Ask the Alderman. The 2016 festive Q&A

Mine's a hemlock, mate.

The Alderman’s editors consider a few thoughtful seasonal questions from readers. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

I really, really want to be on trend this festive season. No tiny bottles of Aldi French lager or Harvey’s Bristol Cream for me. Unless they’re hot, of course. What should I be drinking? What’s the crack? What’s the goss?

Answer 1. You could simultaneously follow and surpass the Aperol trend by serving Quaglia Aperitivo Berto, a high-class, less chemical-tasting alternative. The best spritz you ever drank. Hat tip: Corks of Bristol. PF

Answer 2. As long as you don’t follow last year’s trend and end up drinking that devil’s piss water that is Aperol you can’t go wrong. You should always buck the trends at Christmas and just go for what you know you will drink and what others might like too. That said, amaro looks like it will be on trend by the end of the year as people look for something with a bit more punch than gin. Fernet Branca has been the shot of choice among bartenders for a year or two, but it takes some getting used to. Perhaps a good gateway amaro would be Ramazzotti or Cynar—but there are so many to choose from you should really just ask your high-quality off licence for suggestions around your tastes. Of course we like Asterley Bros’ “British” amaro—read my interview with them here. AH

After an overnight flight on NYE, I will be arriving at my family’s compound in Cape Town on NYD. What would be the most appropriate booze to take to the Welsh ex-pats that I’ll be staying with, bearing in mind that I would like some sort of NY celebratory drink?

Answer 1. Take a bottle or bottles of Welsh fizz. It can be prime stuff. Here’s a BBC story from this time three years ago about how Welsh sparkling wine trumped Champagne etc to win top awards. Quote from it to your family and the locals. And try, say, Ancre Hill Estates or Glyndwr. PF

What time is it acceptable to start drinking on Christmas Day? And how much booze is it acceptable to consume if you are with your girlfriend/wife’s family for Christmas?

Answer 1. It’s more a matter of which drink is appropriate at which time. Christmas is much like a wedding or a booze convention, it is acceptable to drink at any time. However, you need to ensure that you never get so drunk that you make inappropriate comments about people’s sexual orientation, etc. Each drink should be served with food to keep this in check; here are a few suggestions.

  • Breakfast—Champagne or Buck’s Fizz.
  • Elevenses—Irish coffee.
  • If Christmas lunch is a light one—a nice crisp white wine, such as a good quality Riesling.
  • If you are having your full dinner—anything goes.
  • Stout and oysters as a snack throughout the day.
  • Crisps and cheap lager can also be consumed in an ad hoc fashion. AH

Answer 2. The main principles are complicity and early mildness. In other words, get your in-laws involved and don’t peak too early. If your hosts/senior companions aren’t much in the way of boozers, they can often be corrupted by sweetness. Try liqueur coffee (with sweet drinks like Amaretto, Kahlúa, etc), sweet or medium sweet Madeira (which can also be very, very good), White Russians or even the humble Snowball. It’s also impossible to peak too early with a Snowball, it lays the drinking table but will never get you drunk.

If sweetness won’t work, try snobbery and crack some Champagne, though that does tend to get big on you quickly and you may cross a few thresholds earlier than you wanted to.

Finally, it’s supposed to be enjoyed, so what the hell, break a few glasses and taboos. Being overly cautious usually backfires anyway. And here’s some recipes and suggestions for Christmas day drinking I prepared earlier. PF

Can you recommend a red wine that goes well with red meat and cheese?

Answer 1. A very big question as there are many red meats and cheeses, each with subtly different flavours and it will massively depend on your budget too. However, I will suggest breaking with tradition and will go with a nice stout instead. AH

Answer 2. Sadly, no red wines go with red meat or cheese. PF

Our usual New Year’s party hosts have deserted us this year. Please suggest what we might drink at home alone to accompany feelings of loss and abandonment, perhaps something bitter.

