After last year’s Christmas was “cancelled” days before it happened (how very 2020), it makes sense that we want to celebrate December 2021 with a proper bang.
Brits reportedly pull more than 150 million crackers every year, but we reckon these boozy ones will offer a more spirited sparkle to your seating plans than the usual array of forgettable toys and terrible jokes.
From super-colourful packs to beautiful boxes, we’ve rounded up the best of the bunch to do justice to your table this year – whether it’ll be packed with people you didn’t get to see over lockdown, or you’re planning a small-but-special do.
How we tested
We went big on packaging – it’s Christmas after all! – and wanted to be thrilled by the sparkle and style of the box before we even got inside the cracker. We judged on colour, design, and heft, and gave extra points for those that felt exciting, good value for money, and offered something a little bit different than your usual green-and-red get-up.
We then considered if the crackers actually went “bang” (surprisingly few did) and if they’d be a talking point at a Christmas party. We then turned our attention to the treats inside, awarding points for sophistication and/or style, fun, and finally, for the quality, variety and flavour of the alcohol included.
The best alcohol-filled Christmas crackers for 2021 are:
Best overall – Raisthorpe Manor coloured leopard tipple crackers with flavoured vodkas: £39.95, Raisthorpemanor.com
Best for variety – Harvey Nichols go crackers – luxury crackers: £60, Harveynichols.com
Best crowdpleaser – Hotel Chocolat rather large chocolate Christmas cracker: £36, Hotelchocolat.com
Best for pink gin lovers – Pinkster gin and gin jam miniatures festive cracker: £9.89, Thebottleclub.com
Best for rum drinkers – Dead Man’s Fingers rum cracker selection: £20, Thedropstore.com
Best for true gin lovers – The Lakes Distillery gin crackers: £20, Lakesdistillery.com
Best for a touch of glitter – Hearth & Heritage gin-filled Christmas cracker: £9.95, Notonthehighstreet.com
Best for good-value colour – Whitley Neill gin cracker selection: £20, Thedropstore.com
Raisthorpe Manor coloured leopard tipple crackers with flavoured vodkas
We must admit that when we saw these crackers on the Raisthorpe Manor website, for some reason we assumed they were “mini” – surely, that level of leopard print sass couldn’t possibly apply to full-size crackers? We are thrilled to report that we were wrong.
This pack was the biggest we tested, with six full-size crackers, and would make an impact at any table. What these lack in traditional Christmas style, they make up for with flamboyancy and colour.
Not only that, they include a different flavoured vodka in each cracker, including apple, orange, blackcurrant and strawberry, for real variety. Our favourite was the toffee caramel.
The “wild” branding adds a nice link to the leopard-print exterior too, and these also received a cheeky extra half point for not being gin (we adore gin, but there’s no denying that it rather dominates the cracker scene).
Rather excitingly, these were some of the few crackers we tested that actually made a proper “bang”, and, as well as a miniature bottle, there’s also a joke and proverb, and a paper hat. Big kids rejoice!
Buy now £39.95, Raisthorpemanor.com
Harvey Nichols go crackers – luxury crackers
Best: For variety
Easily one of the more sophisticated cracker packs we tested, these come wrapped with flair, with a black, silver and white design. Each cracker is a pleasingly large size, and they are finished with two silky ribbons, making them feel like a real gift even before you pull them.
For some, this pack may feel a tad disappointing and perhaps slightly overpriced, as only one of the six actually contains alcohol, in the form of damson gin (although you could make it a game, and try to pick which cracker contains the bottle before opening).
Yet, guests shouldn’t feel too shortchanged; other treats include Harvey Nichols damson jam, a branded champagne stopper, and posh mints; plus a slinky and vintage-style whistle for the kids.
This variety means that these crackers could work for a mixed party, which may be welcome if you have children or teetotallers at your table. The addition of the classic joke and hat maintains the playful feel.
Despite the slight lack of alcohol, we felt that these crackers had the edge compared to some we tested on packaging alone. They’ll add a touch of glamour to any Christmas dinner.
Buy now £60.00, Harveynichols.com
Hotel Chocolat rather large chocolate Christmas cracker
We’re gonna need a bigger table. Seriously, this thing is huge – and we loved it. This is 2ft of white, sparkly packaging finished off with red ribbons, packed with all the Hotel Chocolat favourites, plus a variety of special Christmas-flavoured tipples.
Think truffles with champagne, gin, rum, and mulled wine – plus classics such as salted caramel and even a few non-alcohol-but-Christmassy bites such as a Christmas mess, starry hazelnut supernova, and a tree-shaped 70% spruce.
Of course, something this size isn’t designed for an individual, but we’re confident it would work as an indulgent centrepiece, with plenty of chocolate to go around after the bang (there are 40 pieces in there).
It lost a point for not quite satisfying the “one cracker per person” criterion, but made up for it in sheer heft and variety of chocolate, with a range of alcohol and non-alcohol flavours sure to please everyone from children to big kids, and last lond after Christmas dinner is done.
Buy now £36.00, Hotelchocolat.com
Pinkster gin and gin jam miniatures festive cracker
Best: For pink gin lovers
If you love pink gin (as we do), you’ll love this. From the hot pink design offset with proper silver ribbons, to the pleasing heft of the cracker itself in your hand, this cracker feels like real fun.
