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Festive food and drink pairings to try if you're not into wine

PA Photo/Diageo.

By Sam Wylie-Harris

If you're looking to step away from the traditional glass of white wine with smoked salmon, or a smooth red with the cheese board, it's easy to shake things up with a light or dark spirit.

That's especially the case if you want to make a splash and create a little bit of theatre - we are in the midst of panto season after all.

"When it comes to pairing food and drink, people often go straight to wine. However, there are a whole host of other options you can explore to add variety to your festive celebrations," says Lauren Bajdala-Brown, head of culture and entertainment at Diageo Europe.

To give you a taste of how to strike the right balance on the festive table, she shares some top tips to create a memorable experience for your guests...

A wee dram goes a long way
"Full-bodied Scotch whisky is a great drink to stand up to big flavours, making it the perfect special accompaniment to serve guests alongside an after-dinner cheeseboard."

Plan to perfection
"Rather than serving everything at once, think of the party as a whole and consider spacing food and drink throughout the evening, so you and your guests can really enjoy the tastes of both," suggests Bajdala-Brown.

"If you do serve drinks during the meal, avoid continually topping up glasses at the table so your guests can keep tabs on how much they've consumed, and always have water jugs to hand."

Make special drinks the stars of the show
"Rather than searching for the perfect drinks pairing for your dessert, a special cocktail can make a lovely treat to end the meal. An Espresso Martini is a festive option to replace dessert after an indulgent meal. And for guests who don't fancy drinking, serve a rich and creamy hot chocolate instead."

Explore non-alcoholic options too
"Non-alcoholic doesn't have to mean a glass of tap water. Opting for a non-alcoholic serve such as Seedlip offers guests who aren't drinking a sophisticated option that will also enhance the taste of the food."

Four festive food and drink pairings to consider...

1. Gin Mandarin and Clove Cooler and figs in blankets
"Combining the nostalgic Christmas scent and flavour of cloves with a modern mandarin twist, this balanced serve is delicious when paired with bacon-wrapped figs, a touch of black pepper and smooth, sour cherry jam."
Ingredients: 50ml Gin, 50ml mandarin juice, 20ml lemon juice, 5ml clove bitters, 10ml sugar syrup, dash of bitter lemon.
How to make clove bitters: In a container, add 20 cloves to 100ml Gin, seal from air and leave as long as possible (min 24hrs).
Method: Half fill a shaker with ice. Add all ingredients except the bitter lemon. Shake and strain into a tall glass over ice and top with bitter lemon. Garnish with a slice of dried mandarin.

2. Whiskey and smoked salmon
"Sometimes a lighter option is a welcome relief from festive indulgence. To wow your guests with seafood, you would usually look for a lighter whisky to enjoy, but the peat and seawater notes of Whisky are an excellent match for smoked salmon," says Bajdala-Brown.

3. Bailey's Almande Apricot Flip and bread pudding
"Following a steep rise in veganism, eggnog is fast becoming a thing of the past. Make way for this vegan-friendly version, made with Baileys Almande the dairy-free Baileys alternative. Garnish with dried apricot, pair with a vegan bread pudding and serve with coconut milk, vanilla and agave syrup, dried apricot and flaked almonds."
Ingredients: 50ml Baileys Almande, 50ml coconut milk, 50ml apricot and cardamom syrup, 10ml agave syrup.
How to make apricot and cardamom syrup: In a mixing jug, crush two cardamom pods. Add 100g apricot jam and pour over 50g of hot water, stir until smooth.
Method: In a glass, add both syrups. Fill the glass with ice and pour over the Baileys Almande and coconut milk. Stir until blended together. Top with more ice and grate nutmeg over the top.

4. Johnnie Walker and a cheese board
"Full bodied whiskies go best with strong, full flavoured dishes, so a smoky Johnnie Walker Black Label is a perfect option to serve with a cheese platter at the end of a meal."