‘Let’s all have a Snowball. Don’t Snowballs make you feel Christmassy, eh?’ On Barbara Royle’s utterance of these words during my annual advent viewing of The Royle Family’s 1999 Christmas Special, my Snowball season officially begins. For those who aren’t familiar with the show – or indeed the drink – a Snowball, in its simplest form, is a mix of Warninks Advocaat liqueur, lemonade and lime juice, served long over ice and garnished with a maraschino (or glacé) cherry. It’s comforting, it’s unassuming and it’s unapologetically kitsch.
While most discerning drinkers will be setting aside those special bottles of Champagne, whisky and dessert wines for their festive celebrations, this Christmas, I want my drinks to be full of kitschy nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, there will be nods to new luxurious favourites (drams of Glen Grant 60, snifters of Vecchia Romagna Riserva 18 and coupes of Champagne Telmont Reserve Brut). But this particular yuletide feels like a time to throw some tinsel at the situation.
Why? Because, let’s face it, Christmas 2020 was a dud. Last year I missed making individual parsley-garnished pots of curled butter using my nana’s butter curler; I didn’t get to refuse a bowl of my mum’s straight-out-of-the-70s sherry trifle; and poor dad had to decorate the tree. So this year, I’m making up for it – Boris be damned, I’m going all out.
So, let’s start with that Snowball. Said to have been created in the 1940s, this cocktail using the famous, pale yellow Dutch brandy-based liqueur (which has a cult status so strong, it has its own Christmas jumper) can be as labour-free or intensive as you want. If I’m feeling sloth-like, its simplest iteration does the job for me – it even comes in a can if you really can’t be bothered. But the joy of the Snowball is that you can take it as low- or hi-fi as you want: why not top it with Prosecco in place of lemonade? Or add a measure of sherry for a more anchored, complex serve?
Speaking of sherry, I’ll be digging into the cream variety (a blend of oloroso and Pedro Ximénez) over the next few weeks. Sure, the likes of manzanilla, amontillado and fino have all been flying high on bar menus and in homes in recent years (yes, I know you know sherry is cool again), but it isn’t Christmas for me without a thimble of the much sweeter stuff. While Harveys Bristol Cream sherry has usually been a firm favourite, this year I might upgrade to its signature 12yo, or even take a punt on Waitrose’s own No.1 rich cream sherry.
Post-prandial snacking once led to working my way through a box of After Eight mint chocolates, leaving a trail of small black envelopes in my wake. But despite the Nestlé chocolate brand’s own kitsch credentials, these days, I’d rather swap them for a Grasshopper. This minty, Kermit-green cocktail, said to have originated at a bar called Tujague’s in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the early 1900s, is seldom seen on drinks menus (bar a wonderful rendition at London’s Artesian last year).
I’d rather swap the After Eights for a Grasshopper, a minty, Kermit-green cocktail seldom seen on drinks menus
Like the Snowball, in its simplest form it is shamelessly easy to make, using equal measures crème de menthe, crème de cacao and single cream, shaken over ice and fine-strained into a coupe, garnished with a mint leaf. Make it a Flying Grasshopper by adding vodka and a powered chocolate and sugar rim. But personally, I like it classic, simple and garishly non-fuss.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the ‘B’ word yet, let me explain. Of course, for many, Christmas screams ‘Baileys’ – and yes, a cream liqueur is a must for any kitsch drink menu – but currently, my cream liqueur of choice is Kyrö Distillery Company’s Dairy Cream liqueur. Having been lucky enough to try this lactose-free, Finnish rye whisky-based drop at the actual distillery in Finland’s Isokyrö (there may have been a hot tub involved), I can safely say it translates just as well into a kitsch British Christmas. Just pour it over ice, jump in the bath (or your own hot tub, lucky you) and let the notes of chocolate, toffee and a touch of salt wash over you.
Finally, it would be remiss to write a column about kitsch Christmas drinking without mentioning the American marvel that is Eggnog. Dating back to colonial times and rooted in – like many a good drink – what the Medieval monks once drank, this egg, milk and bourbon or rum-based nostalgia bomb is a fun one to make at home. Get the base recipe right and you can then riff away with your own choice of booze and spicing. While I’ll be embarking on a DIY version this year, I’m also intrigued by bottled cocktail company Black Lines and its new Oatnog. Using East London Liquor Company’s Rarer Rum, Oatly Barista oak drink, coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, it can be served hot or cold and eschews the egg, making it vegan-friendly, too.
I’m sure Jim Royle would turn his nose up at it – and yes, eggnog without the eggs might take some convincing. But if it means that more people can enjoy a truly kitsch festive season, it gets my Christmas blessing – sealed with the clink of a Babycham coupe.