|The Grey Goose Le Fizz, made using proper cocktail equipment|
I'm very fond of cocktailing: the very act of ordering a Daiquiri or a Manhattan in a smart hotel bar makes me feel as if I am, despite all appearances to the contrary, a heady fizz of Jazz Age glamour and Bloomsbury loucheness. Every sip contains the promise of an evening at Jay Gatsby's or an invitation to Mrs Dalloway's Party.
You see, it's the myth of the cocktail, rather than the sum of its alcoholic parts, that's so incredibly potent: More than an amusing way to drink alcohol, a well-made cocktail is a sign that you recognise the possibility of a more sophisticated, less frantic world - at least until you slide inelegantly off your bar-stool having forgotten Dorothy Parker's maxim: 'I like to have a martini,/Two at the very most/Three and I'm under the table/Four and I'm under the host.'
Anyway, whilst cocktailing at Claridges or The Connaught is to Town what Bunburying is to the Country, it's the kind of treat one ought to reserve for when one really needs it, in the manner of a peculiarly expensive yet speedy rest-cure. But perfectly acceptable cocktails can, and should, be made at home too: I don't think I've ever managed the full F.Scott.F experience in my own kitchen, but there's something I rather like about making guests a pre-dinner cocktail rather than cracking open the usual bottle of champagne.
People talk a lot about the genius of the mixologist - I'm sure this is true when it comes to conjuring up a spectacularly novel molecular something like they do at Purl, but when you're simply after something with a little retro-elegance and a strong kick, you need neither skill nor a vast selection of arcane ingredients - if you have a decent gin, vodka, a white rum and a whisky or bourbon, some ice and something to measure the booze with, you're off to a good start. You don't need sugar syrup - caster sugar does perfectly well as long as you get it dissolved in the alcohol or citrus, if you're using it, and nor do you need special kit: I used to measure the alcohol in an old baby bottle and shake over ice in a (thoroughly cleaned) Dolmio jar, with a spare lid punched with holes for straining the liquid from the ice. However, although this approach scores ten out of ten for resourcefulness, it does rather ruin the Mad-Men effect - far better, as the marvellously knowledgeable and very kind Dan Priseman of Bitters and Twisted pointed out, to have the proper equipment.
Anyway, here are six classic cocktails everyone should be able to make without going further than Waitrose for the ingredients.
The Claridges Champagne Cocktail
Remy Martin VSOP
Put the sugarcube on a paper napkin or bit of kitchen roll before dropping the Bitters onto it - I find that if you lob the sugar in the glass first, it's all too easy to end up with a great, overpowering lug of Angostura. Drop it into a champagne flute and add 2 teaspoons of Remy Martin and one of Grand Marnier. Top up with Laurent Perrier (Claridges house champagne), and then pare a slice of orange peel over the glass so the oil adds a tiny hint of citrus.
Chez Trefusis, we don't usually run to Laurent Perrier and so I've most often made this with cheap champagne - the kind on offer at a supermarket, and an own-label brandy: it's not Claridges-perfection, but then nor is it thirteen quid a glass. I've also used Cointreau instead of Grand Marnier, depending on what's in the cupboard. The slice of orange peel is very pretty, but I like to pop a maraschino cherry in the glass as well. Growing up in the nineteen seventies has left an indelible mark.
The Trefusis Whisky Sour
|Trefusis Whisky Sour: |
please excuse it being in the wrong glass
I call this the Trefusis Whisky Sour because I think I may be making it with the wrong proportions of whisky to lemon. Never mind, it works for me.
2 measures of whisky
1 measure of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp of caster sugar
a maraschino cherry
Stir the sugar in the lemon juice until it's dissolved, or at least until you can't be bothered whether it's dissolved or not, add the whisky, shake over ice, strain into whatever glass you have handy and add a marachino cherry.
I've also made this with Drambuie - I was given a bottle once and it's a very flexible cocktail ingredient. It's already sweetened with honey, so just add lemon and shake over ice.
Grey Goose Le Fizz
An incredibly refreshing alternative to pre-dinner champagne
35ml Vodka (Grey Goose, since it's their recipe, but again, unless you're a super-taster, I challenge anyone to be able to pass the pepsi challenge if voddie's mixed with other ingredients)
15ml Elderflower cordial
15ml freshly squeezed lime juice
60ml soda water (mostly when a recipe states soda water, I use sparkling mineral water, rather than leg it out to the nearest off-license, but I think I've established I'm not a purist)
Serve in a champagne glass.
When living in Cuba, Hemmingway would write between 8am and 2pm and then hove off to El Floridita for the first of a zillion Daiquiris. He liked them so much, he had his own made for him, the Papa Doble, but I prefer the original, which is deliciously sherberty.
60ml Bacardi (or any white rum)
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp caster sugar
Crushed ice ( put ice cubes in a plastic bag between two teatowels and bash with a rolling pin)
Mix the lime juice and sugar together to dissolve the latter, add the rum, pour it over a combination of crushed and cubed ice and shake for about twice as long as you would normally. Strain it into a chilled martini glass.
God, I hate Sex and the City for reasons too complicated and long-winded to go into here, but the Cosmo was made popular by the show and people seem to like it.
25ml Cointreau (I've also used Grand Marnier, no one said anything)
10ml fresh lime juice
25ml cranberry juice
Shake over ice, pour into a chilled martini glass
Ah, who couldn't love F.Scott.Fitzgerald's favourite drink? Apparently F.Scott loved gin because he thought it undetectable on the breath, which it isn't, of course. Anyway, the Gin Rickey is simple, exceptionally refreshing, very low calorie and after three I have no idea how he managed to finish writing The Great Gatsby.
15ml freshly squeezed lime juice (call it the juice of half a lime)
Soda water (see above)
Put lots of ice into a tall glass (a Collins glass, if we're getting technical), pour in the lime juice, pour over the gin, throw in the squeezed out lime half and top up with soda water.
When Don Draper said 'Make mine an Old Fashioned' in series one of Mad Men, I thought, yes, to hell with your Roger Stirling martinis, bourbon is infinitely more devil-may-care and a lot more palatable than neat vodka with a hint of vermouth.
It's a cocktail that deserves a decent bourbon like Woodford Reserve: like a good martini, it's a drink that can't hide behind the other ingredients. Anyway, this is my favourite bourbon cocktail, possibly because of the Mad Men link, but also because of what it has in common with the classic Claridges champagne cocktail.
Sugar cube (or a tsp caster sugar)
Use a short, straight sided whisky glass. Put the caster sugar or a sugar cube into the glass and add a couple of drops of bitters. Carefully pare a long skein of orange over the glass so you catch the oils, then muddle (which is posh bar-man speak for giving it a good old mix around with a spoon or special muddling thingy), add bourbon, ice and stir.
There are, of course, zillions of other cocktails that are perfectly suited to making at home - the naffly named but delicious Flirtini for one, and the mis-named but easy-drinking French Martini for another. The cocktail I most often claim I want to drink is a Hemlocktini - invented by the lovely Waffle and I as an elegant solution to extreme situations - but since a martini glass rinsed with hemlock and filled with iced vodka would be as toxic as it sounds, it's just as well the Hemlocktini exists only as a metaphor.
But whether real or imagined, home-made or bar-bought, a cocktail is always a perfect treat: and as Fitzgerald expert and fellow cocktail-afficionado, Sarah Churchwell, is wont to remind me, 'cocktail' is also a verb. So then, when shall we next cocktail?