If one feeling has dominated much of 2021, it’s been: crikey, could do with a drink.
Building on the back of 2020’s horror show, it’s been an battering year, emotionally, financially and the rest. There was a fairly lovely summer, of course, and some autumn months when things almost felt back to normal. But Omicron’s late sweep through the country means means Christmas, usually a moment of respite, has become a fraught affair. But, and here’s the thing; we will get through it.
As with last year, London has shown a toughness that must be admired. It made it through that gruelling lockdown; vaccines were (mostly) taken up with heartening enthusiasm and the hospitality sector, on the brink of ruin, managed to claw back a sense of normality, reminding us all just what we’d missed, and why it all matters so much. Restaurants laid tables and stirred pots, and crowds chattered. Pubs rattled with laughter and clinking glasses. Cocktail bars shook and strained; even nightclubs — albeit briefly — began to throb as little-used speakers were turned on and up.
There has, in other words, been a lot to toast to. Which is why it’s time to pour yourself a stiff drink, settle in and raise a glass to happier times ahead. Below are three cocktails from London’s top bars, with one to prepare ahead of New Year’s Eve. Cheers to what’s to come.
Smoked Tarbooz, by Kricket
It might look like a summer special, but this has all the flavours perfect for winter: the smokiness from the Scotch adds that fireside feel, while the cinnamon gives a Christmas finish. Prepare the syrup in a batch so you’ve some on standby: to do so, throw five sticks of cinnamon into a pan with equal parts sugar and water (500g sugar to 500ml water), bring to the boil, and simmer for 15 mins. Store in the fridge.
5ml single malt whisky (ideally something smoky and peaty; something like Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Talisker)
35ml watermelon juice (the fresher the better)
15ml lime juice
15ml cinnamon syrup
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice, apart from the whisky.
Shake and strain into a rocks glass – the kind of tumbler you might use for Scotch – also full of ice.
Garnish with a bay leaf and drizzle a few drops of the whisky over the top.
‘After Eight’ Martini, by Skylight at Tobacco Dock
The mainstay Christmas chocolate gets its own boozy tribute from the team at Skylight. This one is exactly as you’d expect – creamy, minty – but to give it a little more bite, add a drop more vodka than is suggested below. Oh, and have the vodka already in the freezer; it adds a certain welcome gloopiness to the drink and besides, the icier it is, the better.
20ml creme de menthe
Dark chocolate for grating
Pour all the ingredients into a shaker full of ice, give it a vigorous shake, then strain into a martini glass – although it works just as well in a rocks glass.
Garnish with grated dark chocolate.
Piccolina, by Swift
Port and sherry are the quintessential Christmas drinks so no surprise that together they mix up into an essential heart-of-winter winner. This is an elegant one; the white port takes the stickiness out of the the sweet sherry (something easy to find like Harvey’s is absolutely fine here), while the fig liqueur adds those Christmas pudding flavours. Briottet do a good one.
60ml dry white port
30ml Amontillado sherry
15ml fig liqueur
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice, strain into a martini glass, then add an olive
…and one to prepare for New Year’s Eve.
Moby Dick, by Nine Lives
This drink has picked up a bit of a reputation at Bermondsey bar Nine Lives; on the face of it, it’s little more that coconut-washed whisky, but there’s something in the balance of it all that makes it impossibly easy to drink. The sugar from the caramel in there keeps things nicely sweet without being cloying, plus the sugar helps fight off the sleepiness Scotch can bring on (of which, keep your bottle simple; anything too complex is likely to clash with the coconut. The bar uses Johnnie Walker Black). This is a batch cocktail, so you can share it around. It does need a little time to infuse, though, so get cracking well ahead of NYE.
A bottle of whisky
70g desiccated coconut 1
25g of coconut oil For the salted caramel syrup
Brown sugar, around 750g
A couple pinches of salt
Toast 70g of coconut flakes over a medium heat until browned, then add the whisky. Allow the coconut and the whisky to infuse for around eight hours and then add some coconut oil (around 120g should do) into the mix and leave to infuse further for around 10 hours.
Move the whisky coconut mix to the freezer for a couple of hours, or until coconut oil solidifies.
Filter the whisky coconut mixture through a sieve or coffee filter and leave to one side.
Start on your salted caramel syrup. As a general rule it is equal parts water to sugar, but if you want to keep in your fridge, it can be stored for up to two weeks. In a pan over a medium heat, add 750g of brown sugar and 750g of water with a couple big pinches of salt and allow the sugar water to dissolve. Take it off the heat to cool down, and chill it.
To serve, in a rocks glass stir 50ml of the whisky and coconut mixture with 10ml of the salted caramel syrup, over ice. Twist a peel of lemon over the drink to add a little freshness, then discard the peel.
Keep all your wasted coconut and oil for a second round of infusion or to make cookies.