Until recently, if you asked people what they’d consider the perfect occasion to enjoy a well-made cocktail, they’d cite the cocktail party. This time-honoured event with a Martini served in the chilled v-shaped glass to a roomful of people, has been the default image. Sure enough, the first cocktail party is reputed to have been held by a Mrs Julius Walsh of St Louis, Missouri in 1917, with around 50 guests turning up before lunch to enjoy recent inventions like the Martini and Aviation at her colonial-style home, and it’s been styled on that moment ever since.
Until now that is. Thanks to the explosion of interest in cocktails, and the good work we’re doing here at thebar.com, many people are realising that there’s no need for a major social event to prompt a proper cocktail. You can mix and stir at any time – whether relaxing at home with a great film on the TV, enjoying the match with a few mates, catching up with a friend or sharing dinner. There doesn’t have to be a formal backdrop, and your cocktails will be all the better for it.
Smirnoff No.21 vodka, Gordon’s gin, Captain Morgan rum and Johnnie Walker whisky can provide the base, with delicious fresh juices such as orange, cranberry and pineapple as mixers. Or you can top your spirit of choice with tonic, lemonade, cola or ginger ale for a tasty, fizzing blend.
The Screwdriver cocktail for example, is a 1960s creation where you just add tangy orange juice to vodka. It’s so called because oil workers in the US stirred it together with a screwdriver, but there’s no need to rifle through your toolbox – a spoon will do just fine.
Then there’s the inspiringly named Cuba Libre, symbol of this infamous tropical island in the Caribbean that’s the source of so much mythology and glamour. The Cuba Libre is just rum mixed with cola, plus a lime garnish. Meanwhile, a Highball describes any spirit plus mixer, in a long glass with ice – and it dates all the way back to the 1890s.
The oldest are often the best
Simple, right? A classic cocktail doesn’t involve major shaking, straining, blending or body contortion – in fact often the oldest ones are the simplest. Nor does it require you to have a backpack full of shakers, muddlers and sieves, ready to unleash on your unsuspecting guests at any moment. You can play your part in cocktail history with relative ease. That’s why we want to take you through some of the oldest cocktails out there as the calendar unfolds.
Wimbledon, for example, has adopted the Pimm’s and lemonade, and the Mint Julep is now the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in the US, so let’s follow their lead. With friends over to grab some sunshine and grilled food at your barbecue, pour together Pimm’s and lemonade over ice. Or mix up the intensely aromatic Mint Julep as the meat and veg sizzle. You don’t need a proper muddler to extract the delicious mint leaf oils. A little friction from the sugar granules with a rolling pin will do.
When you’re planning a wedding reception, birthday party or housewarming, jot down a range of delicious cocktails. A Martini, Moscow Mule, G&T and non-alcoholic Mustique Fizz will help you cater for a whole range of guests. You can liven up that glass of sparkling wine by adding Pimm’s plus a slice of orange to create a rich, subtly herb-tinged Pimm’s Royale.
It packs a Punch
Another option is the Rum Punch or Gin Punch, offering something for everyone to share. The Punch is the oldest-known cocktail in the world, brought over from India to England in the 17th century. The word ‘punch’ comes from the ancient Sanskrit word ‘pañc’. So to say that you’re mixing a tried and tested formula is an understatement.
The Punch even predates the term ‘cocktail’ itself. Nowadays a cocktail refers to any mixed drink, but back in 1804 the newly invented ‘cocktail’ was a ‘Sling’ – spirit, sugar, citrus and sparkling water – with added bitters. Hence at the time the cocktail was also known as a ‘Bittered Sling’.
You can see the Sling’s influence in the Collins and Rickey of today, as well as the early Sours (balancing citrus and sugar). These drinks are great on a summer’s day, adding zest and length. But the cocktail is also about big flavours, and these came in the form, chronologically speaking, of bitters, liqueurs (the Margarita and the Sidecar) and vermouth as with the Martini. Try them all, and see which you like the best.
But back to that a tasty, five-ingredient combination made from alcohol, water, sugar, lemon and tea or spices: the Punch is one old-timer that works. You’ll probably miss out the ‘tea’ part of the five ingredients, however lots of fresh fruit with top quality spirits can be truly delicious. A punch can also be mixed well ahead of time – a day or two before the party for a macerated flavour. Then just add the juices at the last minute for a fabulous party centrepiece. If you have a large, decorated bowl and ladle, that’s all the better, giving you time to meet and greet your guests.
Sloe down and serve up
As you stretch out your barbecuing to extract the very last drop of summer, Gordon’s Sloe gin is the option as the leaves begin falling, with sloe berries macerated in gin. It can be used in a delicious G&T, or the classic Bramble cocktail – that mid-1980s invention of bartender Dick Bradsell with a drizzle of crème de mûre for a taste of autumn.
