Our resident mixologist, gin connoisseur and one of the judges of our Design a Cocktail Competition, F&B operations manager, Christina Knight tells us about the drinks that embody the smells of Christmas, tasting with the nose and kitchen experiments.
I read books on cocktails all the time. I know all the rules of thumb, how much acid to add, how much sugar and so on. But when it comes to making them, I’ll just experiment. It’s intuition. I’ll think, ‘I like this flavour, I like that flavour’ and keep it as simple as possible. I like to bend the rules, so it changes all the time.
I’ve put a lot of my favourite winter drinks in our Twelve Drinks of Christmas list. I’m a gin lover, and the Atlantic Christmas Pudding Gin is something a bit different for Christmas: it’s like Christmas in a gin. It has lots of seasonal spices and flavours I love, from orange to cinnamon. It’s like a bouquet of Christmas that reminds me of Belgian Christmas markets and warming fires.
Laurent Perrier is my all-time favourite Champagne. When I was growing up, it’s what my family drank and my sister brings a bottle over when she visits at Christmas. I don’t like to mix champagne. It’s a beautiful drink as it is. Prosecco is the sparkling wine that I like to mix, like in an Aperol Spritz, or with a bramble or cassis.
I like my red wines in the winter. I always say I like them like I like my men, the older the better! I like full-bodied reds – Amarone, Barolo, the Italians. When someone comes around to mine for dinner they'll usually bring a good bottle of red. At Christmas, I do love a mulled wine, but who doesn't?
I taste with the nose first. My eyesight's not great, nor my hearing from listening to music too loud when I was younger! I think I've made up for it on my taste and smell. I smell absolutely everything, I always have. I get sent lots of samples and after looking at the packaging, the first thing I do is take the top off and have a smell. If it smells really good – it's probably going to be a good drink. Though there are exceptions…
This year I’ve focused a lot on smell in our Christmas drinks. We’ve got a hot gin and a Christmas punch. The punch will be an arrival drink for guests. One of the important things for me is the memory we get from smells. With hot drinks, that smell wafts around and can give a real sense of festive spirit and feel. Christmas is my favourite time of year, so creating these smells and memories was a lot of fun.
I adore the smell of Tinkture Rose gin – and I adore how it tastes too. It helps that I love the smell of roses, but it tastes so real and pure compared to anything else I've tried. Rose-flavoured things can be quite synthetic.
In the summer, I made a lot of elderflower cordial – and tried dandelion cordial too, which adds a surprisingly good flavour to cocktails. Generally, I like to experiment with whatever I have in the kitchen or just what I’ve found walking around. In the winter, rosemary is a good one and I’ve recently used samphire which you can find on the rocks at Watergate. It has a spicy but delicious flavour.
My drink of choice at the end of a long working day is espresso martini. There was a time when I'd finish here and they'd have one made for me on the bar across the way. A good, simple, espresso martini. I've fantasised about that many times. It perks you up, but it’s cold and refreshing at the same time.
The last drink that surprised me was a Chenin Blanc from South Africa, which blew me away recently. I'm not a white wine drinker, I tend to put my nose up at it, but this changed my perspective totally. I've clearly been drinking the wrong stuff.
In the height of summer, my perfect drink is an Aperol Spritz. I like things that come with memories, smells and tastes that remind me of happy times, and an Aperol Spritz takes me back to holidays in Rome. I like it as a long drink with some Prosecco, in a big glass with ice. Delicious.
Blood orange is my gin and tonic garnish of choice. I’m not into flavoured tonics though, you lose the flavour of the gin.