Answer 1. The classic Champagne cocktail has fizz and panache, it’s festive and it’s bittersweet. It’s also very good and the best way to drink the inferior Champagne that’s been on offer in the supermarkets for a month and that you’ve probably been given a bottle or two of. Here’s a recipe/notes for it, and also for the bittersweet Negroni and the sour Black Velvet, all of them apt to your malady and the occasion. Good luck, sport. PF

Answer 2. Buy a good bottle of whisky and try the Scots tradition of first footing, where you go around your local area (where there are lights on) and offer people a nip. You never know, you might find some friends who suit you better than these fly-by-night tosspots. AH

Despite the advice of my tailor, I recently emigrated to The United States of America. Altogether this has not turned out as badly as I feared, and the locals are a jolly sort, even if I must occasionally suffer drinking sherry from a brandy glass. As I settle in, my mind turns to what local elixirs these chaps might have which would be worth sampling over here. May I ask for suggestions?

Answer 1. New to the US and don’t know what to drink?  At this moment in time, I have to recommend your first slug in the States be one of the many varieties of American whiskey currently available. Not long ago the selection at your local packie might include Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, and maybe a Maker’s Mark or Blanton’s on the shelf above and Old Granddad and Old Crow on the one below, but not much else. But this brown spirit has seen a renaissance of sorts in the past decade, and it seems something new is hitting the market every week or so. New operations are popping up all the time, and the old standbys are experimenting with all sorts of variations on standard production, resulting in a cornucopia of flavors, textures and experiences.

The ten-year-old bourbon and seven-year-old rye released by Smooth Ambler are a couple of my favorites from 2015. Another excellent value is the Evan Williams Single Barrel collection, which releases a new set of ~ten-year-old bourbons each year, and at an affordable price, generally under $30 per 750 ml bottle. Each year brings a new release, and the 2015, to my tastebuds, was one of the best yet. A sample of barrel number 255 (barreled in 2005 and bottled in January of 2015) is reminiscent of East Coast beach caramel corn, as well as classic bourbon flavors like vanilla and fruit. These selections are just the tip of the iceberg, as there is a full spectrum spanning grain types, ages, and prices.  In fact you could make American whiskey your first drink on US soil, and then your second, third, fourth and so on for quite some time before tasting the same spirit twice. You are likely to be well lubricated before you are bored. JL

I return home drunk after my nth Christmas party, and find myself with a conundrum—do I watch Die Hard or Scrooged?

Answer 1. Definitely Scrooged, Christmas isn’t Christmas without at least six versions of A Christmas Carol, or a healthy dose of Bill Murray. It’s worth watching if only to spot his ad lib moments. But do make sure you pour yourself another stiff measure before you indulge. AH

Answer 2. I’d go for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Constant action, with wit, cynicism, heart and a bit of dog-eared redemption. It keeps you awake and amused. Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps does the same, though it has nothing to do with Christmas. PF

Further reading

Here’s some Alderman Lushington pieces that might help you at this difficult time. In fact, there are a lot of Alderman pieces that might assist you over the festive period, so have a look around.

Boozing with the brain boffins: an educational pub crawl

The practical drunkard—pub etiquette

The art of the functioning alcoholic

Food, drink and the golden ratio: cautionary tales

Shaken, not stirred: drinking like James Bond

Andy Hamilton, Paul Fishman and Jeff Lewandowski (Bristol, Windermere and Washington, DC, December 2016)

Gin in the morningAndy had his first alcoholic drink at eight and has never looked back. He now works as a freelance drunkard and does many booze related things to earn a crust. These include taking people out into the woods and teaching them how to make booze from wild plants, writing about booze in his books, the bestselling Booze for Free, his in-depth treatise on beer, Brewing Britain, and more recently the book he is working on, Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails. He often writes for the Telegraph and occasionally for the Guardian. He’s also been know to help various establishments design their own signature drinks. Andy is known as one of the politest people in the drinks industry, he never swears and is always convivial and never an incompressible drunk. Honest. And he really is the editor at large for Alderman Lushington.

Twitter: @andyrhamilton Website: The Other Andy Hamilton

Fishman-bucketPaul is a freelance writer, editor and all-round ink-slinger; he’s also the managing editor of Alderman Lushington.

Website: Twitter: @fishmandeville


jeff-lewandowski-bylineJeff is a publishing professional by day. By moonlight he does baseball geek stuff and serves as US/Americas editor for Alderman Lushington. On Sunday mornings he wears a baseball player costume and seeks glory on the diamond. Jeff was born and raised in Massachusetts, but currently enjoys drink, drinkers and drinking near his home, about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and wherever else his travels take him.