Then there’s the Toddy, effectively a winter version of the Punch with its egg, spirit, sugar, cream and spice all brought together. We’re moving into winter now, with the rain pouring down and a cold wind blowing outside (although that’s not mandatory for enjoying this drink). The Toddy is probably the descendant of the ‘Lamb’s Wool’, an early 17th century cocktail that took fruit purée and then mixed it with beer, along with spices before heating, and has been revived at Hick’s bar and restaurant in London.
In fact, if it weren’t for a grain surplus from the 1688 harvest, many of our cocktails would be beer-based. Thanks to so much grain entering the market that year, the English king William of Orange dramatically reduced the tax on the commodity, which lead to the setting up of so many 18th century distilleries and the subsequent popularity of gin. You can add some ale or lager to your Toddy just for old times – or use cider as in our Harvest Spice, a cocktail created specially for thebar.com which has Don Juilo Blanco tequila, lemon juice and the sweetness of agave syrup too.
Old Fashioned approach
But you don’t have to heat your drinks just because it’s winter. Although it seemed like everyone was putting their cocktails over the fire pre-20th century, there are some classics that come cold. The Old Fashioned is one example.
This fabulous cocktail was so named back in the 19th century because the new-fangled drinks were making customers nostalgic for simpler, more traditional drinks. They’d ask for cocktails ‘made the old-fashioned way’ – like this pour of whiskey and bitters. Another signal of its longevity is the use of a sugar cube – they didn’t have sugar syrup back in the early-to-mid 19th century, so the soaking and mashing in an Old Fashioned is one way to dissolve the granules and prevent them sticking in your teeth. Enjoy with Bulleit Bourbon in the classic, or use delicious Zacapa for a rum variation instead.
It’s how cocktails used to be mixed: with no fizzing, fruits or fancy flavours – and it’s delicious.
You can tell the Old Fashioned is a turbo-charged classic because it has a glass named after it. It’s one of the few cocktails, like the Martini and the Collins, to be so celebrated.
The Manhattan is another with the dark spirit look that fits the season, but it’s even more suited to parties than the Old Fashioned because essentially the Manhattan is a dark Martini. Like this classic drink, the Manhattan is a late 19th century combination of spirit and vermouth, and, like the Martini it’s served in an elegant v-shaped glass. The aromatics from the fortified wine escape into the nostrils as you drink, stem in hand. Most likely invented in the 1870s by a bartender on Broadway, it’s the number one New York cocktail – apart from, that is, the Cosmopolitan.
Unusual because it’s a classic of very recent times, the Cosmopolitan was refined by New York bartenders in the 1990s. It’s the epitome of the great three-part combination of spirit, liqueur and fruit juice. Cranberry and vodka mark it as a modern drink, with orange liqueur adding some traditional depth. The Cosmopolitan looks like a summer tipple, but those classic Christmas flavours of orange and cranberry give it a festive edge.
In fact you’ll be dazzled by a number of cocktails at this time of year. One of them is the Baileys Chocolate Orange. As the tinsel glitters on your tree, and the presents sit waiting to be opened, Baileys Chocolat Luxe, Grand Marnier and grated cinnamon has all the flavour to go perfectly with some mince pies. Or you might want go more Christmas cake in style. The Old Fashioned Christmas is a spicy, zesty treat with star anise, cinnamon, orange zest and cranberry, all mixed with 35ml of Smirnoff No.21. Or there’s a kind of Christmas Punch in the form of the delicious Baileys Eggnog, a comforting mixture of aromatic spices blended together with egg that dates back to medieval times.
But you don’t have to combine lots of ingredients to make a fine Christmas tipple. Malt whisky served neat works beautifully: pour your dram in a glass over ice and add water to taste. Mixing doesn’t get much easier than this! Talisker 10 year old or its brethren Talisker Storm come with a dash of peat and salt from the windswept distilleries on the Isle of Skye. There are lighter options from the classic Speyside region in Scotland: the rich and rounded Singleton of Dufftown, the smooth and silky Cardhu 12 year old or the fruity, spicy Cragganmore 12 year old. Or there are the floral, elegant Highland malts of Dalwhinnie and Oban. You can taste the years of experience and ageing that go into making these fine whiskies.
Flip it round
Eventually the snow must melt and the thermometer start to rise, so it’s time to look at another classic before the ice in the shaker goes too. The Flip was traditionally a winter recipe, made by dipping a red-hot iron poker into a rum, beer and sugar mixture. The poker frothed or ‘flipped’ the cocktail. However nowadays you don’t need to go to such alarming lengths by purchasing a poker and finding your nearest fire – the characteristic froth on a Flip can be obtained by shaking with egg. And that brings us to that festival of chocolate in March or April.
Try our delicious Easter Flip to celebrate the blooming of the daffodils, mixing Smirnoff No.21 with egg, cream and white crème de cacao, nutmeg and chocolate. After this year-long tour of cocktails, we’ve come full circle. Which just shows that it’s time to get mixing!