So you’ve packed away the comedy Santa hat, put the tree outside and covered the hall in a carpet of needles while moving it. Now just blank nothingness looms ahead. Or does it? With a few good intentions, your year can be transformed. We’re talking mixing and matching drinks and ingredients in a new way – getting stuck into a little bartending. So join us in making these new resolutions – and have a great 2017 as a result!
Come With Some Classic Cocktails
Forget frothing and smoking your guests out with an attempt at the latest in the cocktail presentation. These might both be fashionable right now, but you want a good drink, not a load of a mess on the carpet.
And luckily there are some real no-frill beauties out there. Because guess what? Many classics aren’t as complicated as you think. In fact, here’s the thing: they’re classics for a reason. These drinks have stood the test of time. A Gimlet
was named after the tools that were used to bore into barrels of spirits on navy vessels in the 19th century, with lime operating on the front line in the battle against scurvy – a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C.
But the actual drink isn’t so nearly as complicated as the backstory. It’s just gin with lime cordial and some ice. Then you have the Martini – despite all the arguments over whether you should shake it James Bond-style, or stir so that the gin or vodka isn’t harmed or ‘bruised’ in any way, a Martini cocktail
is still just vodka and vermouth with a twist of lemon. Or that classic of the British Empire, the Pink Gin
is gin with Angostura bitters and some more lemon peel.
So the ingredients err on the minimal side, even if there’s maximum potential in the tales of how they were first created. The challenge tends to come with the actual techniques involved in putting some of them together – shaking it right for the Martini, or straining the Pink Gin so that the ice used when you’re stirring doesn’t make it into the final glass.
Then there’s the shopping. The Negroni
is just gin, vermouth and Campari, but you’re unlikely to have bottles of Campari knocking around. So you need to track down a Campari bottle and – more importantly – have faith in yourself that you’ll use that entire bottle over time and it won’t be a waste of money. We say ‘believe!’ It comes down to a little commitment to cocktails, making wondrous creations that use Campari such as the Americano, the Spritz and Boulevardier – as well as perfecting your own Negroni. Strike out for the classics, and occasionally you’ll get it right. And you might try a few things you wouldn’t have even thought about before.
‘Tis the Season
So it’s tempting to rush to the supermarket and buy up a punnet of strawberries in the middle of chilly January, and then a few blueberries to top it off so that you get a nice fruity cocktail
. But stop to sniff those strawberries: what do you get? We’re betting it’s nothing; nada. Those poor little pieces of fruit have travelled halfway across the world (with strawberries it’s either Chile or South Africa) to get here, and you can tell that, fact.
You don’t have to get all holier than thou about the fact that buying strawberries from South America is terrible for the planet in terms of carbon footprint – although, actually that’s a good point – it is. We were thinking more of the fact that the aroma and taste of out-of-season produce is terrible. Why? Because they have to be picked unripe so that transport doesn’t bash them to bits. Meanwhile, the ripening process is what actually gives fruit so much great taste.
In other words, go seasonal. There’s a reason that chefs champion produce at certain times of the year, and suggest you veer away from things that aren’t ready to be picked yet. Increasingly bartenders are doing the same, and it’s not just marketing fluff. Well, sometimes it is, but generally it’s good to go fresh!
Your Turn for a Big Bash
Are you pulling your weight when it comes to parties? We're not talking about getting out in the middle of the dancefloor when the Bee Gees come on, throwing your hips and arms around in hugely different directions. Or when you go elbows-first for an elaborate breakdancing manoeuvre that takes the lampshades with you. We actually mean are you fronting up by having a bash at yours? It’s easy to go from one party to the next and sample the drinks and general hospitality. But that’s the easy way out. Throwing your own party takes a little planning – and courage. But apart from clearing out 200 plastic cups from your bedroom, it’s rewarding too: welcoming people into your home, sharing things with them and giving. These are all those soft, less tangible things that make life worth living.
You can start small, especially in January. People will appreciate being able to meet some real human beings and sample a few lower-cal cocktails
for a few hours before they head back to hibernate. ‘Hack’ January in style. Then as spring approaches you can just find any excuse for cracking out the bbq and breaking up the ice. Just make sure you’re not all weariteng thermals when you have to bring the barbecue inside.
Time to Serve with Saffron
The dried stamen of tulip flowers grown in Morocco and other Mediterranean countries, saffron seems an odd candidate for our cocktails in 2017. It’s most famous for its use in paella – the regional Spanish rice dish with seafood and meat plus onion and garlic. That distinctive, powerful vegetal and almost fruity aroma and flavour come from the saffron, lifting the dish while giving it a subtle yellow hue.
So do we really want it in our drinks? Well, let’s think about what a delicate and precious foodstuff saffron is, worth its weight in gold. In fact, saffron is worth even more, per weight, than gold.
What? How much? No, don’t worry because you don’t need a lot: a tiny amount of saffron gives a huge whack of flavour. Soaking the tiny strands in water gives an amber-coloured water with aroma and flavour that is ready to be shaken or stirred into any drink in small quantities. Tequila Sunrises
never looked so good – or golden – with the classic yellow-amber hue enhanced thanks to a touch of saffron. Adding a little saffron-soaked liquid to the whisky cocktail Malted Marigold can improve the enticing natural orange look. Or our Basque-style Aroma cocktail can be garnished with a few strands for a delicate, exotic effect.
Bring a ray of sunshine and a touch of paella into your drinks – but maybe leave out the prawns.
Make your Mark with some Mixing
You don’t have to be the ultimate mixologist, throwing bottle after bottle over your head while catching a flaming torch on your tongue and strumming the banjo at the same time. Making cocktails is a matter of attitude, not just technique.
So with a really fresh lime, some clear, cold ice, mixer and a high-quality spirit – say Ketel One or Smirnoff No.21 – you have the vodka and soda, a simple but fabulous drink.
Then you can move on. The Screwdriver
is a great drink – vodka with orange juice and a slice of orange. But why not step it up for the Tequila Sunrise? The vodka and orange juice now have cranberry juice for the company, with a little grenadine poured in at the end so that it sinks to the bottom – and creates a wonderful sunrise effect.
It’s these little touches – with the right technique – that make a difference to your guests. For instance, if you stir the Manhattan
cocktail wrong, it won’t come out right. You need to go around in that glass about 50 times – or for 30-45 seconds with your wrist straight.
It sounds a little OCD, but it’s basic physics. If you stir too much, it will come out as a watery, flavourless drink. Too little and you will have a nice warm offering, just like a not-so-delicious ‘warm beer’ that Americans are fond of accusing us of serving.
Shaking, straining, garnishing… the list goes on if you want to up your bartending game. There’s even throwing – but careful, watch the china dog on the mantelpiece that’s really valuable to its owner. Oh no, there it goes! Maybe later in the year you should try this…you can check out our mini-cocktail classes and take a lesson per month. Enjoy the further education you always wanted. Make 2017 the year that shook your life upside down, or at least the one where you mixed up a few decent drinks.