Getting into the Spirit of Things

By Luke McCarthy

Getting into the Spirit of Things
Bartender Luke McCarthy talks to MiNDFOOD about shaking, stirring and muddling. Here’s his advice to keep the cheers flowing.

To make your Christmas celebrations as stress-free as possible it’s best to stick to simple mixed drinks, classics or punches, and instead of obsessing over technique, focus on using quality spirits and ingredients – let them to do the heavy lifting.

Try to use fresh juices and good quality ice will help as well (if your freezer smells like fish, your ice will, too).

A simple favourite of mine is what I did last Christmas, when I grabbed some Campari and sweet vermouth and mixed it with the champagne we were drinking – 
basically a Negroni, where sparkling replaces the gin (a Negroni Sbagliato, if you want to get technical). That’s what I’m into around Christmas: simple, bold flavours that are super refreshing. Another favourite for entertaining is a proper punch, made well, with fresh ingredients and a punchy base spirit like rum, mezcal, brandy or whiskey 
is the ultimate entertaining cocktail.

I must admit, as a bartender and drinks writer, I often end up with a stockpile of opened bottles as the end of the year approaches. So I love to get some friends around, cook something amazing that takes all day, and slowly work through the bottles I’ve accumulated during the year. Great booze, great food – that’s my favourite way to entertain.

Food and cocktails work together but it depends on the booze and the cuisine, because the possibilities are endless. But like all pairings, you want to look out for flavours that complement or contrast, enhance or cut through. So you might put a light gin-based or aperitif cocktail next to an entrée, and get the botanicals in the drink to play off the flavours in the starter. Once you get to the main, more full-flavoured, spirit-forward cocktails with whiskey or brandy match well with heavier dishes. For dessert, cocktails that utilise port or a richer sherry are a great way to complement something sweet.

For me, cooking and making drinks for my family at Christmas is an important part of the ritual. I like to plan something different each year, although it’s never anything overly complex. Just good produce, done well with good drinks and good company. For my family, Christmas is about catching up and most importantly – chilling out. Although champagne and oysters are a firm tradition, too.

For Luke’s favourite cocktail recipe click here.

For a collection of our favourite festive tipples, click here.


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