Don’t tell the Child Protection Agency but my earliest memories of Christmas dinner are of drinking the small glass of cider my parents poured as a treat for my siblings and me. I remember how delicious it was with turkey, stuffing, and especially the pork, and to this day a festive lunch is not complete without a bottle of fizzy fermented apple juice. So why not try it yourself? Cider’s sour-sweetness is perfect refreshment with the savoury smorgasbord of a traditional British Christmas dinner. Even the inexpensive supermarket brands that drunk on their own would be nothing special suddenly sparkle when matched with a roast potato.
So banish the wine and try something different this Christmas. If that dusty bottle of sweet Sherry stuffed in the back of the cupboard only comes out once a year to spice up the trifle pour it away and add a splash of Madeira instead – full bodied, complex and very sweet. But don’t ignore Sherry as a drink, rather than just think of it as an ingredient. A chilled bottle of Fino may encourage you to look with a new appreciation of Jerez’s unique export. Pale and bone-dry, this Sherry will stimulate the appetite. Amontillado and Manzanilla are also on the dry side and are easy drinkers. What better excuse for polishing Grandma’s elegant little Sherry glasses!
Beer is also a revelation with Christmas comestibles and there is a style of beer that will match with each dish. But this year we’re concentrating on cider for the main courses, so think of beer for the Christmas pud, mince pies and cake. Several brewers make special ales for this time of year and some might even be described as Christmas cake in a bottle! The choice of dark malts, hops, alcohol strength, and length of maturation imbues the beer with incredibly rich spicy fruit characters and a full body. Try Tally Ho by Adnams; Christmas Ale by Shepherd Neame, or Owd Rodger by Marston’s – all three will go well with Stilton and mature Cheddar so that’s the cheese course sorted too.
Phew – full yet? Surely you can fit in one more tiny glass of something. If you would normally have a Bailey’s Irish Cream or a Scotch after lunch, remember we’re trying new things this year so for a rich smooth velvety treat sip a Merlyn Welsh Cream liqueur. And no need to go north of the border for the water of life – try Chapter 6 by the English Whisky Company. Distilled in Norfolk and made from locally grown barley, it has a sweet oak, caramel palate to savour at 3pm during the Queen’s Christmas message.
Now if you doubt you will be able to eat or drink anything else for a week that’s OK – just make sure that on New Year’s Eve when you break your fast you have a stash of English sparkling wine from Nyetimber, Ridgeview, or Camel Valley –dry spritzy perfection that will hit the spot as 2011 dawns.
For readers not based in the UK – the brands listed in the blog below are all British – but if you like the sound of them, why not come here for Christmas!