Planning your Christmas drinks menu

By Helen Gilbert

- Last updated on GMT

Quality time: get your yuletide tipples planned now in time for the festive season
Quality time: get your yuletide tipples planned now in time for the festive season

Related tags: Christmas

Christmas may be three months away but it’s never too early to start planning your festive drinks menu

Tips on making the most of Christmas

Yubberton Brewing Co owners Claire and Jim Alexander have run Cotswolds-based freehouses the Ebrington Arms for more than 12 years and the Killingworth Castle in Oxfordshire for the past seven. Both alehouses have rooms and are listed on pub accommodation website Claire explains how the couple make their Yuletide stamp.

“Both of our pubs date back to the 1600s and naturally have a Christmas charm about them. I take my decorations seriously: we like to use real foliage like holly and ivy. I decorate the Ebrington’s massive inglenook fireplaces with big gorgeous big wreaths. They’ve become quite a draw over the years.

“Customers love the design and share the pictures all over Instagram, which helps boost the pub’s visibility. Festive drinks are popular – mulled wine especially and sometimes we put on some stronger craft ales for Christmas week.

“Our guest rooms have a carafe of complimentary sherry on arrival all year round. We’re a destination pub and cater for non-drinkers by serving drinks including Seedlip with various flavoured tonic. We’ll pour into goblet glasses and garnish with orange or grapefruit slices.

“We also promote our gift vouchers over Christmas as lovely presents for those tricky-to-buy-for people. Either a meal for two or a one-night stay. It’s a lovely present to give and far better than a woolly jumper.”


It’s dubbed the most wonderful time of the year and, for many pubs, Christmas is certainly the busiest.

But if mulled wine is your go-to festive offer, you might like to think again.

As many as 5.8m UK consumers tried new or different tipples during last year’s Yuletide celebrations compared to 3.2m for the average month, according to food and drinks insight experts CGA.

One third of consumers said they would splash out on a ‘better quality’ drink over the holiday period, while 51% were influenced to try a category they would not ordinarily choose, the Christmas Report 2018 findings showed.

Xmas drink (2)

So what exactly should publicans be stocking to ensure their Christmas is merry and bright?

“As drink choices become more focused around a treat mindset and less around habit, price and deals, it’s imperative that pubs and bars seize the opportunity to attract new customers through innovative serves,” Graeme Loudon, CGA’s commercial director, tells The Morning Advertiser​.

Its research suggests customers are especially thirsty for spirits – sales of gin were up 65% over the festive period compared to the rest of the year.

Punters are moving beyond traditional hot serves like mulled wine and exploring options such as “hot cocktails and “mulled gin”, Rob Poulter, Diageo’s on-trade consultant points out.

From Gordon’s Premium Pink Gin to Lyme Bay Winery’s recently launched Winter Gin – which layers black pepper and nutmeg over notes of elderberries, blackberries & a hint of burnt orange – there’s no shortage of choice.

Cocktails, always an indulgent option, are a wise consideration too. Demand for cream liqueurs grew by 139% during Christmas 2018, according to CGA’s data.

As customers are more likely to be partying in groups, sharing options – like pitchers or carafes – on your most popular serves can offer wins, in driving incremental sales and increased efficiency behind the bar when things get busy.

Arc Inspirations has been busy working with Tia Maria to create its festive twist on a White Russian cocktail, which is traditionally made with vodka, coffee liqueur and cream or milk.

The mince pie-inspired serve has notes of warm spice, coffee and vanilla.

“We’re really pleased with the result and it’s a great example of how you can turn a classic on its head and add excitement to menus,” says Mark Austin, the company’s bar development manager.

The group has also embraced the low and no alcohol trend.

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According to Kantar WorldPanel Alcovision Data published in June, no alcohol options were particularly popular among younger adults, with 46% of people under the age of 35 likely to order a non-alcoholic cocktails versus just 16% of over-35s.

“We’ve taken one of our more popular cocktails on the menu and created a low-ABV Espresso Martini,” says Austin.

“Whatever the occasion, it should be enjoyable for all of our customers irrespective of their food and drink preferences and we want to ensure all our guests over Christmas and throughout the whole year feel well looked after.”

