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At The Oxford Wine Company we're not ones for decking the warehouse walls with tinsel and holly at Christmas time but who are we to argue with the festive spirit manifesting itself in our wide range of liqueurs...

Particularly popular around the festive season are the chocolate and coffee cream liqueurs such as Baileys (Irish Cream), Mozart (a rich chocolate cream) and Thornton's Toffee Liqueur (likened by my wife to pure liquid heaven - although she may be prone to over dramatising this particular liqueur is proving very popular with men and women alike).

A less well known (but still well deserving of a mention) festive liqueur is Liqueur de Pain d'espices this blend of ginger and cinnamon is a close as you can get to gingerbread biscuits in a glass! Served on its own or as part of a cocktail or dessert (try it with apple crumble) this warming liqueur will warm you right through and put a fuzzy glow into your Christmas morning; even the most hardened Scrooges (tested on a few here at Oxford Wine) will find it hard to resist.

The word liqueur comes from the Latin word liquifacere which means "to dissolve or melt." Liqueurs are generally strong alcoholic beverages made of almost neutral spirits, flavoured with herbs, fruits, spices, nuts, cream or other materials, and usually sweetened. Liqueurs can be drunk neat or sometimes as part of a cocktail.

The history of liqueurs can be traced back for centuries and historically derive from herbal medicines prepared by monks. Liqueurs were produced in Italy as early as the 13th Century. One of these early Liqueurs is Chartreuse, made by monks from an ancient recipe and the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour.

In 1605 Francois Hannibal d'Estrees (the Marshall of Artillery for King Henry IV) gave an ancient manuscript entitled 'An Elixir of Long Life' to the monks of a Chartreuse monastery in Veuvert. It wasn't until 1703 that the complex recipe contained in the manuscript was fully unravelled and the first Chartreuse Elixir was made.

Nowadays the recipe of Green Chartreuse, as it is now known, is still faithful to the original manuscript of 130 plants, herbs, roots, leaves, barks, brandy, distilled honey and sugar syrup (with only subtle changes to allow the original Elixir to be adapted from 71% alcohol 142% proof to 55% alcohol and 110% proof) and such is the secrecy for the recipe and the 130 different herbs contained within it that at any one time only three monks know the secrets of the manuscript and to guard against its demise they never travel together. In 1833 a milder and sweeter form of the Chartreuse Elixir was made which is known as Yellow Chartreuse.

Liqueurs are taking on a new popularity with even Starbucks joining the party and forming a partnership with Jim Beam to launch Starbucks Coffee Liqueur in the US, a blend of Starbucks coffee and Jim Beam spirits.

Whilst Starbucks coffee liqueur has not yet managed to find a home amongst the shelves at the Oxford Wine Company (we prefer our favourite coffee liqueur Illy Espresso - a real bitter sweet and aromatic liquid, perfect for trendy espresso martinis) you can be assured that our range includes both diverse and innovative products (such as Goldschlager - a clear cinnamon liquid containing flakes of real gold) alongside the traditional staples of Grenadine, Kahula, Advocat, Drambuie and crème de fruits featuring all the different flavours you could possibly imagine.

John Chapman