Christmas serves: Bartenders, sommeliers and beer experts on what they're drinking and eating this festive season

Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken

10 December 2019

The dinner tables and drinks trolleys of our industry are at their most enviable at this time of year. Imbibe spoke to some of our bartender, somm and beer friends to find out what they will be serving this Christmas


 

Ryan Chetiyawardana, bartender, Lyaness

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

I kick things off with a bottled-cocktail base that I top off with fizz. I have some amazing champagne that I've been saving over the year, so this'll form the base of some aperitifs. Then I tend to explore a selection of wine, sherry and port, before cracking in to some whisky as the night comes around. I love Christmas, so I try and enjoy all the special things I've accumulated over the year, but Christmas Day tends to be a little more on the wine side, whilst the build-up is littered with cocktails and Guinness.

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

Plenty! We're a group of fatties. Karen (my sister) and Mama Chet do a big Sri Lankan Christmas. I do Christmas Eve with seafood followed by game pie, and then my sister does Christmas Day with an epic feast before we all head to the countryside with dogs, kids and my step brother for Boxing Day with my dad. The constant is that I do the booze throughout. There's always great bubbles and wine pre-Christmas, and very old port and very fun whisky for Boxing Day and beyond. Oh, and I dress as Santa at Singhalese Christmas at Karen's and make all the kids cry.  

What’s on your Christmas list?

Conservatives getting voted out and Trump getting impeached. Plus, some old Clynelish and some vintage Krug to toast the swerve of the apocalypse that accompanies this. 


 

Claire Bullen, beer writer, Good Beer Hunting

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

Breakfast means Smitten Kitchen's recipe for yeasted eggnog waffles, bacon, and Bloody Marys on the side (extra spicy). I come from a family of beer lovers, and so we typically gift each other various exciting saisons or cans of IPAs, several of which end up getting cracked and shared around as we open presents in the afternoon. Evening usually means some kind of hearty dinner, and a robust wine – my parents prefer New World reds, and so we might open a bottle of Justin Isoceles from Paso Robles, or Elderton Command from Barossa. This year, however, my home-brewer brother, true to the zeitgeist, has vowed to make his own hard seltzer with nutmeg, cinnamon, cranberries, and orange zest, so that may make an appearance, too.

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

I fondly remember the year that my parents planned a late-autumn road trip from Pennsylvania to Vermont. They hit up a gas station and came back with several four-packs of The Alchemist's Heady Topper, which they kindly shared with my brother and me on Christmas Day. Just after breakfast, the four of us - still in bathrobes and pyjamas - each grabbed a tallboy, clinked cans, and proceeded to gulp them down. That year was particularly jolly.

What’s on your Christmas list?

I've asked for a bottle of Angel's Envy Rye for Christmas this year. I first had it when visiting a friend's family in Colorado a couple years back, and was struck by its completely decadent profile- all vanilla bean, maple, sherry and toffee. It's aged for 18 months in cognac and rum barrels, and emerges a luscious confection of a whiskey. I've already made room for it on my bar trolley in anticipation.


 

Elena Serban, head sommelier, Heritage

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

Even if it is just for a couple of days, Christmas this year is going to be very special! It is the first time in 15 years that I will be spending Christmas with my family. We are an ordinary family from Dambovita, Romania; it will be their first time trying sherry, champagne, port and many other wines that will pair with our traditional food. 

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

The basis of our traditions are food, family and home. We begin cooking from three days before Christmas, we stay at home and spend time with our families. As I have not been home during the festive period in over 15 years the memories start this year.

What’s on your Christmas list?

I’ve already received it! The latter end of this year has been amazing for me. Every aspect of my life is on the right track. All I could wish for is for it to continue.


 

Beatrice Bessi, head sommelier, Chiltern Firehouse

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

I love to start the festivities with a nice round of Daiquiris – one of my favourite cocktails – and usually I choose a spiced dark rum to make it more ‘Christmassy’, as the result will be slightly sweeter, smoky and full of gingerbread flavours. Afterwards, I always have a bottle of Mosel off-dry Riesling, usually from J.J. Prum or Willi Shafer – and white and red, of course. This year I might have a Barbaresco from Francone winery, or a juicy Ma Petite Francine from Jamsheed from Yarra Valley, one of my faves!

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

The first Christmas I felt more ‘professional’ as a sommelier, I convinced my grandfather to open some of the bottles he kept in his ‘cellar’ in the kitchen... Between oxidized and corked, I think I’ve thrown more than half of the bottles in total – he still hates me for that!

What’s at the top of your Christmas present wish list this year?

I would say this year I deserve new Zalto glasses for my home, especially Universal and Bordeaux shape. And I have a list of books about wine regions in my ‘to-buy’ list, ready to be suggested as a present if my family will ask!


 

Natalya Watson, Beer with Nat

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

On Christmas Day, I'll be pairing one of my all-time favourite beers, Saison Dupont, with my Christmas dinner. Its bubbles, bitterness and booze help cut through the richness of the turkey, mash and gravy, while its herbal and peppery hop notes complement savoury stuffing. Its citrusy esters are a perfect pair with the zing of cranberry sauce too. I'm getting hungry and thirsty just thinking about it.

