This is a gin made from Christ­mas pud­ding. Yes, you read that cor­rectly. Suet, cur­rants, raisins and al­monds are cooked up into pud­dings, and al­lowed to steep in gin which is then re­dis­tilled to make this won­der­ful, spicy spirit.

Sa­cred is a mi­crodis­tillery in High­gate, north London, with a jus­ti­fi­ably good rep­u­ta­tion for ex­cel­lence but I think they’ve sur­passed even them­selves with this un­usual idea.

Limited edi­tion, so snap one up. Ei­ther buy one for the gin fiend in your life, or do as Sa­cred sug­gests and serve in­stead of Christ­mas pud as a shot, icy cold from the freezer. Good plan.

finest* Sloe Gin

(29%, Tesco, £15) It might be sold un­der the own-la­bel of a re­tail gi­ant but this is a very classy sloe gin that tastes as good as it looks. Love that there are a few whole sloes in the bot­tle too. Shake with ice, le­mon juice and egg white to make sloe gin sours.

Tito’s Texan Vodka

(40%, Ma­jes­tic, £28) The story be­hind this one is as good as the vodka. It’s made in Austin, Texas, in the state’s first le­gal dis­tillery, by a bloke whose real name is Tito Beveridge. Tito is a trained ge­ol­o­gist who ended up work­ing in the mort­gage in­dus­try and was only mak­ing vodka on the side un­til he re­alised he’d be­come known as “the vodka guy” so should maybe think about do­ing that full-time in­stead. Made from corn in a pot still.

Ya­mazaki Sin­gle Malt 12 years old

(43%, £52.95, The Whisky Ex­change) Ya­mazaki is the Ja­panese whisky pro­ducer that made head­lines ear­lier last month when its sherry cask ver­sion was named best whisky in the world in Jim Mur­ray’s World Whisky Bi­ble 2015.

The company makes a very good drink, though if you’re a Scotch con­nois­seur you may find tast­ing it a strange, “is it or isn’t it?” ex­pe­ri­ence.

As a re­sult of that, all the Ya­mazaki whiskies are sud­denly rather tricky to get hold of, but this very good one was still in stock at the Whisky Ex­change at the time of writ­ing. A clever present.

Read all about it

Dis­tilled by Joel Har­ri­son & Neil Ri­d­ley (Oc­to­pus, rrp £14.99; avail­able from Tele­graph Books at £13.49 + £1.95 p&p – call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.tele­graph.co.uk) Joel Har­ri­son and Neil Ri­d­ley are ad­mirably clued-up guides to the spirit world but they wear their knowl­edge lightly.

Dis­tilled is it­self a dis­til­la­tion. It of­fers in­sights, opin­ions and in­for­ma­tion, snappy pro­files of pro­duc­ers the au­thors think it’s worth hear­ing about, and prop­erly thought­ful, very clearly ang­sted-over lists of “10 to try” for key spir­its that make you want to start sip­ping right now. As an ap­pe­tiser, the vodka list in­cludes spir­its from Swe­den, Poland, Eng­land and Cal­i­for­nia, and can you guess which Is­lay whisky made it on to the whisky list?

Con­tem­po­rary and beau­ti­fully pro­duced. Read­ing it feels like sit­ting in a bar with a good drink and pick­ing the brains of a mate you trust.

Be still my fool­ish heart: Sa­cred’s Ian Hart gets busy with the liq­uid ni­tro­gen in High­gate

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