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Making cocktails doesn’t have to be hard work. Alice Lascelles shows you how, with just a handful of good ingredients and a few bits of kit, you can mix like a professional
While the idea of cocktails is inviting, the reality often involves all sorts of equipment, obscure liqueurs and complicated instructions long enough to see even the most dedicated mixologist abandon the whole exercise in favour of a beer. Faced with such a dilemma the other night, I decided to round up six failsafe favourites, all of which require only three ingredients and the simplest of techniques: stir, shake or build. From aperitifs to kickstart the evening to sophisticated classics and at least one indulgent nightcap, this list should help you to cover a few of the cocktail bases, however lazy you’re feeling. Just make sure that your spirits are good quality, your juices are fresh, and that everything is served nice and cold.
Stirred drinks don’t require a lot of equipment, but they do require patience to get the level of dilution exactly right – think slow and ceremonious at all times. Make the task easier by investing in a long-handled barspoon from www.thedrinkshop.com (nestle the flat end among the cubes and gently twirl).
A classic Italian aperitif known by many as the king of cocktails, and rightly so, for its thrillingly complex layering of sweet, bitter and dry flavours. If it packs too much of a punch for you, it’s also excellent lengthened with orange juice, soda water or Champagne.
25ml Beefeater London Dry gin
25ml Martini Rosso
Method: Combine all ingredients in a Boston glass (or pint glass) full of ice and stir until you can’t stir any more. Hold back the ice with a Hawthorn strainer or serving spoon, and pour into a rocks glass full of fresh ice. Garnish with an orange wheel.
Part of the charm of theOld Fashioned lies in its near-ritualistic preparation. Some prefer using brown sugar, but syrup ensures the sweetness is properly mixed throughout the drink, rather than ending up as grit in the bottom of the glass.
62.5ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
6.25ml sugar syrup*
3 dashes Angostura bitters
*made by dissolving 1 cup sugar in 2 cups water
Method: Stir half the bourbon in a fat rocks glass with a couple of ice cubes. Add the sugar syrup, bitters, a few more ice cubes, and stir again. Add the remaining bourbon and more ice, stir and garnish with a lemon or orange twist – just spritz it over the drink to release the fragrant oils before adding it to the glass.
Three-piece shakers look cute, but the two-part Boston shaker, comprising a pint-sized glass that fits inside an equivalent ‘tin’, is generally favoured by the pros for being easier to work with. Always shake with plenty of ice, use fresh ice for every drink, and shake damn hard – don’t stop until there’s frost on the outside of the tin.
Fans of the dry martini will love this supremely elegant 1930s classic, which marries the power of gin with aromatic hints of maraschino and citrus. A superb palate sharpener, and a great drink for showcasing different gins.
50ml Tanqueray No. Ten gin
12.5ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
Method: Pre-chill your cocktail glass by filling with ice and a little water, and set aside. Shake ingredients with ice, and strain into the emptied cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
With its easy-drinking, fruity flavours, this cocktail may sound girlie, but rest assured, it has some very manly fans – Jack White of The White Stripes recently proclaimed the French Martini the drink of choice for his new band, The Dead Weather.
50ml Smirnoff Black vodka
37.5ml pressed pineapple juice
Method: Shake ingredients with ice and strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.
With no shaking, no blending and hardly any stirring, ‘built’ drinks are the most low maintenance of all – ideal for party scenarios
or when you’re nearing the end of a long night. Just make sure they go into a glass that’s full to the brim with fresh ice.
The last time I shared a few of these with friends at home, we ended up having such a good time we didn’t notice that the coffee table was on fire. A devilishly moreish drink that can be tweaked according to how much alcoholic oomph you like, or pimped with cream for extra indulgence.
50ml Smirnoff Black vodka
25ml Kahlua coffee liqueur
100ml ice-cold full fat milk
Method: Build in a fat rocks glass full of cubed ice, give a quick stir, garnish with grated nutmeg and serve.
There’s rum and Coke – and then there’s the far superior Dark ‘n’ Stormy, which ignites the rich molasses flavours of dark rum with fiery ginger beer and fresh lime. If you’re doing it by the book, you should use Goslings from Bermuda, but a fulsome rum like El Dorado 12 Year Old will do the trick.
50ml Goslings Rum
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice topped up with Old Jamaica ginger beer
Method: Fill an ice-filled highball glass ¾ full with the lime juice and ginger beer, and then carefully add the rum to create a float (these are your storm clouds). Garnish with a lime wedge.
Photos: Rob Lawson
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Autumn 2010