Christmas shopping in Central London is probably one of the most unfulfilling experiences one can ever live through. Granted, only an idiot would decide to leave it until the eleventh hour, but we've all been there- (if not in London, then A.N.Other major city) sharing the desperation of similarly frantic shoppers, as they flail about looking for gifts that look thoughtful, but don't smack of 'last minute'.
This year, I decided to buck my rather lackadaisical approach to present buying and popped down to Oxford Street at 10.30am today- and imagine my surprise! The high street was practically empty, with the likes of Debenhams, Selfridges and John Lewis (all gleaming meccas for the terrified Christmas shopper) perfectly accessible and dare I say it - enjoyable... Once inside, I managed to get pretty much everything that was troubling me before 11.15, just in time to celebrate with a 'Six Item' breakfast and a pot of tea - extraordinary.
Of course, there are many other things on my Christmas list that require a little more effort than simply heading to a department store and seeing what takes one's fancy. On the liquid front, I've already placed my order for a few exciting christmas wines, some wonderful tawny port (which will be one of our forthcoming 18 Under 30 editions) and this year's edition of Ballantine's Christmas Reserve (the last two editions have come to symbolise the flavours of Christmas in the Caskstrength office, alongside the classic Snowball cocktail and box of 'Eat Me' dates.) It seems that Christmas Reserve is a little tricky to track down in the UK this year (and also a smudge over £30) but for all you festive fans who live across Continental Europe, China, Taiwan Thailand and Mexico, your luck's in and from the sample we recently tasted, this year's batch is rather superb.
For this post however, we're focusing on things that are much easier to obtain, yet equally exciting.
The Bitter Truth are two very talented chaps based in Germany, who back in 2006 decided to revolutionise the fairly stagnant cocktail bitters market by drawing on a wealth of research into the history of these essential high strength elixirs. After creating a big buzz amongst bartenders across the globe with their our personal favourite, Professor Gerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters (based on a recipe used in the 1860s by the seminal US bartender of the same name), the guys went on to produce probably the ultimate collection of bitters for the aspiring home bartender - the Traveller's Set.
Our recommendation is to try spicing up your Whisky Sour or Manhattan with a dew dashes of the creole and the orange bitters - also using a sherried Scotch whisky in place of a bourbon or rye- (yes, purists out there will say that this is called a 'Rob Roy', but purists seldom pay for a round of drinks... and when we're buying, it's called a Manhattan.) The results are simply superb.
This is where Glenfarclas 10 year old fits in nicely. For an extra sherried hit, the 15 year old nails the festive flavours perfectly, but you'll be paying around £37 for the privilege.
Caskstrength Festive Manhattan (ok, Rob Roy!) using Glenfarclas 10 year old and Bitter Truth Bitters
In a mixing glass, add: 50ml Glenfarclas 15 yo, 25ml sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso is an excellent choice, but for a spicier, more aromatic note seek out Punt e Mes) 3 dashes of creole bitters and 2 dashes of orange bitters)
Add fresh ice and stir for around 20-25 seconds, until the drink is chilled and nicely diluted (but not too watery) and strain into a chilled Martini or Coupe glass. Express a little orange zest over the glass and garnish with a sumptuous Luxardo Marischino cherry.
The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Traveller's Set is available for £16.29 at The DrinkShop. Click here for more details.
Glenfarclas 10 year old is available for under £30 here and here.