A beginner’s guide to making great drinks
In the beginning, there was punch. Mixed drinks in Britain were served communally and contained fruit, juices and spices. And then, in the late 1700s, cocktails were born. They weren’t originally considered to be an alcoholic beverage consumed for fun. In fact, they were taken first thing in the morning and served the same function coffee does in our modern world.
The cocktail was a way to help get bitters down easier. Bitters are a mixture of herbs and spices that was considered medicinal and it was mixed with water and sugar. This drink was much smaller than the cocktails we enjoy today and was meant to help you ‘cock your tail’ to start the day.
The word cocktail has disputed origins, but my favourite explanation is a derivative of a horse breeding practice where breeders would pop a piece of ginger in a horses behind which would cause it to cock it’s tail. This would make it seem younger and sprightlier than it may otherwise have been.
The cocktail moved from a morning pick-me-up when it met the ice cube. When ice became more freely available, the Americans moved the cocktail from morning consumption and into the realm of recreational beverages.
Cocktails that will be served in smaller glasses and consumed quickly can be shaken in a cocktail shaker. Here you add ice cubes and the ingredients to the shaker and shake until condensation forms on the outside. This tells you the beverage is at the right temperature. You then pour the cocktail into the glass and serve cold. This enables you to cool the drink without too much dilution from melting ice.
Larger drinks that will take longer to consume are served with ice to keep them cool. The taste of these drinks will change as the ice melts and dilutes the drink.
If you want clear ice cubes, put hot water in your ice cube trays and pop them into the freezer. You can add fruit, flowers or herbs to the ice cube tray for decorative ice cubes.
Simple Syrup Recipe
One of the building blocks of a good cocktail is the simple syrup. This is really just water and sugar, but you can flavour it by adding juice, flavourings or by steeping teas, flowers, herbs or fruit in the hot water, straining it and using the flavoured water in your syrup. Here’s a basic recipe:
2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Water
In a small pot over a medium heat, stir water and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved. Heat gently for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Lavender Simple Syrup Recipe
1 cup water
3 tbsp dried lavender
2 cups sugar
In a small pot, bring the water and dried lavender to a boil. Add sugar and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to stand for 1 hour. Use a sieve to strain out the lavender blooms and discard. Bottle syrup and refrigerate. Keeps in the fridge for 4 weeks or you can freeze it for longer storage.
The syrup will be amber in colour. Add some purple food colouring or beet powder to get the dazzling purple colour that will make your cocktails pop.
Only use plants that have not been sprayed with any harmful chemicals.
Is your simple syrup crystalizing? Adding a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice to the water before boiling will prevent crystallization.