It’s hard not to sound like Jamie Oliver, but when making your own cocktails at home, my advice is to simply get stuck in and have a bash! While most of us will happily whizz up a fruit smoothie, we consider cocktails a bit more intimidating and complicated. It doesn’t help that in today’s style bars, bartenders are called ‘mixologists’ and revered as alchemists for concocting potions with shiny equipment and obscure ingredients. Yet many of them are now going back to the simplicity of the classic cocktails – mojitos, juleps, punches and mules – that can easily be re-created at home with minimum effort.
‘The fun thing about cocktails is experimenting with ingredients. It’s not a precise science,’ says Gerry Calabrese, the award-winning bartender behind recently opened bar, The Hoxton Pony, in Shoreditch. Its cocktail list is based around seasonality and uses the best British produce, with syrups and purées made on site. Calabrese believes now is the perfect time to make the most of summer fruits.
‘You should use raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries around now – these have a natural sharpness to balance their sweetness,’ advises Calabrese. ‘Muddle or simply rest the fruit in the glass, add some lemon or lime juice, a versatile spirit like vodka and gin, then lengthen with lemonade or ginger ale.’
Many cocktails follow a basic but flexible formula of balancing sweet, sour, strong and weak: sugar, fruit, spirit and water or other lengtheners such as soda, lemonade or ginger beer (both Fever-Tree and Luscombe do a great range of traditional mixers) – so use this as a basic template, then add your choice of fruit to provide a flavour twist. Plums, rhubarb or gooseberries are great English fruits to use, but exotic fruits including pomegranate and passionfruit are hot flavours too. Another trend is the use of aromatic herbs, spices and floral accents like elderflower, so why not raid the garden for inspiration? Fragrant teas, such as Earl Grey and jasmine, go well with such botanicals and have a great cooling effect.
However, for the biggest chill, use sorbets and ice-cream. Calabrese suggests shaking vodka with fresh berries and crème de cassis to pour over lemon sorbet. An even simpler combination would be vanilla ice-cream and gin – the classic White Cargo.
For other cocktails made from just two ingredients, add fruit purées or liqueurs to chilled fizz for summery effervescence. Think of Kir Royale – crème de cassis with Champagne – or the bellini, combining peach purée with prosecco.