Exclusive!! The M&S’s Drinks Developer and the brains behind the retailer’s seasonal tipples talks to Yorkshire Pudd

Jenny Rea, from Halifax, is M&S’s Drinks Developer and the brains behind the retailer’s seasonal tipples, including the sell-out Clementine Gin Liqueur Snow Globe, Christmas Gin baubles and the Christmas Gin & Tonic in a can, did you know Marks & Spencer was the first ever retailer to launch cocktails in a can in 1987?

It’s 20 years experience and on average the sampling of 100 different drinks, including beer, cider, spirits and cocktails (of course in very small quantities and using a spittoon!) that gives Jenny the ability to create this year’s festive drinks, the creation of which started over a year ago and in typical M&S Style this Christmas, they’ve created some real showstoppers.

M&S selects the very best ingredients to create the most innovative and delicious food and drinks, and this Christmas is no exception. Jenna and her team of M&S’s experts have travelled the length and breadth of the country to develop a Christmas collection like no other.

In an exclusive interview we’ve tracked down Yorkshire’s very own Jenny Rea to get the low down on everything alcohol related this Christmas, including an idea for a Yorkshire inspired cocktail:

Name & Job

I’m Jenny Rea, a product developer for M&S, specialising in beers, wines and spirits. I’m originally from Halifax and studied at Sheffield Hallam University, so although I’ve lived in London during my 20 years with M&S, I’m a Yorkshire girl at heart.

What do you love about your job?

I love my job because every day is different – one day I might be developing cocktail recipes for Christmas and the next, researching the latest craft beers. Seeing a customer pick up and buy one of the drinks that I’ve developed is incredibly exciting.

What’s your favourite drink of all time?

I’m definitely a G&T girl, it’s my go-to drink and I love that it’s so versatile and you can enjoy it every month of the year. M&S was the first ever retailer to launch cocktails in a can in 1987 and I love our variations of G&T in a can.

My favourite drink from this year’s Christmas range

Definitely our Christmas Gin & Tonic in a can, the flavours of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger really capture Christmas in a can. We created this working with the Old Curiosity Distillery near Edinburgh using our classic Christmas Dry Gin It’s the first time we’ve created a very seasonal can of gin for winter and its really resonated with our customers.

Your Christmas Tipple?

Our Christmas Dry Gin comes in various sizes including a dinky 20cl bottle which is a great little stocking filler or Secret Santa edition. We’ve also used it in our Christmas Gin baubles (£15 for 5) which I have on my tree at home (along with other baubles – I do have a small child, so they are at the top of the tree!). I’ve stopped having Christmas Crackers on my Christmas dinner table so I’ll be popping these baubles on placemats instead this year, along with a little bottle of tonic so the adults can enjoy a Christmas G&T while I’m serving our Christmas Gin Cured Salmon as a starter.

What is your favourite 2019 creation and why?

My favourite 2019 innovation (perhaps of all time!) has to be our Clementine Liqueur Gin Liqueur Snow Globe – it’s such a seasonal showstopper as it has an exclusive blend of gin and clementine, with 23 carat gold leaf pieces to create a snow globe effect when the bottle is turned.

Shoppers rushed out in their thousands to get their hands on a bottle, and we delivered our final drop head of Christmas on Wednesday (18th) and it’s flown off the shelves once more. The reaction from customers has been amazing and I’m really proud of this creation.

The Trifle Flavour Cream is another absolute favourite, my mum always makes a trifle from scratch at Christmas so our trifle flavour cream tastes so homely to me. It’s great value, currently just £8 and perfectly captures the essence of ‘Our Best Ever’ Trifle recipe – you can taste all the layers, the raspberry, jelly, sponge, cream, custard and sherry. It’s great on the rocks, drizzled over ice cream, or used as an ingredient in an array of other dessert recipes.

At M&S we’re seeing a resurgence in flavoured creams, with more young adults buying them to serve at home or give as gifts to friends. Last year’s Mince Pie Flavour Cream was so popular it sold out before Christmas.

Is Christmas your busiest time of the year?

The run up to Christmas is definitely our busiest time of year at M&S – from overseeing production and tasting all of the new drinks, to distributing them to our stores across the country

Over the past few months, ahead of the festive season, I’ve been out and about researching for inspiration for Christmas 2020. We start work on next Christmas’ festive drinks before this Christmas has even happened, so I have a real double life period where I’m working across this Christmas and next Christmas at once!

January is a really busy tasting time for us too, so Dry January isn’t an option! You have to really love Christmas in this job because my team and I live and breath it every day of the year!

What is your favourite place in Halifax?

My sister, mum and dad still live in Halifax, so we always have a trip to the Piece Hall when I visit. It’s just gorgeous and I have so many memories there. I used to walk through it after school, meet friends there and it’s definitely somewhere I love to take my partner and little one whenever we’re back in Yorkshire. It’s a great place to amble around independents and I recommend it to all my friends who don’t live in the area. It’s so iconic to Halifax and it makes me proud to have grown up there.

If you had to create a cocktail to honour the Piece Hall, what would it be called and what would be the elements of the cocktail?

This is a hard one! When I think of the Piece Hall I think of enjoying a long drink in the summer months, taking in the views and when I think of Yorkshire I think cobbled streets so I’d say something like a Yorkshire twist on a Sherry Cobbler, switching the lemon for a hint of Yorkshire rhubarb. I think Sherry is coming back in vogue recently and there’s lots of takes on a Sherry Cobbler, so I’d love to give one a Yorkshire twist.

How many alcoholic beverages do you taste in a day?

I’d take this with a pinch of salt because we definitely just taste rather than drink, but the numbers can reach 100 easily during busier tasting periods like Christmas and we’ll often taste a new product 4 or 5 times each to get it right – of course we use a spittoon and don’t get too tipsy!

Do you suffer with Christmas hangovers and what is your ultimate hangover cure?

If I’m honest, I like to avoid hangovers and tend just to feel a bit tired – I like to think I’m quite sensible and I definitely go for quality rather than quantity when it comes to my tipples. I also always make sure I’ve eaten properly before having a drink, whether it be a tasting session or a night out with friends.

For days when I prefer not to have an alcohol drink, our alcohol-free G&T is lovely. It’s blended with a heady mixture of botanicals, including juniper, coriander, yarrow, lemon balm, cardamom and calendula. It comes conveniently premixed, so can simply be served over ice with your favourite garnish, perfect for those who are designated drivers this Christmas!

In terms of hangover cure, you can’t beat a good night’s sleep and staying hydrated, but as a treat during the festive season, definitely a bacon sarnie with our truffle ketchup.

How does London life differ from Yorkshire life?

Yorkshire is definitely slower, which I love. It’s more relaxing and easier to get around at busy times of the year (don’t get me wrong, the M62 has its challenges!). I love London life but I’m a Yorkshire girl, so nothing beats coming home at Christmas and enjoying walks in the dales with my family and enjoying an afternoon in a proper Yorkshire pub.

One funny difference I have noticed is that shandy is a common drink in London, but step into a Yorkshire pub and ask for a shandy and they won’t believe you want to ruin a delicious locally brewed lager with lemonade!

You can check out the full M&S Range at www.marksandspencer.com