It has begun. The incessant cacophony of holiday music has been grating on my tender ears for the past few weeks. It seems to begin earlier each year, and I swear that I heard the disco stylings of the Boney M Christmas Album at a local big box store before the Halloween decorations had even been removed.
Lest you think I am a Grinch, it’s only the terrible holiday music that I cannot abide, not the good parts, like the frequent opportunities for dining and drinks with family and friends.
This time of year is teeming with visitations that involve imbibing, so gifts of wine and spirits are very popular this time of year.
Fortunately, with the rising popularity of craft distillers in Canada, we have a veritable cornucopia of local spirits to choose from.
Alberta’s first purveyor of craft spirits, the Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, has a seasonal release on the market right now called Christmas Gin. The master distiller must have been inspired by three wise men, as the Christmas Gin is infused with Frankincense and Myrrh, which you may have read about in a book at some point.
For those not in the know, Frankincense and Myrrh are derived from the resinous sap of the Boswelia and Commiphora trees, which are native to parts of Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Both botanicals are extremely fragrant, with Frankincense producing a sweet and citrus-like aroma, while Myrrh smells similar to the oil of pine needles found in those Vicks decongestant inhalers.
The Christmas Gin was born when Frankincense and Myrrh were added to the secret blend of botanicals used in the London Dry Gin from the Eau Claire Distillery, producing a gin with hints of lemon and balsamic reduction, complemented by heavy notes of Juniper.
I found a bottle at my friendly neighbourhood booze merchant, but only 500 bottles were produced, so make haste if you want to find one before they all disappear!
Another popular tipple this time of year is Irish Cream Liqueur, either surreptitiously added to coffee early on a cold winter’s morn, or in my preferred method, served in a rocks glass over ice.
The biggest player in this category is Baileys Irish Cream, who invented the liqueur back in the swinging seventies, a blessed union of Irish Whiskey and a secret blend of fresh cream from close to 50,000 authentic Irish cows plus a secret formula of cocoa extract, herbs, and an emulsifier to keep the whiskey and cream from separating.
There have been a few new flavours released over the decades, including mint chocolate, caramel, and even a pumpkin spice variant for Thanksgiving. I don’t go in for those newfangled gimmicky flavours, so I prefer the original recipe in classic Baileys Irish Cream.
Since their humble origins back in 1974, Baileys Irish Cream has been acquired by Diageo, the largest drinks company in the world, owning pretty much every brand you might find in your liquor cabinet.
While I try to think globally, I prefer to drink locally whenever I can, so I have swapped out Baileys Irish Cream for two local alternatives.
If we look just slightly south to High River, we will find Highwood Distillers, producers of dozens of different spirits, including Céili’s Irish Cream, which is essentially a knock-off of its more famous Irish cousin.
I have sampled Céili’s and Baileys in blind tastings, and was unable to tell the difference, so I have stopped paying $40 for Baileys in favour of the $28 Céili’s.
It should be said that Céili’s and Baileys are both large industrial brewers, so fans of craftier tipples may prefer the Forty Creek Cream, from a craft whisky distiller near Niagara Falls. At $32, it is a wee bit pricier than Céili’s, but the base whisky spirit used in the liqueur is a favourite of mine, so the Forty Creek Cream Liqueur always has a place in my liquor cabinet this time of year.
If I am feeling extra decadent, I drizzle my favourite cream liqueur over gelato or ice cream for a frozen boozy treat, or add a tropical twist with a splash of coconut rum and banana slices.
Try these for your next holiday mixer, and ring the season in the right way!