'Of all the skills you might acquire in life, learning how to make cocktails is the least likely to be a waste of your time’.
So says Richard Godwin in the opening sentence of his book The Spirits, and I couldn’t agree more. But what do you need in order to master this skill – some might call it craft - in the comfort of your own home? Read on!
So you want to make cocktails?
You will need, needless to say, alcohol - that’s the most important ingredient in a true cocktail. A home bar should have a mix of white spirits (Gin, Vodka) and dark spirits (Bourbon, Whiskey). If you are an enthusiastic beginner you will also want to include Tequila and Rum.
If you wish to master some of the classics (and I strongly advise you start there) you will also need some vermouth – which comes in two styles, sweet (Italian) and dry (French). Vermouth will transform your glass of gin into a classic Martini and a bottle will usually last you quite a while – depending on the amount of martinis you make of course. While we are talking essentials in your cocktail cabinet, go ahead and get yourself a bottle of angostura bitters. That will definitely last you a REALLY long time but it has a magic way of making pretty much any cocktail better.
So you have your alcohol, what else do you need? Well, a cocktail shaker and some glasses for one thing. While you can get by without a shaker for stirred cocktails, they are inexpensive and stocked pretty much anywhere these days so go ahead and get one. You will also need something to measure your spirits in – a jigger which measures single (25ml) or double shots (50ml). As you become more invested in the art of cocktails you will probably also invest in a strainer, bar spoon, muddler and a Mexican elbow (an ingenious device that makes juicing lemons and limes easy peasy lemon squeezy).
While you can serve your cocktails in pretty much any glass, they will look infinitely classier if served in the appropriate glassware. Invest in a few Martini glasses and rocks tumblers and you can always add margarita glasses, Champagne coupes etc. later on.
Another absolutely essential ingredient, second to alcohol in fact, is… ice! I know this sounds pretty basic, but trust me you will need lots and lots of ice. Ice acts in two ways - to chill a drink and also dilute it (but not too much!). If you use too little ice in your cocktails it will melt quickly and you will end up with a weak - and lukewarm - drink. When it comes to ice, less is not more. Bulk buy bags of ice from the grocery store - unless you have an American style fridge that makes ice for you (and even then, you will need extra. Trust me).
Master the classics
You have the alcohol, the shaker, the glasses and the ice… what next? Well, now it’s time to have some fun! The rule of thumb when making cocktails is only shake cocktails with fruit juice in them (no matter what James Bond says, a martini should be stirred, not shaken). Cocktails that contain only alcohol should be stirred with ice; cocktails that contain lemon/lime juice and any other fruity ingredients or egg white should be shaken. Both stirred and shaken drinks can be made ‘long’ by the addition of soda, champagne, tonic and so on.
Where to begin? Try and master the classics. A dry Martini will make you feel very sophisticated - it is the quintessential cocktail. What’s more it only contains two ingredients – three if you are adding olives or a lemon twist – gin and vermouth. A chilled glass is an essential ingredient to a good Martini - empty a shelf in the freezer for those cocktail glasses! A couple more classics that you must have in your repertoire: Manhattan is made with bourbon and vermouth (see, I told you vermouth would come in handy) while a Negroni contains gin, Italian vermouth and Campari.
These stirred drinks are very strong and for serious cocktail drinkers only – if you are entertaining in the summer you will want something shaken, muddled, perhaps a little fruity. It’s time to buy a few bags of limes then - you will need them! Limes are used in the ever popular Mojito (mint, light rum, lime juice, sugar syrup and fizzy water), Margaritas (tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur), Caipirinhas (cachaca, limes and sugar) and in all types of sours (the Pisco sour being my all-time favourite). If you are making drinks for a crowd you might want to stick with bubbles – serve refreshing spritzes (Aperol, Prosecco and soda water) or for something stronger try a French 75 or fruity Bellinis. Cheers!
Lucy Parissi is a London-based designer, food photographer, coffee fanatic and cocktail appreciator. She is also the food-obsessed blogger behind Supergolden Bakes.