[INVITE – I was invited to Inside the 22 to try their Christmas cocktail menu, so the cocktails were free. I didn’t, however, drink all of each one, just a sip]
The festive season is well and truly upon us and I haven’t had a dry day since, oh, the start of November. If you’re like me, by December 1st your diary is already full of Christmas catch-ups and any excuse to party like its 1999 and if there are any spare dates, it’s never hard to find something festive and fun to do.
There are deals galore everywhere you turn, places offering special events, exciting festive menus and generally cashing in on the opportunity to get you through their doors. Some are a bit lame, dreaming something up to cynically take your money off you at a time of year when you might be just that little bit more frivolous. Others do a better job, coming up with an offering that really is rather impressive.
Step forward Inside the 22. Yes, maybe I’m biased because I love this place. Maybe you’ll doubt me because I’m full of Christmas cheer and booze. Or maybe, when I say the new Christmas Cocktail menu at my favourite local bar is great, I’m actually right.
For those who don’t know, Inside the 22 is a bar and cafe in the middle of Rugby, right opposite the famous school. It started like as a clothing brand dubbed CV22 (after the postcode in case you wondered) but owner Oli Taylor has moved on to a new chapter, creating a bar and music venue that is different to anywhere else in the town.
They stock beers, wine and Champagne, and do cocktails all year round, as well as food and events from live music nights to showing sporting events. It’s safe to say they don’t do anything by halves (they ran a whole programme of events for the Rugby World Cup, for example, featuring everything from film screenings to Samurai sword workshops and Japanese food) and Christmas is no different.
Inside the 22’s king bartender, local boy Matt who has returned after bartending across the country including Brighton where he fell in love with Tiki cocktails, and his sidekick Aleksa, who may be young but seems to have an understanding of mixology and customer service that is lacking in some people twice her age, have come up with a Christmas-themed cocktail list that really will knock your socks off.
Riffing on classic cocktails but with their own inimitable Inside the 22 twist, the list is based on the traditions of Christmas, with each creation telling a story in its own right. I was lucky enough to go along and taste the whole lot and they really are a bit of a coup. Well thought-out, imaginative, beautiful to look at and – most importantly – pretty tasty too.
Most are £8.50 with two champagne cocktails priced at £9.50 as well as a couple of mocktails for the designated driver. On top of that, they come with a card attached so you can enter their competition to win two free cocktails. Think of it as posting a letter to Santa with the ultimate boozy treat as a reward.
You really will have to try them yourself but here’s a bit of a lowdown on the 11 cocktails on the list. Whether you’re an Old Fashioned lover or more of a fizz fan, there’s something to suit everyone – though I may well spend the next few weeks working my way through each and every one again.
One half of the ‘naughty and nice’ pair of cocktails (don’t worry, you don’t have to order both, one will do), this cocktail is based on the age-old tradition of warning naughty children that they’ll only get coal for Christmas if they don’t behave themselves.
The charcoal-infused, cinnamon-smoked cocktail is based loosely on the idea of a Manhattan, balancing sweet vermouth with spices and demerara rum. Its black appearance is one for the ‘gram, but the flavour works too, with the addition of a signature syrup made with Madagascan vanilla and winter spices. The garnish of charred cinnamon and Inside the 22’s homemade ’candy coal’ (order it just for this!) makes in a lovely one to look at too.
For something a bit more fruity and refreshing than the ‘Naughty’, ‘Nice’ is the sweet sibling that reminds you of saccharine-sweet kids eager to impress Santa to guarantee a perfect present haul.
A spin on a Hemingway Sour, it isn’t light on the booze and mixes London dry gin with fresh lemon and small batch grenadine combined with aquafaba – a vegan-friendly alternative to egg white that has similar properties.
It’s served in a chilled coupe glass and garnished with rehydrated orange and raspberry flakes. Possibly too sweet for some, but those with a sweet tooth will love it.
Yep, you guessed it. Three of the cocktails are inspired by the gifts of the Wise Men. This spiced martini looks as good as it tastes and was one of my favourites, blending spiced vermouth with Old Tom gin.
Inspired by a snow globe, it’s served in a brandy balloon that not only looks the part but accentuates the aromas. Add the garnish of a golden orange coin and olive herb, and you’ve got a festive-tasting cocktail perfect for Christmas-time.
Another one using Old Tom gin, Frankincense has all the perfume and aroma that you’d expect from a cocktail of its name. The gin is matched with white grapefruit, demerara and yellow chartreuse to create something that’s fruity and sweet yet simultaneously refreshing.
Myrrh is a much more earth offering. Sweet and smoky, it mixes Fernet Branca – which actually has myrrh in its botanicals – with espresso liquor and vanilla syrup. It’s served under a smoking piece of cinnamon to make sure you get all the earthy notes as you drink it.
A Christmas Carol
This is basically an Old Fashioned with a real Christmas twist, mixing gingerbread syrup with rye whisky, expressed orange peel, winter syrup and tiki butters. Served over ice in a smoked rocks glass, it’s pretty much a classic tiki cocktail with plenty of festive flavours like gingerbread, burnt orange and cinnamon.
If you’re an espresso martini fan, this is one for you. It’s named after Nacimiento, which means after one of Mexico’s favourite Christmas traditions, and uses the same Flying Horse espresso that you can enjoy in the daytime with a piece of cake, mixing it with coffee-infused tequila and Pedro Ximenez. All the loveliness of an espresso martini with a festive twist.
The first of two champagne cocktails, the Christmas Crown was one of my favourites, adding cognac, orgeat (a drink made from orange flower water and either barley or almonds, making it kind of like liquid marzipan) and marashino liquor.
You get a maraschino cherry tucked away at the bottom of the glass, looking beautiful as well as adding lovely cherry notes. The jewel in the crown, so to speak, is the gold sugar encrusted round the top of the champagne flute, making it resemble a real crown.
This is not one for the faint-hearted. A twist on the French 75 – which was named after the 75mm light field gun used by the French army during the First World War – Artillery Fire takes things one step further by adding Absinthe for extra firepower.
That and bronze fennel and you’ve got a drink that really does pack a punch. Too much for me, but I hear it’s proving popular.
Burnt Orange and Ginger Fizz
One of the two mocktails on the list, this stem ginger and winter botanicals highball is refreshing and light, perfect for those who don’t want to have an alcoholic drink.
Pea in the Snow
One for those who like a bit of savoury in their glass, this Seedlip Garden Sour has a sour tang that reminds you of pickles. Don’t judge before you try it, you might be pleasantly surprised. A winner with me, I’m thinking of combining it with a burger from Libertine for the perfect meal.