Let cocktail hour commence
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There are thousands, if not millions, of cocktail recipes in the world – but most are really just twists on a handful of classic drinks. Once you recognise that, it frees you up to mix much more intuitively. That’s one of the main things I’ve learned in 20 years propping up the world’s best bars. And it’s what underpins The Cocktail Edit (Quadrille, £16.99), my new handbook for home mixologists.
The book’s backbone is a “capsule collection” of 12 classics – the Martini, the Old Fashioned, the Negroni – followed by six variations on the theme. Some of those are related drinks, some are contemporary twists, others are recipes by me. But all of them – apart, perhaps, from the notoriously involved Ramos Gin Fizz – are remarkably easy. You’ll see how a Manhattan can be flipped to make an aperitif-style drink, an Old Fashioned infused with fig leaf, what basil and honey can bring to a Daiquiri, and how a Martini can be reinvented with a drop of smoky Islay whisky.
Fig Leaf Old Fashioned
50ml bourbon or rye whiskey
5ml sugar syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
1 hand-sized fig leaf, roughly torn
GARNISH: baby fig leaf/fig slice/lemon or orange twist
METHOD: combine the whiskey and the sugar syrup in a mixing glass, add the torn-up fig leaf and leave to infuse for half an hour. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass, add the bitters and stir.
Negroni Sbagliato (or “Bungled Negroni”)
25ml red vermouth
75ml sparkling wine
GARNISH: orange wheel
METHOD: build over ice
Yuzu & Jasmine Spritz
75ml yuzushu (yuzu sake or shochu)
50ml sparkling jasmine tea
(Optional) 5ml sugar syrup
GARNISH: cucumber wheel and/or edible flower
METHOD: build over ice
40ml dry gin
25ml red vermouth
5ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura Bitters
GLASS: cocktail glass
GARNISH: orange twist
METHOD: stir and strain
You don’t need expensive spirits to make good cocktails – what you need are good team players. The sort of classic, well-made brands that, happily, often reside at the more affordable end of the spectrum. In the book I’ve picked the 12 bottles I could not do without. But I’ve also included ideas for those oddities at the back of the cabinet too: the Green Chartreuse, the Bénédictine DOM and the sunshine-yellow yuzushu.
Regardless of what you’re making, a really great cocktail begins with a frozen glass. So before you read any further, go and put a couple of coupes in the freezer. If you’re anything like 99 per cent of home bartenders, you could also devote a bit more attention to ice because nothing takes the shine off a G&T quite like two miserable cubes that have melted to pea-size. Discard that flimsy ice tray that came free with your fridge and get one that does big, chunky cubes (my current favourite is the Bar Original Silicone Ice Tray, £9.95, diffordsguide.com). The bigger the cubes, the slower they’ll melt – which means your drink will stay colder for longer without getting all diluted. If in doubt, always use more ice – allow four to five cubes per drink. This will do more to upgrade your Negroni than any amount of luxury gin. A homemade ice block, hacked into irregular shards, can also look beautiful. For really show-stopping, crystal-clear spheres, cubes and blocks I go to London’s Ice Studio.
The best kind of cocktail is one that gives joy not just in the drinking but in the making too. So while your bar tools needn’t be fancy, they should give you pleasure to use. For shaken drinks, I use a workaday Boston – the kind of glass-and‑tin shaker favoured by the trade. But if it’s Saturday night and I’m stirring Martinis, I like to spin out the ritual. Out comes the long-handled bar spoon and the Japanese mixing glass; the olives and twists are speared on silver cocktail picks.
Virtually all the glassware pictured in the book is from my own collection, from the paper-thin crystal tumbler by Richard Brendon (richardbrendon.com) to the gilt-edged coupe I found in a flea market in Hell’s Kitchen. When choosing stemmed glassware, err on the small side – most modern designs are far too big, so the liquid is tepid (and you are half-pissed) before you’re halfway down the drink. You can’t go wrong with a ’30s-style Nick & Nora – its curvaceous design will cover you for most drinks; and I’m also a fan of the leggy Pony glass by Savage x Nude (nudeglass.com). And when was the last time you could say you have a Nude Savage Pony in your kitchen?
And remember, as you mix the drink, to savour everything you do. For the crack of ice, the clink of glass, the scent of lime and mint can be intoxicating too.
The Cocktail Edit is published by Quadrille at £16.99