Brr! It's chilly outside! So it's a darned good thing that seasonal, sweetly-spiced tipples are creeping onto back bars and retailers' shelves. They're drinks that hug you like a big woolly jumper and are all about comfort and enjoyment, warding off Jack Frost before he has time to nip at your nose.
The beginning of November saw Master of Malt release Rumbullion!, a spiced dark rum with a tasting note that sounds like a very tasty pudding, and exactly the kind of thing I'd want in my hip flask on a winter walk in the countryside. Also in their arsenal is Christmas bitters (gold, frankincense and myrrh, naturally) while Adnams have bottled a winter spiced liqueur, and Sipsmith's 2010 batch of sloe gin and damson vodka is currently available as a limited edition.
The small-scale production of these liqueurs and an emphasis on craftsmanship means that they're as close to your traditionally homemade versions as possible. For those who don't want to get their hands dirty making their own, they're brilliant - yet there really is nothing like doing it yourself. Something about the festive season always conjures up childhood memories of crafty activities, from making Christmas decorations and holly wreaths to picking sloes for inclusion in the yearly sloe gin. It seemed that the action of making the liqueur or mulling wine with spices in the evenings meant that no matter what, the drink was going to taste good - perhaps the Christmas spirit was infused.
Sadly, central London is short on blackthorn bushes from which to pick sloes so I'm leaving the task up to my mother in my native Yorkshire, where I'm sure a bottle of gin is sitting in the garden shed; sloes, almonds and sugar settling in the bottom. Here in London I'm defrosting myself with half-pint mugs of mulled cider at my arty Camberwell local, The Tiger, where the mulling is done in-house with their own blend of spices and the optional addition of a shot of Calvados. It's so good that my usual whisky doubles have been abandoned in its favour and I may just have to nick the recipe to make it myself.