The gift inside continues the joy – not only does it have a proper miniature of classic Pinkster raspberry gin, there’s also a little jar of raspberry gin jam in there too. If you can’t have alcohol on your toast at Christmas, when can you?
The gin itself is sweet but peppery with a light rose hue; while the jam is satisfyingly tart and tangy.
A joke- and silly-hat-free zone – the packaging clearly states “no naff jokes” – we nonetheless enjoyed them immensely.
Obviously, if you don’t like pink gin, it’s a non-starter; and it could get expensive if you’re entertaining a big group. But if that’s not an issue, we reckon a few of these would add some (admittedly very pink) flair to any festive table.
Buy now £9.89, Thebottleclub.com
Dead Man’s Fingers rum cracker selection
Best: For rum lovers
Rum lovers, rejoice! Into the seemingly endless array of gin-filled crackers, comes this unapologetically colourful (and joyfully creepy) rum selection.
Complete with a Christmas-hat-topped gold skull on the packaging (and a skull on each cracker too), these cut right through the usual twee designs of stars and trees and put the rum loudly front and centre (although a few snowflakes on the pack do offer a courteous nod to the season).
With six crackers per pack, these are perfect for a medium-sized gathering, and we enjoyed the shock of bright colours, punchy design, and matching rum miniatures inside.
Rum-lovers are sure to have serious opinions on the wide choice of flavours, which span from coconut to passion fruit, pineapple, mango and even coffee – plus the traditional spiced, which was our favourite.
The style of these crackers might shake up your more traditional relatives, and again, they neither go “bang” nor contain jokes or hats, but we really enjoyed their originality (and the rum tastes good too!). Their affordability doesn’t hurt either.
If you’re looking for a bold, rum-heavy selection for a Christmas dinner with a difference, these are sure to be a real talking point.
Buy now £20.00, Thedropstore.com
The Lakes Distillery gin crackers
Best: For true gin lovers
A beautiful white and gold box sets the tone for these, with the delicate design carrying through to the dainty, individual crackers. The packaging leaves no surprises about what’s inside, with “The Lakes Gin” written clearly on each cracker – but that scarcely diminishes the excitement.
Each beautifully packaged cracker contains a 5cl glass bottle miniature of the classic gin from the Cumbria distillery, which is excellent indeed, and feels like great value on the alcohol side. Tasting notes on the pack promise “vibrant notes of juniper, cracked black pepper and orange peel” and the result is indeed a crisp, refreshing gin full of botanical bite.
But the crackers contain the gin, and...nothing else; nor do they really “bang” when pulled (at least, they didn’t for us). For those who have had quite enough of terrible jokes, that’s perfect, but it’s not the usual “silly hat” Christmas experience some might be after.
These would be perfect for a sophisticated gathering of true gin-lovers, at a surprisingly reasonable price.
Buy now £20.00, Lakesdistillery.com
Hearth & Heritage gin-filled Christmas cracker
Best for: A touch of glitter
With their gold, starry design and mix of pink and black colours, these crackers strike a cute balance between the usual Christmas glitz and a more sophisticated air.
Granted, they’re not the most typical Christmas colours, but the sparkly design got us feeling fancy, with the writing on the side wishing us a “Merry Gin-Mas”, plus a little pun reminding us to “get into the Christmas spirit”, which we enjoyed.
Inside, our pink cracker contained 5cl of strawberry and pink pepper Edinburgh gin; while the black had a rather more unusual Edgerton blue spice gin. Both would be roundly appreciated as an extra touch on a Christmas table, and feel like a bit of a treat.
On the downside, these are sold individually, so are not as convenient or perhaps as good value as a pack of six. And again, they don’t include hats, jokes, a loud “bang”, or anything else inside.
But for those who might appreciate a slightly classier kind of cracker with a guaranteed bottle inside, they offer a cheeky dose of something different.
Buy now £9.95, Notonthehighstreet.com
Whitley Neill gin cracker selection
Best for: Good-value colour
While nothing quite beats the leopard print Raisthorpe Manor crackers for showstopping shades, this Whitley Neill Gin pack isn’t holding back. Again, there are no traditional Christmas shades to be seen, but we loved the bright jewel colours, which would stand out on any festive table.
While the metallic touches added welcome Christmas sparkle and the City of London Distillery logo looks smart, the packaging didn’t feel quite as premium as some we tested. But then, the price point is pleasantly affordable too, at just £20 for six.
Plus, it makes a great set. Each cracker conceals a matching Whitley Neill Gin, from more unusual flavours such as blackberry, rhubarb and ginger, and blood orange to favourites such as blackberry, pink grapefruit, and a classic London Dry.
These aren’t necessarily as sexy or luxe as some on the list, but as crackers go, we have no complaints, and they’ll bring a smile to the face of any gin drinker.
Buy now £20.00, Thedropstore.com
The verdict: Alcohol-filled Christmas crackers
While we were especially taken with the striking design of the Harvey Nichols go crackers, and loved the satisfying, chocolatey variety of the massive Hotel Chocolat offering, our favourite had to be the Raisthorpe Manor selection, for the sheer sassy audacity of including six huge, colourful leopard-print crackers in one pack, and the fact that it didn’t skimp on alcohol while also including the classic paper hats and bad jokes.
After a boozy Christmas countdown? Find out how to pre-order Virgin Wines’s advent calendars