Crafted in France for more than a century and one of the UK’s best-selling brandies, Bardinet has teamed up with award-winning Francophile author and French food and drink specialist Janine Marsh to uncover the secrets of this great French ritual of’L’heure d’apero’ – an hour of’aperitif’ drinks.

mcith_Bardinet_Chritstmas_0017%20%281%29Janine has shared her insider Apéro tips for bringing friends and family together with French flair, to relax, chat and enjoy some delicious pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. She’s also introducing Brits to the new trend of’Whatsapero’: the virtual get-togethers that have grown in popularity across France over lockdown.

‘As a life-long fan of all things French, and having lived in France for many years, I can say that one of my absolute favourite traditions is Apéro – and particularly so at Christmas time,’ she says.’An aperitif is both a drink and an occasion and for the French it’s part of daily life and culture. It signals the time to stop work, to enjoy a glass of something delicious, a nibble and a catch-up with your favourite people any time between about 5 and 9pm, anticipated in the same way as you might anticipate the weekend. It’s so much more than an after work drink, and the good news is, it’s highly adoptable! Here are my top tips for bringing some Apéro style to your get-togethers this festive season.

1.     Enjoy the preparations: getting ready for Apéro is a big part of the ritual in France, so relax and take your time planning the drinks, the food and the setting for your guests.

2.     Mix it up: Apéro is all about fun, celebration, conviviality… and cocktails! While traditional drinks like Kir (white wine and fruit liqueur) are popular, the trend is to try a bit of mixology at home. Brandy is hugely popular as a digestif after a meal, but this oldest of French drinks is gaining status as an apéritif either straight, or in a cocktail.

3.     Select your guests: it’s important to keep your group of guests fairly small, so that everyone can hear what’s being said and the conversation can flow.

4.     Always have a nibble: naturally food is a big part of the tradition (we’re talking France after all!) Nibbles range from nuts and crisps to platters of cheese and charcuterie and mouth-watering morsels prepared in advance. At Christmas it’s traditional to add something special, such as delicious cheese Gougères (recipe below), mini croques (cheese and ham toasties), Roquefort beurre or little brandy snaps for a touch of something sweet.

mcith_Janine.jpeg5.     The art of conversation: first and foremost, Apéro is about catching up with friends and family, sharing news, chatting about the day – but keep it light-hearted and fun.

6.     Mood music: add to the French ambience of your Apéro with music – funky and modern, chilled out or old school. I love Django Reinhardt’s Minor Swing, Dernière Danse by Indila and La Mer by Charles Trenet.

7.     Try Whatsapero: these days Apéro is likely to be an online affair on Whatsapp or similar. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Send out invitations, gift a bottle of something special to your guests, or let them know what to bring so you can enjoy the same food and drink experience remotely.

8.     Make a meal of it: French people sometimes extend the occasion into Apéro Dînatoire – adding a buffet of more substantial food for guests.

Janine’s French Gougères recipe

mcith_Burt%20Greener%20gougeres.jpgThese choux pastry cheesy puffs are indecently good. To make 25 bite-sized gougères:

125ml water

125ml milk

125g grated hard cheese – Comté or Gruyère are ideal

80g butter

140g plain flour

4 eggs

Generous pinch of salt

In a pan bring the water, milk, butter and salt to the boil. Remove from the heat when the butter is melted and stir in the flour. It looks a bit like mashed potato at this stage and is ready when the mix comes away from the side of the pan and forms a ball. Leave it to cool for 3 minutes.

Add the beaten eggs one at a time until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the grated cheese.

Either pipe or use a tablespoon to transfer the mix into walnut-sized rounds onto a baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Leave at least 2 inches between them as they puff up quite a lot. Bake in the oven at 200ËšC/Gas Mark 6 for 20-25minutes, until they are a lovely golden colour. Eat warm from the oven for maximum pleasure!

To complement Janine’s Apéro tips, French mixologist Arnaud Volte from The London EDITION Hotel has created some delicious, easy to make Bardinet Brandy cocktails – from simple spritzes to warming spiced festive serves.Check out recipes for great Apero cocktails here