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Festive Food Q&A: Simon Erlanger, Managing Director of Harris Distillery

Festive Food Q&A: Simon Erlanger, Managing Director of Harris Distillery

Christmas tips from the Outer Hebrides-based distillery

'Tis the season to gather together with loved ones and eat ourselves into a stupor until the new year. Since we've been dreaming non-stop of turkey and trimmings since the weather turned cold, we decided to ask some professional foodies about their culinary inspiration, the secret behind their Christmas show-stoppers and how they innovate on the classics.

Here, we chat to Simon Erlanger, Managing Director of Harris Distillery.

Christmas isn't complete without a cocktail, what's your ultimate go to festive tipple?
It would have to be an Isle of Harris Gin Martini, stirred not shaken, served very cold, very dry and with a twist. We've been exploring the story of this classic cocktail throughout the year, and working with some great bartenders across Scotland to create unique recipes using our island spirit. I highly recommend the Martini project section of our website for inspiration! Either try them at home or better still enjoy them in style in the bars where they were created.

What does Christmas at Harris Distillery look like?
It's obviously a very busy time of year as we distill, fill, seal and ship every order of Isle of Harris Gin directly to customers from the heart of the Outer Hebrides. Luckily, we have a happy family of incredibly hard-working elves here in Harris to meet demand. We're the Social Distillery so our doors remain open until the 21st, the halls are well decked and the Canteen has plenty of mince pies and mulled wine on the menu. We're also a key part of our community's festive events, with the village Christmas tree going up in our grounds and we host a certain Mr Claus for his annual post-Santa-Run meet and greet with local children around our distillery peat fire. So, all in all there's plenty of festive spirit to go around …

Who is your favourite chef or what is your favourite cookbook for festive cooking inspiration?
We've been working with some incredibly talented chefs as part of our new Seafood Project, but I'll have to admit a soft spot for Nigella Lawson this year. She was kind enough to share a photograph of her bottle of Isle of Harris Gin with her million plus Instagram followers earlier in 2018, describing it as the most delicious gin she had ever tasted. So, there may be a few Nigella Christmas cookbooks stuffing our stockings this year to show our mutual appreciation.

How can you spice up the usual Christmas side dishes to give them an exciting twist?
We love Scottish shellfish so, if you're making prawn cocktails or crab terrine, grilling langoustines or lobster, or simply shucking some oyster shells, I'd recommend getting hold of a bottle of our Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water. Just add a few drops to your final dish to bring an extra hint of Outer Hebridean seas. It has a sweet-salt, umami flavour which can bring an intriguing new dimension to your seafood dish. Or simply add to your gin or a dram of whisky to enhance the coastal maritime notes.

How would you convince someone to eat out for their Christmas meal?
I never would! In 30 years the Erlangers have not left home once for Christmas dinner and we would have a family mutiny at the very suggestion.

Are you an eat your advent calendar all at once or strictly one per day sort of person?
I'm the annoying one who eats it one day at a time and then gloats when I still have chocolate left when others have empty windows in their calendar.

Do you have any recipes or food traditions that have been passed down in your family?
My wife and I both grew up with home-made mince pies in the house, so they remain essential as far as we are concerned. We are currently using a 2016 vintage mincemeat, which was a particularly fine year! No shop-bought one will ever come close.

What is your Christmas show-stopper?
I am responsible for Christmas dinner and immodestly would say I have perfected the traditional turkey, which benefits from 8 hours slow roasting in the Aga. When the boys were younger and less able to wait, this entailed a 5am start, but today simply allows the day to go at a leisurely pace.

Christmas is coming and, like many close-knit communities, we're looking forward to celebrating the coming season in great company.
We’re also lucky to have plenty of Isle of Harris spirit to share, not just with local friends and family but with the wider world too.
So, with a just a few weeks to go until Santa Claus (or Bodach Na Nollaig in Gaelic) comes calling, we invite you to join us in giving a little Outer Hebridean festive cheer this year.
From our gift sets to beautiful…

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