On a budget? You can still get into the Christmas spirits

Looking to stock up on your favourite drinks in time for Christmas? Joel Harrison says you don’t necessarily need to splurge. Read on for some budget spirit suggestions – from quality Scotch to brandy and beyond

Words by Joel Harrison

budget spirits christmas

It’s mid-afternoon on a working day. The post-lunch slump has set in, and I find myself doing what I always do when the hump of the day is ahead of me: I give my eyes some much-needed rest from the artificial glare of a computer screen, and I make myself a cup of coffee.

When the time comes for a hit of caffeine, I have a couple of options. The first puts me in the ‘hipster’ league: grinding up some beans from a craft roastery and making a pour-over. As delicious as this style of coffee is, you need all the paraphernalia that comes with it: beans, a grinder, filter papers, a conical dripper and, of course, a Japanese-designed glass jug in which to capture that expensive, bean-infused liquid. Don’t get me wrong, the resulting cup of coffee is delicious, but it’s an expensive and time-consuming method.


The other option to sate my caffeine thirst is to simply pop a capsule into a machine, press a button and in the blink of an eye, I have a perfectly presentable mug of hot coffee. Shop around for the right capsules, and you can knock out a cuppa quickly and cheaply, with the result not a bad emulation of that ritualistic pour-over. (And, as a bonus, it’s a brilliant tool to have when making an Espresso Martini at home.) My personal choice? It depends on the moment. While on some days I’ll treat myself, today I’m fine with a capsule coffee. It is tasty, quick and cheap.

This is a rule that extends from my coffee cup to my drink cabinet; the bottles of spirits that I’ll be choosing to consume over the festive period won’t all be expensive, luxe-driven labels. They’ll mostly be well-priced, utilitarian bottlings that can be easily replaced, happily poured, and consumed with confidence. As with my coffee, I want quick and easy options that deliver results.

Having some bottles of pre-batched cocktails in the fridge for that unexpected visitor or post-pub pile-back home is an easy win

If you are looking to impress and want to get some great aged spirits in your home ‘speed rail’ at a snip of the cost, then you’re in luck: Christmas is a brilliant time to buy. The two best periods to pick up bottles of whisky are usually around Father’s Day or the festive season, when supermarkets offer their best deals. Even supermarket-own brands, many of which have performed incredibly well at awards like the IWSC in the past few years, offer excellent value for money and should be embraced. Aldi’s Glen Marnoch Speyside single malt at £16.99 is crazily good value for a well-matured, delicious and rich Scotch.

The same is true of brandy. Armagnac always offers exceptional value for money, and the vintages on offer from some of the region’s producers are the top choice for me when I’m asked to recommend a good value-for-money gift to anyone who loves dark spirits. I still find it amazing that you can pick up a bottle of Domaine Tariquet XO Armagnac, aged for a minimum of ten years, from Waitrose for £34, even before the Christmas offers have kicked in.


If Cognac is your thing, however, then use the ‘rule of Scotch’ and seek out good value in the seasonal sales. Supermarket own-brand offerings in brandy don’t tend to be as strong as they are for Scotch, but are always worth a look, especially if you’re thinking of mixing your cognac into a cocktail. I’d recommend checking out Martell’s VS which is sitting well under £30 in most supermarkets at the moments and is excellent as both a sipper and a mixer.

Having some bottles of pre-batched cocktails in the fridge for that unexpected visitor or post-pub pile-back home is another easy win. Of all the drinks that work well pre-mixed, the Negroni is probably one of the easiest. For even more money-saving, I’d encourage a slight switch-up in the usual, swapping out gin for sloe gin and making a ‘Slogroni’. Not only does it have a more festive feel to it, but it has a lower abv (sloe gin usually weighs in around half the abv of standard gin) and is a little more budget-friendly as a result.

Combining conviviality with convenience and cost is my key to a merry Christmas this year, and if that means rediscovering the value of supermarket-own Scotch or pre-batching some cocktails ready for the festivities, then I’m all for it.

What Joel has been drinking

  • If you like the smoky style of whisky that most of the distilleries on the island of Islay produce, then you’ll love the new limited-edition 22-year-old from Bowmore. This distillery is famed of its soft, floral and almost heathery smoke, and this comes through brilliantly in The Changeling, a single malt matured in American oak barrels and ex-white-port casks. It is full of peachy notes and delicate smoke. It’s a travel retail exclusive, so one to pick up on your festive journeys.
  • I’m a fan of a kick of chilli in a Margarita, which really peps up the drink and gives it a little extra flavour. In the past, I’ve dashed in some Tabasco or a similarly sharp hot sauce, but I’ve recently discovered Ancho Reyes Verde, a green chilli liqueur. The same company make a version from dried poblano chillies, but this green take is super-tasty. Use with caution, as it really packs a punch.
  • My highball of the moment is a simple yet delicious mezcal and ginger beer. I’m finding the slightly earthy, delicate smoke of a well-made mezcal works really well with the heat from a good ginger beer. Combined, they give a drink that is at once refreshing and warming. The perfect sundowner for these shorter, wintery days.
Joel Harrison
By Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison is an award-winning spirits writer, and spirits consultant for Club Oenologique.