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Even the most hardened beer or wine drinker likes to go for the spirits at this time of year - but what should we choose? Dave Broom has been investigating spirits of Christmas past, present and future in the first part of his Christmas Spirits guide.

Gin

I've said it before, I'll say it again...and again, but the golden rule when buying gin is to stick to a brand that has 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) or above. This isn't because I'm a hopeless alcoholic but because of the fact that at less than 40%, gin loses many of its more delicate aromas. The strength issue narrows your options down, but there are great gins to be had. Top of my list is Plymouth (41.2%) with its complex nose and rich palate. Fans of this bolder style will also love the weighty, bold Tanqueray (47.3%) but people with more delicate sensibilities should rediscover the high-toned citric delights of Beefeater (40%).

If you're on a pre-Christmas booze cruise grab a litre of Beefeater's stunning Crown Jewel (50%, duty-free shops only) which offers greater complexity and intensity. You could also go for the rich, pungent and rooty Gordon's Export Strength (43%) - it has all the flavours you miss out on in the same gin at 37.5%. Some supermarkets are stocking this bottling; look for the yellow label.

Vodka

The same 40% rule applies for vodka and here it also pays to choose your brand carefully. After all, great vodka isn't neutral, but a clean elegant sipping spirit. Of the most widely available brands I like Finlandia's ft, clean, slightly citric drive, but have yet to be shaken from my belief that the needle-sharp Wyborowa the best-priced high quality vodka on the market.
That's not to say it's having things all its own way. A challenge is coming from France and Belarus. France weighs in with the cult super-super-premium Grey Goose's lush and silky with subtle hints of pear and white chocolate. More obscure but equally impressive is the herbal, grainy Chadorev ich will be getting a major listing very soon. Chill 'em all and sip.

Rum

Why do people forget about rum? It's a hugely versatile spirit that mellows you out in the summer heat and warms you up better than a log fire in winter. Mark my words, next year we'll all go rum mad. Set the trend with some of these top-end brands. It's hard to beat the gorgeous, elegant, perfumed Barbadian Doorly's XO the bizarrely overlooked El Dorado 15-year-old om Guyana, a rich, slightly smoky rum. Both are a snip. Where could you get a malt whisky or a Cognac of similar quality for under £20?

Pricier, but equally good are a typically weighty Jamaican example, Appleton 21-year-old all dark toffee, raisin, spice and chocolate, while Bally's 1982 vintage is a classic example of the more restrained style that comes from Martinique: rose petals, prune, nutmeg and good oaky tones. If you are looking for top-class rum cocktails treat yourself to the lush, coffee and banana flavours of Havana Club añejo.

Malt Whisky

Malt remains the spirit world's fastest-growing category. They are around 15 new releases every month which means the chances keeping up to date with every new brand is well-nigh impossible - So here's the best of the most recent. The first would be an ideal way for non-whisky drinkers to start. It comes from the now closed Lowland distillery of Rosebank, has been aged for only nine years and bottled by Adelphi.


As an entry point into the wild charms of Islay whiskies, why not check out the new look and new taste of Bruichladdich? The best of the new range is the 15-year-old, a softly fruited dram with the merest hint of the seashore. For those already in love with peat, look no further than Ardbeg Ardbeg Uigeadailich has been matured in Bourbon barrels and older, rare Sherry casks. Initially sweet with a savoury finish and unmissable for Ardbeg drinkers.

For a bit of everything, canny malt drinkers should check out Famous Grouse Vintage Malts. A 'vatting' of malts from more than one distillery, it's fragrant, honeyed and beautifully soft. One to sip neat while contemplating what Santa might bring.

THE MORNING AFTER - PILL OR PARTY?

CHRISTMAS CHAMPERS - FIZZ OR FIZZLE?

RED OR WHITE? - CHOOSING THE BEST WINE

 

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