Okay, I know the title of the blog says wine, but I’m an equal-opportunity drinker and I dearly love a cocktail. I love their glamour: the pretty colours and fancy trimmings, the tropical fruit and teeny umbrellas, the elegant glasses and the cute bartenders who make them.
Oh, whoops, did I type that last bit out loud?
Seriously, though, cocktails have always been a bit naughty. They were invented during Prohibition in the US to cover up the taste of the dreadful illegal alcohol which was all that people could get. And even now, they whisper of speakeasies and bootleg hooch, of flappers and gangsters and of Phryne Fisher, fabulous in her 1928 sea-green parlour. Or maybe that’s just me…
But naughty or not, cocktails taste fabulous and are a wonderful introduction to the world of spirits and liqueurs. (They’re also a quick way to work out how serious someone is about buying you a drink, but perhaps that’s a subject for another post!)
If you are just starting out, you should probably start with one of the fluffy sort – something in a long glass, involving plenty of ice, to dilute the alcohol, and lots of fruit, for vitamins. (I once had a long, cocktail-fuelled discussion with a friend on whether you could get a balanced diet entirely from party food; the fruit on cocktails was a key ingredient).
Fruity, fluffy cocktails (like the strawberry daiquiri above) are where I started and they are lovely. There’s nothing quite like getting a long, cool drink, with a swizzle stick and an umbrella and all the trimmings, delivered to you on a tray. It makes one feel exactly like Sohpia Loren, or someone equally fabulous.*
But as my palate matured, I started leaning towards what I call the straight-booze cocktails. These tend to be simple, with only a few ingredients, so they are easy to make at home (where I spend more time, these days). They take a bit of getting used to, if you aren’t a spirit drinker, but they repay the effort. They’re slow-sipping drinks, soothing and sophisticated. More James Bond, if you want to go along with the movie fantasy motif (I’m always willing to go along with a fantasy, myself).
Three of my favourite, straight-booze cocktails are pictured here: the Martini, the Stinger and the Rusty Nail. The first is traditionally served in a classic cocktail (or Martini) glass, with no ice and the other two in old-fashioned (straight-sided) glasses on ice (unless you are a hardened spirit-drinker).
Opinions differ on the correct proportions for a Martini. Some say it should be three parts gin to one part vermouth (always dry vermouth, in the case of a martini). I like it drier than that, but not as dry as those who say that the glass containing the gin should be simply walked through a room with an open bottle of vermouth in it. In any case, the gin (however much you like) should be poured over ice in a shaker or jug, the vermouth added (I like a dash of vermouth to each measure** of gin) then shaken or stirred (James Bond notwithstanding, I can’t tell any difference) then drained into a cold cocktail glass. For a finishing touch, you can add a green olive, or you can add my preferred garnish, a twist of lemon rind.***
Rusty Nails are even simpler. Two parts scotch whisky to one part Drambuie, tipped over ice in a glass. Add a twist of lemon if you feel like it (or if you do decide to go with the captive bartender and need to keep him busy). Enjoy with a film noir and/or partner of your choice.
A Stinger is likewise simple: two parts brandy to one part white creme de menthe. White creme de menthe can be hard to find, but don’t be tempted to use the regular green. It will taste okay, but the colour is like nothing on earth – at least, nothing you want to put in your mouth.
I think that’s probably enough to be going on with, but, in honour of the bookish theme of this blog, I thought I’d throw in a challenge. There are two cocktails pictured here that I haven’t given recipes for: a Sidecar and a Mint Julep (bottom and top, respectively). For bonus booklover points (and a recipe) can anyone tell me what novels, set in the earlyish 1900s, these feature in? Since the Sidecar is a little more obscure, I will give you a hint for that one: the books are named after their main character, a fabulous, scandalous, woman.
Have a fun Friday
*Just a tip – don’t try this in a bar with lots of mirrors; it ruins the illusion. Unless you do look like Sophia Loren, in which case, you probably won’t be able to see the mirrors for the men surrounding you, so that’s okay.
** A measure is approximately 30ml metric, or 1floz imperial, or two capfuls, or whatever you like really. These recipes are all proportional, so you can make up whatever quantities you want. However, as Wine, Women and Wordplay encourages responsible drinking, I would advise against using a beer mug as a measuring device. Just sayin’…
***Learning to cut long, thin strips of rind and tie them into knots to go in the bottom of the glass is a great way to while away the long winter evenings, will amaze your friends and is probably better than keeping one of those cute bartenders captive in the basement (unless you can come to some mutually satisfactory arrangement, of course).
PS: The pictures are taken from assorted cocktail recipe websites. If you hover over them, you’ll get the name of the cocktail and a click will take you to the recipe site.