A Whisky for Christmas
Brace yourself an opinion from the echo chamber: whisky people are excellent people! Especially around this time of year, when gifting anxiety has set in, the whisky people offer you a lifeline. A bottle of whisky is always a welcome present, and we’re living in a golden age of choice and customisability – you can get bottles that are thoughtful and delicious in equal measure. A familiar, old favourite for the lover of tradition. An off-the-beaten-track, quirky release for the whisky geek. A peat bomb for the smokehead (they’re always the easiest).
Or even… a whole cask of whisky for the most loved and deserving person in your life?
That’s the present sorted. Now you have time to start worrying about the Christmas dinner. Luckily, whisky is here to help again. I’m going to share with you some of my preferred recipes that incorporate the amber nectar. They’re an excellent way to show off your mastery of the malts, and maybe even introduce some skeptics to the more playful side of whisky.
The Spiced Christmas Toddy
Toddies are designed to take the sting out of cold weather and keep the winter bugs at bay. A classic hot toddy is a simple affair, combining a dram of whisky with hot water, honey and lemon in a beautifully warming, sweet and slightly tart comfort drink. Considering how long the cold and dark season lasts in Scotland, the toddy is ubiquitous therapy.
Toddies are already wintry to the core, but they can always be made a little bit more Christmassy. Here’s how.
First, pop the kettle on. A very British solution to so many problems. Next, choose your whisky. This is an important step, because the character of the spirit you choose has a surprisingly strong effect on the final toddy.
Usually, I’d say that there’s free reign in choosing the whisky (smoky toddy!), but Christmas themed foods are spicy affair, indulging in the heady aromas of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. There’s one particular class of whiskies that doubles down on such flavours, and those are the sherry bombs. Dark, spicy and mysterious; sherried whiskies may be a touch more expensive, but the flavours they give to a Christmas toddy are spot on.
Measure out a healthy glug of your chosen sherried whisky (malt, blend or grain – your choice!) into the bottom of a mug – clear glass mugs really show off the concoction. Add a teaspoon or two of honey to the whisky and then follow with a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste. Take a whole stick of cinnamon, and muddle the mixture around a little.
The kettle should be about boiled by now. Time to make tea. At this time of year there’s a whole stockingfull of specialty christmas teas available, bag or loose leaf, infused with more of those sensual eastern spices. Make yourself a pot of really hot tea, and give it enough time for the (delete as appropriate) [cloves] [cinnamon] [anise] [citrus peel] [cranberries] [black tea leaves] properly infuse into the hot water. Then pour the steaming brew over your whisky, honey and lemon mixture and swirl everything with the cinnamon stick. It’s almost too Christmassy!
Christmas is a time for loosening your belt and undoing some buttons on your cardie – let your January self deal with the fallout. December is a month of indulgence and hibernation. There are plenty of sweet treats around at this time of year, many of them sticky, rich and dark. Packed with dried fruits, citrus peel and brown sugar; mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas pud are all weighty enough – but not so weighty that they don’t cry out for a dollop of whipped dairy to cushion the palate against the assault.
The rest of the year is fine for your whipped creams, ice creams and crèmes chantilly. But in December, just try and keep me away from the brandy butter unless you have a damn good substitute. Ah!
This recipe is simple, barely even a recipe at all. But it gets results. Take an equal weight of softened, unsalted (or salted, I won’t judge) butter and white sugar and whip them together in a bowl until you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. Then, for every 40 grams of butter you whipped, add a tablespoon of your whisky of choice and half a tablespoon of hot water. Continue whipping and then place the bowl in the fridge – ready to serve once it’s cold. Scoop liberally over any dessert during the festive season and dial up the decadence.
I’d love to advise you to add a little more whisky, and you certainly can if you dare, but don’t push your luck. Too much whisky, and you’ll get puddles of unincorporated and gently buttery spirit pooling on top of your chilled whisky butter, and those are not nearly as excellent as they sound.
Feel free to experiment a little with your whiskies. Bourbon-matured for a lighter, more citrussy whisky butter. Sherried for that extra- Christmassy spice. Port matured for some more jammy sweetness, and peated for a concoction that is peculiarly compelling. Each to their own!
Flaming Whisky Pudding
For those with a flair for the sensational, willing to create drama through the possible risk of immolating loved ones, the flaming pudding is a show-stopping end to the festive meal. Traditionally, brandy is the go-to spirit for fiery puds, but whatever brandy can do; whisky can do better. In this scenario, I would even recommend using a peated whisky to achieve your goal – only it has the chops to back up an explosive display with a genuine smouldering flavour. I will, however, recommend against using your most expensive malt. A reasonably priced and mildly peated blend will achieve a more than satisfactory result.
The process is simple, but it requires confident motions to carry it out. First, place your pudding onto a plate, one with a recess that will be able to hold a small amount of liquid. Any plate that isn’t completely flat is fine – this is the one time that those ever-trendy slate platters are desperately inappropriate.
Pour a couple of measures of whisky into a small, shallow pan, and light the hob to bring the liquid gently up to a temperature where you can see the curling smoke of evaporating alcohol. Turn off the hob and strike a long-handled match, then bring the match close enough to the hot whisky until it catches gorgeous blue flames.
Take the flaming pan over to the pudding (which I hope is waiting nearby) and with a smooth motion, pour the flaming whisky over the whole thing.
Finally, get an assistant to turn off the lights in the dining room, and search spotify for the Ride of the Valkyries. Bring in the bright blue flaming dessert as the music swells, place it on the table and let the effect sink in for a moment before saying something like ‘I love the smell of Braeval in the morning’.
Season’s Best Wishes
Naturally, you can skip all the fancy stuff, and simply bring out a special bottle of whisky at the end of the meal and share a wee dram with your nearest and dearest.
However you choose to present your whisky this year, do so responsibly, festively, and with an eye on the fact that you’ll need to have some left for Hogmanay.
A very merry Christmas to you all from Cask 88, and a happy new year!