Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris suggests some winter cocktails to infuse the imagination.
Mixing it with the best
Whether you're stirring, shaking, layering or muddling, with the soaring popularity of cocktails and the trend for complex infusions, there's plenty of fun to be had by experimenting with these visual treats at home.
In my little black book of cocktails, good quality vodka and gin are paramount to any bar, along with Angostura bitters and some basic implements such as a Boston shaker, a strainer, a long bar spoon and a jigger for measuring alcohol.
Ice is the most important ingredient to any recipe, and you can never have too many ice cubes. Not only does it chill the glass, but it opens up the flavours in spirits and they should always be served ice cold.
Beyond the timeless classics, here are some interesting cocktails to build as the nights draw in. And try not to skimp on stemware... cocktails should taste as good as they look.
A Manhattan with a twist, this vintage cocktail hails from New York's Manhattan Club and, traditionally speaking, rye whisky makes the finest Manhattan.
But then, of course, that's before you've started experimenting with a white spirit such as Belvedere Unfiltered Polish Vodka (£38.95, 70cl, www.thewhiskyexchange.com). Full, smooth and textured, the rich flavour married with sweet vermouth and delicate lavender creates a bittersweet seduction.
60m Belvedere Unfiltered, 10ml sweet vermouth, dash lavender bitters
Half fill a mixing glass with ice. Add the Belvedere, sweet vermouth and bitters. Stir well and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Bison grass imparts a honeyed sweetness to vodka, and Polish rye vodkas such as Zubrowka (£19.39, 70cl, www.thedrinkshop.com) have been blending it to great effect for many years. Extremely fragrant with soft vanilla scents and a freshness on the finish, the natural herbaceousness of Zubrowka complements the citrus flavours of prosecco.
:: Ginger Fizz
30ml Zubrowka, 20ml peach puree, 15ml ginger & chilli syrup, 60ml prosecco
Pour the Zubrowka, peach puree and ginger & chilli syrup into a chilled champagne flute, then slowly top up with prosecco. Garnish with physalis orange fruit.
Flavoured syrups are easy to make by mixing one part boiling water with one part sugar, blending with the flavour agent and straining. For this recipe, boil 1ltr of water, 2kg of white sugar, ginger and chilli and simmer for around an hour.
Damson plums make delicious jellies and jams, and London-based artisan distiller Sipsmith has gone one step further and infused its barley-based vodka with damson's rich, plummy sweetness. For an elegant pour, try mixing Sipsmith Damson Vodka (£23.50, 50cl, Majestic) with some bubbles to give it an extra lift; but just remember the palatable flavours have a sting at 28% abv.
:: Sipsmith Damson Royale
25ml Damson Vodka, champagne
Pour the Damson vodka into a chilled champagne flute. Slowly top up with champagne and nose the rich berry flavours as they tickle the tastebuds.
The flying geese on Grey Goose Original (£35, 70cl, Waitrose) signal the silky smooth clean flavours of this famous French wheat vodka, and while some purists may say it's too good to mix with, "the world's best-tasting vodka" certainly complements the subtle sweetness of Toussaint Coffee Liqueur (£13.84, 50cl, www.drinkfinder.co.uk).
:: Chez Goose Couleur Cafe
35ml Grey Goose, 17.5ml Toussaint, 30ml espresso, splash of sugar cane syrup, single cream
Half fill a mixing glass with ice. Add the Grey Goose, Toussaint, espresso and sugar cane syrup. Stir and strain into a chilled coupette. Slowly pour the cream over the back of a teaspoon directly into the drink and sprinkle with a light dusting of chocolate powder.
Rarely drunk neat, gin lovers will agree the refreshing botanicals in versatile gins such as Bombay Sapphire (£20, 70cl, Tesco) hold the secret to old-school glamour cocktails. To help spread the love and create a delicious winter serve ahead of the party season, here's a recipe using Tuaca (£20.99, 70cl, www.thedrinkshop.com), an Italian brandy with a vanilla profile that can be used in any number of cocktails.
:: Bombay Sapphire Golden Wonderland (serves 4-6)
200ml Bombay Sapphire, 50ml Tuaca liqueur, 200ml ginger beer, 200ml cranberry juice, 1 lime cut into wedges
Fill a large jug with cubed ice, then squeeze in the lime wedges. Pour in the Bombay Sapphire, Tuaca and cranberry juice and give it a stir. Top off with ginger beer and stir gently in an uplifting motion for a final time. Garnish with a large mint sprig. Pour into small tumbler glasses filled with ice and a mint sprig.
Just around the corner, and a highlight of the winter hunt season, racing enthusiasts will be warming up for the brandy run (aka Hennessy Gold Cup on December 1). To whet the appetite of racing fans, here's a warming cocktail made with Hennessy Fine de Cognac (£25.99, 70cl, Waitrose) to entice lady luck and coax a song and dance if you win.
:: Hennessy Horse's Neck
50ml Hennessy Fine de Cognac, 70ml ginger ale, 1 orange spiral
Place an orange peel spiral in a glass and drape one end of it over the rim of the glass (horse's neck). Fill a tumbler with ice cubes. Pour the Hennessy Fine de Cognac and ginger ale into the glass. Stir well, savour and place your bets.
:: Best buy
Totally treacled... Scottish beer favourite Innis & Gunn has launched a Limited Edition Winter Treacle Porter (£2.50, 7.4% abv, 33cl, Sainsbury's) ahead of the festive season. Packaged in a decorative gift box, its first ever oak-matured Porter is made with roasted wheat, crystal malt and treacle, and can be enjoyed on its own, or with sticky pork ribs and mature cheeses to enhance the flavours of this dark ruby red malt.
:: Liquid news
Asda revolutionises mid-tier wine range... Having romped home with an impressive 152 awards for its winning wines in the last year alone, Asda is re-launching its own-label wine with a range called Asda Wine Selection. The collection is made up of more then 80 new and existing wines with easy-to-understand tasting notes on wine labels to help bring clarity to the range. Split into an entry-level and mid-priced tier with different label designs to distinguish the two, Christmas has come early for tipplers who sometimes feel intimidated by the wine aisle. The collection will be phased in from now until the end of November.