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

This year, I'm heading to Northern Ireland for Christmas. My parents recently moved back home to Bangor after 20+ years in California (yes, they're missing the sun!). Every time we're back in Bangor, a visit to The Jamaica Inn for a pint of Guinness and a bowl of chips is a must, so that's Christmas Eve sorted. 

What’s on your Christmas list?

I'll be asking Santa for a new phone so I can step up the quality of my educational videos on social media and hopefully excite even more people about beer.


 

Pete Brown, beer writer & consultant

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

We’ll be starting off with a bottle-conditioned fine cider or perry instead of champagne – easily a match in taste, and lower in alcohol for pacing. Something substantial and spicy like a Belgian Tripel to stand up to the flavour onslaught of the main event, before sliding into a late afternoon reverie of barley wines and old ales.

Do you have any festive food & drink traditions?

A highlight is living near a pub that opens for a few hours on Christmas morning - once the turkey is in and everything is peeled, we nip out for a pint or two. It’s quiet because most of the hipsters leave my fashionable part of north London and go home to mum and dad, but it’s always satisfying seeing the one or two millennials who are having their parents come to them for the first time, wearing the Christmas jumper mum bought for them, and trying to fade into the background as dad says: ‘Ooh, isn't the beer expensive round here? And why is it so cloudy?’

What's on your Christmas list?

An advance from my publisher on the new book Idea I just submitted to them.


 

Megs Miller, bartender, FAM Bar

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

I will be in Australia this holiday season so it will be Margaritas by the pool! 

Do you have any festive food & drink traditions?

At home in Canada we have no-abv egg nog when opening presents in the morning (or, as my nephew calls it, ‘Christmas Milk’).

My sister and I also have a tradition of drinking peppermint schnapps & hot chocolate. I am six years younger than her and she used to sneak schnapps in my hot chocolate when we were younger, so we still do it when we are together. 

What's on your Christmas list?

New boxing gloves (in yellow)!


 

Jane Peyton, beer sommelier

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

A pint of locally brewed beer at the village pub then home for a glass of India Pale Ale by Brewster’s Brewery as a bitter aperitif before lunch.  With lunch we will be drinking the magnificent Art of Darkness dry cider by Little Pomona.  It has the tannins to cut through all the big textured food on the plate and it is spectacular on its own too!

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

The first alcoholic drink I ever tasted was age five on Christmas Day when my parents permitted me and my siblings to have a tiny glass of Woodpecker cider.  It was sweet and fizzy and I still remember the apply smell, and the nose tickling carbonation. Every year since then my family has always had cider with Christmas dinner, although nowadays our palates have changed so we go for dry and tannic ciders from independent businesses. Christmas is not Christmas without cider.

What’s at the top of your Christmas present wish list this year?

I gave up pressies years ago so instead I do intentions. My intention is to support independent drinks businesses and pubs. But if any drinks tourism organisations are reading, I’d a love a visit to Jerez to drink some sherry!


 

Matteo Montone, wine director, London Edition hotel

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

This Christmas, I'll be at home with my family and it's tradition that we have champagne for lunch and a Barolo at dinner. 

Do you have any festive food and drink traditions?

I always try to buy some truffle at Christmas – on top of scrambled eggs on Christmas morning, and then with risotto at dinner time. We like to have seafood for lunch, perhaps lobster or scallops. 

What’s on your Christmas wish list?

A new Laguiole bottle opener. The absolute dream gift from Babbo Natale would be a bottle of Chambertin Armand Rosseau 1996. 


 

Ago Perrone, director of mixology, The Connaught Hotel

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

I always enjoy drinks that seep into culture and tradition and I am particularly fond of mezcal. A simple way to make mezcal more easily drinkable, especially over occasions where you tend to indulge yourself, is to mix it in Highballs. For example, a mixer like soda water opens up the flavour of mezcal and enhances the pleasure for the palate, but also for the spirit. Other musts over Christmas are a beautiful Dom Pérignon to toast and celebrate and Galliano L'Aperitivo for the aperitivo and digestivo moments.  

Do you have any festive traditions?

Panettone is a classic in Italy. It's what you eat when you get up in the morning during the festive period. Another tradition that occupies the dearest of my memories is grolla, an ancient covered wooden cup, often carved, with several spouts, also called a 'friendship cup' as it reflects the conviviality of the ritual of passing it around the group. The vessel is used to serve a typical drink in northern Italy which can be compared to a grog or a punch but made with coffee, grappa, cognac and spices. The blend is then heated before being served into the grolla and shared by a group of people.  

What’s on your Christmas wish list?

To continue to pursue balance, not just in cocktails but also in life, and to be able to support the new generations of bartenders in learning how important this kind of ethos is. Being able to nurture other skills, passions and moments is essential to keep on working harmoniously in our industry.


  

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