Halloween: The perfect excuse for wicked party drinks
With the clocks going back and the witching hour set to cast its spell on revellers for Halloween (October 31), throwing a party and delving into the dark side is just the tonic for tipplers thirsty for a ghoulish treat.
Whether it's jack-o-lanterns and spooky costumes, or a sparkling bonfire bash with rockets, both cry out for fright night drinks, creepy cocktails and fangtastic wines... just try not to get spirited away!
Buckets of ice-cold beer are a must for casual cookouts and savoury bites. Try M&S Czech Lager (£1.49, 5%, 500ml, Marks & Spencer), with two black felines on the label, for good measure. According to folklore, the Regent of Rosenberg, namesake of the brewery, haunts the town at midnight in a carriage drawn by two cats. Brewed in Bohemia with water from local artisan wells, it's fresh and hoppy with a slight bitterness on the tail.
If you fancy raising the bar with an A-list cider brand for mulled wine fans, Heston Blumenthal has linked up with Waitrose and launched Heston from Waitrose Spiced Mulled Cider (£3.99, and £2.99 from November 3 to December 6, 5.5%, 75cl, Waitrose). Aged in oak, this devilishly delicious cider is infused with cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and best served warm.
To whet the appetite for some nocturnal naughtiness, a cheeky cocktail will add life and colour to any occasion. You don't need bucket loads of utensils, but a Monin premium syrup (it has more than 100 flavours) is a mixologist's best friend for creative infusions.
Here's a spine-chilling recipe using Monin Blackberry syrup (£5.95, 70cl, www.specialitydrinks.com) to seduce your friends.
25ml Monin Blackberry syrup, 45ml premium vodka, 60ml cranberry juice.
Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the ingredients and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass half-filled with ice. Garnish with a blackberry.
Ghostbuster star Dan Ackroyd has created a silky smooth premium vodka that's a must for style-seekers. Crystal Head Vodka (£70, 70cl, www.harveynichols.com), packaged in a unique skull bottle, will look brilliant on the bar sat seductively alongside a vase of blood-red roses. Made from Canadian glacial water and distilled four times, it has a textured mouthfeel with a slightly sweet palate and aniseed on the finish.
While embracing the great outdoors on bonfire night, British Sausage Week (November 2 to 8) is an open invitation to throw some bangers on the barbecue, or make a sausage casserole with pumpkin mash. For seriously succulent porkies, head to your nearest Tesco or Asda and check out Debbie & Andrew's flavoursome range, which is terrific with a glass of red vino.
A warming Spanish Rioja such as Cune Crianza 2008 (£9.49, Majestic) comes highly recommended with spicy, herb sausages, or a steaming sausage pasta dish. Elegant with savoury mulberry fruit, sweet spices and plenty of woodiness, it's a terrific glugger while the rockets bang and fizz in the background.
After the pyrotechnics have lit up the sky, and jacket potatoes and a warming beef stew are on the menu, try serving a classic Beaujolais such as Fleurie, Bouchard Pere et Fils 2008, France (£9.99, Waitrose). Light and fruity with subtle tannins and enough acidity to balance the stock, it's very pleasant.
Alternatively, for a fruity bomb from Down Under, try Hope Estate "the cracker" Cabernet/Merlot 2008 (£12.99, www.ozwines.co.uk). A pukka wine with pork or chicken thighs, this soft, fragrant beauty is medium bodied, extremely juicy with a forest floor of sweet brambly fruit, lively tannins and a herbal element on the finish - a cracking good wine to remember, remember the fifth of November!
If the devilish disguises or wave of sparklers leave you spellbound for a velvety smooth merlot, try Grant Burge Hillcot Merlot 2009 (14.49, www.wimbledonwinecellar.com) from the Barossa Valley, south Australia. Intense and tightly packed with red berry fruit, cigar notes and great structure and length, only a touch sorcery could tear wine lovers away from this thrilling red.
For an unoaked sister white and red from the Languedoc, try the two new releases from innovative French winemaker Alain Grignon. Bordiere Nord Marsanne Viognier 2010 (£6.99, Majestic) is bright with tropical fruit flavours, and Bordiere Nord Syrah Grenache 2010 (£6.99, Majestic) is smooth and rich with a peppering of spice.
Little shop of treats... from October 28 to November 17, Spar has some tempting offers for tipplers on the hunt for a cheap and cheerful bottle. Best pick of the bunch include Spar French Merlot (£4.39 from £5.49), Spar South African White (£3.99 from £4.79) and Spar Italian Pinot Grigio (£4.99 from £5.99)