In the first of an ongoing series on cocktails I'm going to walk you through some of the basics of mixology starting with my favourite spirit; gin.
- Why start on gin.
- Which gins to use.
- Gin and Tonic.
- Tom Collins.
Gin is my favourite for two reasons. First is specific to me - I like the taste and (unlike whiskey, vodka and tequila) I can drink a fair amount of it without getting messed up and out of control. I'm the same with white wine. From colloquial evidence it seems that most people have certain drinks that they can handle better than others so it's worth finding out which suit you the best. From time to time I may have alternatives, but if I want to drink while being certain I won't make a fool of myself (crucial at occasions like weddings) then I stick to what I know I can handle. The second reason I'm starting with gin is that it's often considered the most basic spirit for use in cocktails. It's so ubiquitous that a bar without gin is not a properly stocked bar.
Your two most reliable options for high-quality gin are Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray No. Ten. Personally I go for the Bombay Sapphire because it's got gorgeous botanicals (the extra flavours such as juniper and almonds)) and the bottle is really pretty. I know, I know, very superficial but cocktails are meant to be a bit of fun. Some bars have taken to storing their gin (and vodka) in the fridge or even the freezer but I would advise against this unless you want to get smashed (no, you don't). You see, room temperature spirits melt the ice slightly, and that extra water improves the taste as well as diluting the alcohol a little. Cocktails are supposed to be pleasant to drink, not eye-watering.
Before I get onto the recipes a final piece of advice. A wiser man than me once told me the fundamental difference between cocktails for men and cocktails for women. Women's cocktails try to disguise the alcohol in them with bright colours, fruit juices and sugar. Men's cocktails look and taste like they contain alcohol. That means it's time to grow up and step away from the Mai Tais, Daquiris and Seabreezes. While we're at it, Rum and Coke is boring, ditto the Screwdriver, and Long Island Iced Tea is what students who're trying to be sophisticated drink (I speak from firsthand experience). Needless to say, if it has a 'comedy' name like Sex on the Beach or Harvey Wallbanger then it's not a gentleman's choice either.
Gin and Tonic
So let's start with an easy one, the G&T. Popularised during the days of the British Raj in India because the tonic water contains quinine, which helps repel mosquitoes. It says something about Britain which makes me quite proud that rather than develop some sort of way to vaporise quinine they instead put it into a cocktail. Anyway, it's a piece of cake to make and guests are likely to be forgiving if you play it fast and loose with your measures. Really a standard that you should know how to prepare:
- Put a few ice cubes into a highball glass.
- Pour 1 25 ml shot of gin over the ice (add more if you like it stronger).
- Top up with tonic water.
- Garnish with a wedge of lime (or lemon if you must).
For the next two cocktails you need slightly more specialised equipment - a jigger and a shaker. A jigger is a double-sided steel cup used to measure shots. From my entirely un-rigorous research it seems that here in the UK the measures seem to be 25 ml and 50 ml in most cases. They sell these at Tesco, among other places, if you want one. A shaker is the large steel thing that James Bond gets his Vodka Martinis shaken not stirred in. By the way, don't ever order your drink 'shaken not stirred' unless you want the bartender to think you're an idiot. Shakers, again, are available all over the place these days. There's two sorts; the Three Part Shaker (the Bond one, with a large vessel, a strainer and a lid) and the Boston Shaker (same large vessel, but a glass that fits into this instead of the strainer and lid). Get the Three Part Shaker first - you can always add your own glass to improvise a Boston Shaker if you want.
A proper Martini uses gin, not vodka. The more gin in the mix, the dryer it is. A lot of places will make the drink of pure gin, or just slosh a little vermouth around the glass then throw it out, but personally I believe you should have vermouth in there as well. Best option for dry vermouth? Martini. Yes, a little confusing; the vermouth is made by a company called Martini, and the cocktail is also called Martini (even if it sometimes contains no Martini vermouth). Anyway, here's how I make them:
- Pour 20 ml dry vermouth and 80 ml gin into a cocktail shaker with some ice.
- Shake well until the shaker feels chilly in your hand.
- Remove the cap of the shaker and strain the mix into a martini glass.
- Garnish with an olive on a cocktail stick.
There's myriad variations on the Martini and most of them are for girls, but here's a couple of options you might like to consider. First, the Gibson - use a small silverskin pickled onion instead of an olive. Sandra Bullock drinks these in The Net, which is without a doubt the single coolest thing about that movie. Secondly there's the Dirty Martini. My favourite; you sling a bit of that olive juice in there as well, and why not stick two or three olives on your cocktail stick instead of just the one?
A refreshing, light cocktail that can slowly but surely help a warm afternoon/evening pass very pleasantly. Some argue that it's a bit old-fashioned but I think that's part of it's charm. It may be best to scale up the gin/juice/sugar part of this recipe and prepare it all in a mixer if you plan on having more than one.
- Pour 50 ml of gin and 25 ml fresh lemon juice (the juice of approximately a quarter lemon) into a shaker.
- Add a teaspoon of sugar (the finer the grains, the better) and shake thoroughly.
- Fill a Collins glass almost to the top with ice and pour the mixture over this.
- Top off with soda water and garnish with a lemon twist.
What's a lemon twist? Well, you need to remove a little of your lemon skin. A cheese grater with big holes will do this, or you can do it carefully with a knife. You don't want to get right down to the white pith, just get a 4cm strip of fresh lemon skin, then twist it just above your drink. This releases essential oils from the skin into the drink for a little extra flavour and aroma. Once you've twisted it, drop it in there and leave it.
So, that's three staples to learn how to make, along with some essential skills to practice and some new terms to become familiar with. In later articles I'll discuss other spirits and more advanced techniques. One last thing to remember; gentlemen may get merry but they do not get drunk and they definitely do not embarrass themselves. Please drink responsibly.