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Cocktails at home for Christmas? Go for a premix

<span>Photograph: CatLane/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
Photograph: CatLane/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Just a few years ago, the idea of buying a premixed bottled cocktail would have been a bit weird, but thanks – or, rather, no thanks – to lockdown, when bars and restaurants used them to create an extra revenue stream, they’ve become quite a thing. If you’re making cocktails for a crowd, the cost doesn’t really stack up, obviously, but if there are just the two or four of you, a premix can save you both time and money, not least in buying several different products.

The trend has also been fuelled by the rise and rise of the espresso martini. According to Asda, whose Extra Special Espresso Martini chocolate-flavour cream liqueur (17%) is one of the cheapest, at £8, customer searches for espresso martini on its website increased by 888% in a single week at the start of November (although, as a bit of a closet Bailey’s fan, I’ve recommended the Waitrose version in today’s pick, because it has a stronger coffee flavour). Espresso martinis are going to depend on your taste in coffee, and the alcohol content. Actually, that’s a general tip: if you’re a bit of a cocktail geek, you’ll probably find lower-ABV cocktails a bit wimpy, but if you’re not drinking, there are a few alcohol-free ones, such as the Pentire Coastal Spritz below, that really deliver on flavour. You can, of course, also tweak premixes to your own taste. I found that M&S’s the Marksologist Sloegroni, for example, was actually nicer at room temperature than chilled, as recommended and which somehow muted its flavour; it was better still with an extra dash of gin.

At the other end of the scale, there are some very fancy bottles indeed, especially in top-end department stores such as Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols. I really like the Fortnums range, which includes a cracking vesper at a poky 34.2% and a velvety espresso daiquiri (20.2%) that’s based on rum rather than vodka (both cost £28.50 for 35cl, which is basically cocktail bar prices. Pour into small martini glasses to make them go further).

So what justifies those kinds of prices? According to M&S product developer Jenny Rea, the brains behind the store’s cocktail range, it’s all about the quality of the spirits you use and the knowhow involved in creating a product that will survive sitting on the shelf. “We always carry out trials and shelf-life testing to make sure the products are as stable and consistent as possible before we launch,” she says (as you’d expect from M&S). Once opened, they generally need to be consumed within the week, which frankly shouldn’t be too onerous.

Six ready-to-drink cocktails to keep in your fridge

The Marksologist Sloegroni £18 (50cl) Marks & Spencer, 21%. Fabulous invention: like a supercharged mulled wine.

Tails Raspberry Cosmopolitan £15 Tesco (£12.50 for Clubcard members), £16 Ocado, Waitrose Cellar, 14.9%. A really natural-tasting, fresh, fruity raspberry riff on a cosmo. Super-summery.

Waitrose No 1 Espresso Martini £15 (on offer down from £20; 50cl) 22%. Made with the store’s own-brand No 1 Colombian reserve organic ground coffee. Really good dark coffee taste with a hint of chocolate.

Pentire Coastal Spritz £22.80 (50cl), 0%. Sophisticated, alcohol-free orange aperitif that would appeal to Campari drinkers. Dilute with light tonic or soda. (The bottle is better than the cans.)

Harvey Nichols Fig and Cacao Old-Fashioned £35 (75cl), 25.5%. Rich, spicy, vanilla-y: a proper grownup drink of the kind you’d find in a posh cocktail bar.

Fortnum’s Vesper Martini £28.50 (35cl), 34.2%. If you love a Vesper (the twist on a martini favoured by James Bond), this full-strength blend of gin, vodka and Lillet blanc absolutely hits the spot. Cocktail bar price, but really, really good.