Much as I adore it, I do try to avoid mentioning the C-word - Christmas - until the end of November or so. It really isn't easy. The Boots Christmas catalogue has been in store so long I've had ample time to select which Soap & Glory gift set I require this year (the twisty-tin with ladies on, just in case you've got a spare item in your 3-for-2 basket). A colleague admitted this week to having had Christmas pudding for his tea on Monday. There is a box of biscuits in the staffroom, which makes no direct mention of Christmas but which bears a drawing in which several of the biscuits are sporting festive hats. All this, and we've not even had Halloween yet.
And to be honest, the presents are the least interesting bit of Christmas once you're a grown-up with a house full of tat and very little room to put any more (twisty-lady-tin excepted, obviously); this means it's hard to come up with a meaningful answer when people ask you what you want. Well, no longer, thanks to a PR email I received a couple of weeks ago: had I thought of gin as the perfect Christmas gift? Astonishingly, I hadn't - but it makes perfect sense. If there's nothing you really need, the whole point of a present is for it to be a treat that makes you happy: and if that isn't the very definition of gin, I really don't know what is (bourbon or rum maybe, but that's for a different post).
Thus a happy quartet of four mini gins arrived through the post, along with the promise that there would be one here for every palate. Obviously I immediately broke up the little family by opening and drinking them - purely in the interests of providing the following Christmas gift guide, of course.
BLOOM Gin. This comes in a beautiful bottle and has a slightly floral flavour that explains why it is so beloved of Manchester cocktail bars. BLOOM is distilled by one of the world's few female Master Gin Distillers, Joanne Moore, who is celebrating her 10th Anniversary as Master Distiller this year. This, along with the three main botanicals that go into BLOOM Gin - the flowers of chamomile and honeysuckle and the citrus fruit pomelo - perhaps explains why this is suggested as being a perfect gift for a woman. I'm not sure about this as I think most people would enjoy this gin, but as long as that woman is me I don't really mind.
Available from: Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and Ocado. RRP £24.00 for 70cl. ABV: 40%.
Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin. This is billed as a unique and different style of London Dry Gin made using exotic botanicals, herbs and spices; it also comes in the most beautiful bottle. I'd had this once in a cocktail and decided I didn't like it, but it turns out it must have been the cocktail I didn't like - this makes a very fine gin and tonic indeed and I am converted. My boyfriend has favoured this gin for some time, but warns that the attractive tassel that decorates the bottle can be used as a rope by cunning dinosaurs with a taste for Opihr.
Available from: Tesco, Morrison's, Waitrose, Ocado, Booths and seven regional Harvey Nichols stores nationwide and 31Dover.com. RRP: £23.00 for 70cl. ABV 40%.
Thomas Dakin Gin. I'd had this one before as well, courtesy of Manchester legend Alix Walker, and been impressed - it comes in a sexy apothecary-style bottle and is nice and savoury thanks to botanicals including horseradish and English coriander (which explains why it's so perfect in a Bloody Mary). And, it's named after the forefather of English gin, which makes it educational too.
Available from: Waitrose and Harvey Nichols, Booths, Ocado.com, 31Dover.com, GinFoundry.com. RRP: £29.00 for 70cl. ABV: 42%.
Greenall's. This one has a freshness thanks to its rounded juniper notes and mature citrus flavours, but was for me the least interesting of the four. That said, I would much prefer this to the Gordon's (particularly as they are similarly priced) that my mum uses for our lunchtime gin and tonic on Christmas Day, so she may well find that Santa pops a bottle of this in her stocking this year. Even better, it comes in a gift box that looks like a green phone box, so Santa may as well bring me one as well while he's at it.
Available at Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Master of Malt. RRP: £15.00 for 70cl. ABV: 37.5%.
In short, I've made Christmas easy for you - you're welcome. And if you can't decide which one to buy me, may I helpfully draw your attention to the fact my birthday is in November - once again, you're welcome.
- the gin samples were sent to me for review purposes (thanks to MPR Communications, who also provided some of the photos you see here - the professional ones and those without dinosaurs), but as I think this post makes clear, this will end up costing me dearly in the gin aisle from now on.