London-based brand Nine Elms recently launched No.18, an alcohol-free beverage derived from botanical infusions of 20 different flowers, herbs and spices, and four types of berry juice.

“Soft tannins and gentle acidity mean Nine Elms pairs very well with a variety of traditional festive favourites, including Christmas favourites turkey, roast goose, glazed hams and cheese,” says Simon Rucker, co-founder and joint CEO of Nine Elms. “And the flavours of the berries and aromatics will complement sweeter dishes including mince pies, Christmas pudding and Yule logs.”

The tipple works well in cocktails or as an after-dinner indulgence.

“With many of the aromatics in Nine Elms already redolent of Christmas, it would also lend itself to being gently mulled,” Rucker adds.

Embracing the festive spirit

Salcombe Brewery first launched its Christmas Tide (ABV 4.9%) in 2017. The plan had been to only supply the malt-driven ale to customers in the south-west in nine-gallon casks during the festive season. However, the tipple proved so popular the brewery decided to extend the production run from October to January in 2018, when it also introduced a bottled format. Now the brewery is gearing up to supply the ale nationally.

“The demand for Christmas Tide has continued to increase year on year since its launch, keeping pace with the rapid growth of our product range across the board,” head Brewer Sam Beaman says.

“Christmas Tide is a strong, dark traditional ale created using crystal, chocolate and wheat malts that bring warmth and body to the beer. Feedback suggests that consumers also love our festive branding, which adds a Yuletide twist to our brewery’s coastal theme. We are delighted each year to see our little seahorse wearing his Santa’s hat on more and more pump clips across the country.”

Another way to boost your bottom line is to invest in hot drinks.

According to Allegra’s Project Café UK 2019 report, younger audiences are increasingly spending more time in coffee shops – the market grew by 7.9% in turnover during 2018, marking 20 consecutive years of sales and outlet growth.

Experts forecast that by 2030, UK co­ffee shop numbers will overtake pubs.

Xmas drink (1)

Bidfood’s Black + White Co­ffee Co label is currently working with Monin to create a seasonal drinks menu and recipe cards to help operators imitate hot drinks on the high street. Christmas themed cups will also be available.

“It’s integral pubs recognise high street co­ffee shops are o­ffering something they could be replicating,” says Richard Lowry, head of Black + White.

“Serving Christmas-themed co­ffee drinks, is key to capitalising on the festive sales period. Social media is awash with elaborate Christmas beverages from mid-November and operators can create their own festive show-stoppers by having a strong range of syrups and drink toppers available.”

Working closely with Monin, Bidfood recently released a new honeycomb syrup for Christmas.

“[It’s] an easy addition to a pub order that can reinvigorate the standard latte and hot chocolate with some festivity – think of a smooth honeycomb latte with whipped cream and smashed chocolate on top,” Lowry explains.

“It’s all about adding value to the customer experience and by creating something that looks decadent and Instagram-worthy you’re able to increase the reach of your o­ffering.”

As many pub customers will not be expecting pubs to launch festive coffees, Lowry insists it’s important to start advertising them well in advance.

“Drum up excitement by teasing what’s going to be on o­ffer before it hits the menu so that you are able to build up intrigue with your customers to maximise sales once the drinks are available.

“If operators can give themselves time to position themselves as a place where people can take a break from their festive shopping or meet up with loved ones over a co­ffee, they’re going to tap into a whole new audience.” Now that would be Claus for celebration.

Jingle all the way

Rob Poulter, on-trade consultant at Diageo suggests the following festive tipples

Christmas cheer-ry recipe

  • 37.5ml Haig Club Clubman
  • 25ml Cherry Heering
  • 75ml Cranberry Juice
  • 75ml Pineapple Juice
  • 12.5ml Orgeat
  • 2 skewered cherries with a holly sprig
  • Highball glass
  • Cubed ice
  • Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice
  • Shake, and strain into a highball glass over cubed ice
  • Garnish and serve

Christmas coffee martini recipe

  • 25ml Ketel One Vodka
  • 12.5ml Chocolate liqueur
  • 12.5ml Vanilla syrup
  • 25ml Espresso
  • A sprinkling of desiccated coconut
  • Martini Glass
  • No ice
  • Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice
  • Shake hard and strain into a martini glass
  • Garnish and serve

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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