Winter warmers

Ever since I went on holiday and was brought ginger tea each morning I have been hooked. I just love the taste of ginger, especially in winter time when it provides inner warmth and a spicy lift for the tastebuds.

For me, each morning starts with the juice of a lemon, occasionally enlivened with the juice of an orange, a few slices of fresh ginger, a spoonful of honey, topped up with hot water.

I don't know if it does me any good, but it sure feels like it. I have more energy, I eat less at lunchtime and my compost heap seems to benefit from all the citrus fruit peel I generate each week.

But in this cold winter weather I like to continue the ginger theme throughout the day and there are a number of ginger-based wines, ales, beers and liqueurs on the market.

I decided to line them up and see which ones I might add to my repertoire – with, of course, the potential of a splash of alcohol to boost their charm.

The King's Ginger: The king in question was Edward VII who liked to go out in all weathers in his new horseless carriage. Concerned for his heath, his doctor went across the road from King James' Palace to the wine merchant, Berry Bros who made a concoction of ginger and alcohol at a fairly impressive 41 per cent strength for His Majesty to carry with him and sip when required.

I know lots of people who continue the tradition and carry a small flask of The King's Ginger when they are out watching rugby or just out for a winter walk. Its sweet, spicy notes, with overtones of good, home-made orange marmalade wrap themselves around the vocal chords, fortifying and warming in one small sip. If you are not used to carrying a hip flask around with you, then keep this gingery taste-bomb at home and pour it over ice-cream, or use it in cocktails such as a Ginger Mac with equal quantities of whisky (it combines particularly well with Glenrothes) served on the rocks.

I actually liked it as a nightcap, splashed into a mug of Horlicks when I was laid out with 'flu in the dark days of December.

The King's Ginger is available direct from Berry Bros who still occupy the shop opposite St James' and if you are in the area it is an experience to venture into this old-style London wine merchant, but for convenience head to Latitude in The Calls, Leeds (0113 245 3393) where they have stocks of the 50cl bottles at 19.99. Also available at Harvey Nichols.

Domaine de Canton: No royal connections for this bright, clean, zesty ginger liqueur which is made in Jarnac in the heart of the Cognac region of France. At 28 per cent alcohol it doesn't pack quite the same punch as The King's Ginger, but that allows the flavours to shine out, with purity and vitality. Made from fresh baby ginger, steeped in eau de vie and cognac, it also has a touch of vanilla, honey and ginseng adding depth, without clouding the flavours. Essentially this is a cocktail ingredient, giving a spicy lift to all kinds of drinks from Pimm's to a Ginger Margarita, but I liked it splashed into a good quality hot chocolate. I don't like the powdered hot chocolate mixes, having been spoilt by the creamy hot chocolate served in Scandinavia where they know a thing or two about keeping warm in winter. Instead get some high cocoa solids chocolate and break it into hot milk, then froth it with a whisk. Then add a shot of Domaine de Canton, and top with chocolate shavings for one of the best comfort drinks of winter.

Domaine de Canton comes in a 700ml bottle, at 36.99 from Latitude.

Stone's Green Ginger Wine Special Reserve: With a taste more like Jamaica Ginger cake, this is a notch higher quality than the regular version and I found that it has good positive raisiny, ginger character that blends well with coffee. Available at Waitrose, normally 6.99 but down to 5.59 until January 25.

Ginger Pale Ale – Little Valley Brewery: Based in Hebden Bridge, The Little Valley Brewery uses Fairtrade ginger in this brew which is more beer than ginger, but just has a spicy kick on the finish. All the beers from this small-scale brewery are organic, and it is bottle matured which means that there is a sediment, but I loved the clear, citrus and ginger flavours. It goes terrifically well with a mild curry.

Available by mail order from the brewery at 30 for 12 bottles (www.littlevalleybrewery.co.uk) or from various beer and wine shops around the region, including Czerwik in Brighouse (01484 720912) at about 2.50.

Ginger Beer: Most ginger beer is thin insipid stuff that needs a shot of gin to boost the flavour but I really like

Crabbies alcoholic ginger beer (widely available at about 2.09 for 50cl) for its clean, gingery spice without too

much sweetness.

At just four per cent alcohol, it has enough flavour and balance to enjoy all afternoon, particularly poured over ice. This is more of a spring-into-summer drink and will be great in a Pimm's mix.

In comparison the Francis Hartridge Ginger Beer (Morrisons 99p) is a definite soft drink, and so suitable for passing around at family gatherings, but I preferred it with a shot of Woodford Reserve Bourbon which built up the finish and added a touch of spice and toffee to the mix. Crabbies also have a non-alcoholic cloudy ginger beer which is certainly a notch up from many others but again it was better with a shot of bourbon, which generally seems to go better with ginger than Scotch.

With considerable more spice and complexity of flavour, Fever-Tree Ginger Beer is the kind of mixer that made my taste buds sit up and take notice. It doesn't need gin to make it taste good, but it does mix well with it.

Gran Stead non-alcoholic Ginger wine: made to an old recipe, this dark brown, ginger-spice concoction is good for adding heat and flavour to drinks, in particular it makes a terrific ingredient to a winter warming punch which can be non-alcoholic or helped along with a slug of Bourbon to add more interest.

Also good from this small family business is the Traditional Still Lemonade with a zing of ginger. It really does taste home-made with a terrific balance of lemon and ginger and could easily replace my morning routine of freshly-squeezed lemon and ginger if time is short.

Available at various farm shops in the region and at Castle Howard at about 2.15 for 75cl of the Lemonade with Ginger and 3.95 for the Ginger Wine or direct from the producer www.gransteadsginger.co.uk

YP MAG 15/1/11