The festive season, finds Don Kavanagh, is a license to try a few new bevvies.
Oh it's a busy time of the year to be a drinks writer, let me tell you.
The invitations are piling up like snowdrifts in the mailbox and, best of all, the early presents are starting to arrive, as a slew of new products hits the shelves. I've had a lovely week checking out some of these new drinks and thought I'd share a few of the more esoteric ones with you.
Now, as far as RTDs go, I'm not a huge fan. I much prefer mixing a drink myself from a real bottle and using real ingredients - the sort of bubbly, sugary soft drink used in many RTDs makes my teeth hurt and usually inspires a quick return to beer to get the taste out of my mouth. But I've hit on an absolute pearler from the most unlikely source.
The new Jameson & Cloudy Apple RTD is a cracker, and that's from someone who was rolling his eyes like marbles when they first arrived. First, there was the fact that Jameson felt the need to put out an RTD at all and, secondly, there was the apple juice. Surely, I thought, apple juice is the last thing you'd mix with whiskey, unless it's 3am and all the other mixers have been used.
I have to say I was wrong; it's a genuinely nice drink, with a refreshing apple character and a smooth whiskey undertone. It's also one of the few RTDs I could stand to drink more than one of, so well done to whoever came up with the idea.
Moving on to "proper" spirits, I was delighted to get my hands on a bottle of Leblon Cachaca recently. Cachaca is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice and is Brazil's national drink. Typically, it's smooth and delicately sweet and can be used wherever white rum would normally be employed.
The Leblon is a super-premium version and is worth tracking down. It has a gorgeous citric note to liven it up and it makes fantastic cocktails. I imagine I'll drink quite a few caipirinhas this summer.
Then there is the new gin from Lighthouse. This Wairarapa distillery makes one of the best gins anywhere and its new version - the Hawthorn Edition, named for Wellington's excellent Hawthorn Lounge - is simply stunning. Double distilled in copper stills, it weighs in at 57 per cent alcohol, so some care is needed, but the level of flavour is simply astounding; citrus, juniper, pepper (they use kawakawa for that real Kiwi touch) and orange oil, all combining on the palate to knock your socks off.
So, if your nearest and dearest want to get you something different for Christmas this year, you could do a lot worse than ordering a few of these.