Knockout flavours for Christmas tipples that won't knock you out

(THE GUARDIAN) - No matter what part of the world you live in, it is easy to overindulge at Christmas - whether it is on winter warmers such as bourbon or scotch, or on festive glasses of bubbles in warmer climates.

With a little foresight and planning, it is easy to switch to Christmas tipples that punch above their weight in the flavour stakes but will not knock you out in terms of booze content.

If you really want to watch how much you are drinking, take a leaf out of the professional bartender's book and invest in a jigger - this ensures you pour consistent quantities of booze every time you make a drink.

1. Amari alpini

For many of us, nothing says Christmas like the smell of evergreen trees - pines, firs, cedars, etc.

Italy's amari alpini ("alpine bitters" in English) possess more than a hint of that same evergreen scent, alongside herbal hints of chamomile, spearmint and juniper. Made in the Italian Alps - the mountainous region that borders Switzerland, and takes more than a few cultural cues from its northern European neighbours - these amari alpini are a distinct category within the broader family of Italian amari.

While Italian amari and aperitivo bitters are currently having something of a moment - consider the popularity of the Aperol spritz and the Negroni - amari alpini remain underrepresented on the global market.

The good news is that as the amaro craze shows no sign of slowing down, importers and distributors are more willing to take a chance on more recondite local specialties from various parts of Italy (no doubt hoping to find the next Campari or Aperol).

The most widely available amaro alpino is Bràulio - now owned and made by Italian beverage giant Gruppo Campari. But other, smaller brands can be found with some patience and luck.

With their low alcohol by volume (most clock in around 20 per cent) and their refreshingly complex, wintery aromas, amari alpini make an excellent sipper for after Christmas dinner. You can enjoy one simply on the rocks or, for something more refreshing, mix one up in a spritz as they do in Bormio, Bràulio's home town.

Alpine spritz

Ingredients

120ml chilled dry white wine (pinot grigio or similar)

30ml amaro alpino

30ml soda water

Method

1. Build ingredients in a wine glass.

2. Stir briefly to incorporate and top with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange or a sprig of mint.

You can replace the white wine for prosecco or another dry sparkling wine if you would like something bubblier, but part of its charm is its retro nature (traditionally, Italian spritzes were made with still wines, not sparkling ones).


2. Chartreuse hot chocolate

At 55 per cent ABV, green chartreuse is nobody's idea of a low-proof drink. But just because something is fearsomely high-proof, does not mean the only way to drink it is to smash shots.

You can, for instance, use a small quantity of it as a flavouring agent, as the French do with green chartreuse and hot chocolate.

Green chartreuse is something of a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. For some, its sweetness, high proof and strongly herbaceous character (it contains the extracts of 130 different botanicals) make it mother's milk, while for others those same characteristics make it as appealing as Agent Orange.

The genius of blending it with hot chocolate is that it can please both crowds - those inclined to love it will still detect its signature flavour, which shines through pretty much anything you mix it with; while those inclined to loathe it will find it much more approachable when lengthened. It also helps that chartreuse and chocolate go extremely well together.

This traditional apres-ski drink makes a delicious winter warmer - just bear in mind its relatively low ABV is about the only thing it has going for it, health-wise.

Chartreuse hot chocolate

Ingredients

One cup hot chocolate

15ml (or more, to taste) green chartreuse

Method

1. Make hot chocolate according to your own taste.

2. Before serving, spike with green chartreuse and stir briefly to incorporate. Garnish with a float of whipped cream on top.

While you might be tempted to go for the cheaper and lower-ABV yellow chartreuse, avoid this if possible - the more pungent green version is better at cutting through the chocolate.


3. Sherry eggnog

Eggnog is the American Christmas drink par excellence - even if the commercially available versions these days are a pale shadow of the drink's former glory.

Fortunately for your tastebuds, it is relatively easy to whip up a big batch of delicious 'nog - but recipes for homemade alcoholic eggnog are usually loaded with serious quantities of bourbon, brandy or rum.

There is an easy solution if you are after a lower-proof version: simply swap out the brown spirits for an oxidatively aged sherry.

Sherry - the real stuff from Spain, that is - is loaded with the same complexity of flavour as any high-quality brown spirit, with about half the ABV. The richly nutty flavours of an oxidatively-aged sherry work perfectly with the creaminess of the eggnog.

The hardest part of making this swap is finding the right sherry to fit the gap. Sherry is not just one ingredient, but is actually a rather diverse spectrum of different styles of wine - some bone-dry and flinty, others sweet enough to be a dentist's dream.

In order to make the recipe below (adapted from David Wondrich) work, you will need to procure a sherry that is both dry and oxidatively aged; look for one labelled "oloroso", "palo cortado" or "amontillado", and avoid any labelled "manzanilla", "fino", "pedro ximénez", "moscatel" or "cream".

Sherry eggnog (serves 12)

Ingredients

10 whole eggs

150g sugar

750ml (one bottle) dry, oxidatively aged sherry (oloroso, palo cortado or amontillado)

1 litre full-cream milk

Method

1. Separate the egg whites and yolks.

2. Mix sugar with yolks until the sugar has dissolved.

3. Add sherry and gently stir until incorporated, then add milk and repeat.

4. Using a beater, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the whipped whites into the yolk mixture, then refrigerate for an hour or so to rest. When serving, garnish individual cups with freshly grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon sticks.

Some people like to age their alcoholic eggnog - this is not advised for a sherry eggnog, as sherry's lower ABV makes the eggnog more susceptible to pathogens such as salmonella. Eggnog contains raw eggs, so should not be consumed by pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.