Cocktails & Highballs

This is where it all begins.  Also sometimes where it all ends if you misjudge the kick of your cocktail. So with that in mind, do go steady and encourage your guests to sip their cocktail, as opposed to swigging it.  

These are the drinks usually served early evening – that would be the cocktail hour – before dinner.  Which I can see begs the question as to what is the difference between a cocktail and an aperitif.  Not much, I think is the answer.  A cocktail has more than one type of booze in it, whereas an aperitif is usually one.   Aperitifs get your tastebuds going, but cocktails are not really geared up to be the advance party or partner for a meal.  Having said that, it is wise to serve some kind nibbles alongside these pretty potent cocktails.

I think that the definitive cocktail bible is by Craddock.  Not Fanny this time, who thought that “cocktails are a number of good ingredients ruined by being mixed together”. This Craddock is the legendary Harry, bartender supreme at London’s Savoy Hotel in the 1930s and creator of their legendary Savoy Cocktail Book.  


His basic hints for mixing cocktails are a great place to start:
1. Ice is nearly always an absolute essential for a Cocktail.
2. Never use the same ice twice.
3. Remember that the ingredients mix better in a shaker rather larger than is necessary to contain them.
4. Shake the shaker as hard as you can: don’t just rock it : you are trying to wake it up not send it to sleep!
5. If possible, ice your glasses before using them. (Pop them in the freezer for 5 minutes.)
6. Drink your cocktail as soon as possible.  (Subtly different to as quickly as possible – he’s not telling you to neck your drink.)

My seventh is to urge you to buy the best quality of ingredients you can.  You will be drinking these spirits without the cloak of tonic water or the like, so your cocktail will be exactly as good as the ingredients you put into it.  

Your basic cocktail making kit:
A cocktail shaker – which sounds obvious, I realise.  Although you can live without one and still make cocktails by stirring the ingredients and then straining through a small sieve to keep ice fragments out of your glass (the shaker has a built-in strainer that you pour the cocktail through).  There are plenty of cocktail aficionados who will tell you that stirring rather than shaking actually gives you a purer cocktail. Personally, I can’t resist a cocktail shaker and think it is a key part of the fun and the ritual.

A jigger – to measure out the spirits because cocktail mixology is a precise science. Even when you become confident enough to adapt the measures in a recipe to suit your own and your guests’ tastes (and you undoubtedly will), you’ll still benefit from using a jigger to get you cocktail just as you want it each time.

Ice – and plenty of it.  Cocktails are best when cold cold cold.  Wherever a recipe says to shake over ice, that means to fill the shaker half-full with ice.

A lemon peeler – to slice off lemon, lime or orange rind as thinly as possible for garnishing.

Olives – good small ones, drained out of their brine and ideally on those cute wooden cocktail sticks.

Vermouth – isn’t needed for all cocktails but it is in a lot of them.  So it is wise to keep a bottle in the fridge.  It’s also handy to have a bottle of angostura bitters around.

Mixologists in fancy bars the world over have come up with oodles of cocktail variations over the years, but these ones below should set you well enough on the road to having a reputation for fixing a mean cocktail and form the base for future variations and additions to your repertoire.

For many, this is the classic cocktail so it has to be where we start. Traditionally a martini would be based on mother’s ruin – gin.  These days it is as usual to have a vodka martini as it is gin; and for what it’s worth, if you were fixing me a martini I would definitely prefer vodka please.

At its most basic, a martini is gin (or vodka) mixed with vermouth, and shaken with ice. The ratios of gin/vodka to vermouth very much vary.  Harry Craddock would have used a double measure of gin to a single of vermouth for a dry martini, which is probably a little heavy on the vermouth for modern tastes. The less vermouth in a martini, the ‘drier’ it is. Serve in what we now think of a martini glass, with either a little lemon peel (a ‘twist’) or an olive. 

Know your martini lingo and variations:
Dirty – mixed with a dash of olive brine
Wet – heavy on the vermouth
Dry – not much vermouth
A Dickens – served with neither an olive nor a twist
A Gibson – served with two cocktail-size pickled onions
A Franklin – served with two olives

Two measures of rye, bourbon or Canadian whisky with one measure of vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters.  
Shake over ice and serve in a cocktail glass, with a maraschino cherry plopped into the glass to finish it off.

‘On the rocks’ – Manhattans are frequently served in an old-fashioned glass with ice
Rob Roy – made with scotch whisky instead of the rye or Canadian

Slightly embarrassingly, I have to admit that I thought that daiquiris were those thick, overly-sweet, brightly coloured drinks served with a hint of the ridiculous and an umbrella.  It turns out that is a frozen daiquiri.  A daiquiri is an altogether more sophisticated affair, based on rum, lime juice and sugar.

A double measure of white rum (like Bacardi) shaken over ice with half a measure of freshly squeezed lime juice and a teaspoon of icing sugar. Serve in a cocktail glass.

A fun touch is to sugar the rim of the glass:
1. Run a wedge of lime over the rim of the glass
2. Now put some granulated sugar into a bowl and dip the rim of the glass into it.  Twist it around to get a good coating.
3. Lift the glass out and give it a shake so that any sugar which isn’t quite sticking to the glass comes off now rather than into the lap of your guest.

The daiquiri is just one of the family of sours cocktails, so called simply because they have a sour ingredient.  Another classic is the Sidecar: a double measure of cognac shaken over ice with single measure each of lemon juice and cointreau.  For sugaring the cocktail glass, use a wedge of lemon this time.

Lastly, a classic cocktail for which you’ll need neither a shaker nor a cocktail glass.  The Old Fashioned should be served in – drum roll, please – an old-fashioned glass.

For this you ‘muddle’ ingredients together.  It’s a bit like pestle and mortaring as you are grinding them into each other.  A teaspoon in a glass can work well as a muddler.
Muddle/crush/grind together a teaspoon of granulated or caster sugar with two dashed of angostura bitters.  Add in a lump of ice and a double measure of whisky.  Stir.  Serve with a ‘twist’ of lemon peel.

HIGHBALLS – differ from cocktails in that they tend to only have two ingredients: the spirit and then a non-alcoholic mixer to make it into a ‘long’ drink.  They’re straight forward to make – double measure of spirit into your hi-ball glass first; then enough ice to get a nice clunk in the glass but not too much or else your drink will turn watery; top up with the mixer, give it a stir, and then finish with your garnish which would most usually be a slice of lime or lemon

Some old-favourite mixed drinks:
Gin and tonic
Vodka and tonic
Dubonnet and bitter lemon
Dubonnet and lemonade
Rum and coke
Campari and soda
Scotch and soda
Whiskey and coke
Vodka and orange (‘screwdriver’)

Special mention must go to the Bloody Mary.  For the host whose guests are staying over, being able to mix a good one of these the morning after could win you friends for life. It can be slightly tricky for the hangover impaired to make for themselves.

Fill a highball glass with ice and pour into it a double measure of vodka.  Now fill the glass with canned tomato juice. Add in a little salt and pepper, a shake or two of tabasco and the same of worcestershire sauce.  Finish with a stick of celery in the glass as a stirrer and to be eaten. Skip the vodka and you have a Virgin Mary.


Add yours →

  1. What a fabulous guide, makes me want to dress up instead of down post-work and get jigging with my shaker. Thankyou for sharing x

  2. Written so well!!! Really cleared things up

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