The contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. How to pronounce ‘tomato’. Life on Mars. These are much-debated topics – and alongside them is the origin of the term ‘cocktail’.
One of my favourite explanations roots the word in Kentucky. Not for its whisky heritage, but its equestrian connections. It’s said that the Old Fashioned was invented at the famous Pendennis Club in Louisville, where the word ‘cocktail’ came from the practice of cutting short the tail of a horse that was not pure-bred. Ergo, a cocktail was a mixture of different ingredients.
Yet sometimes a mixed breed is more effective than a thoroughbred, especially if you’re looking for power over purity.
Today there is a well-rehearsed canon of classic cocktails, most of them building on the same simple formula: 2 parts alcohol, 1 part sour, and 1 part sweet. The sour usually comes from citrus fruit, with the sweetness coming from sugar or syrup. Using this formula, it is easy to find what you need in your larder or store cupboard.
Great drinks can also be achieved with simple dilution. Take for example Bertie Wooster’s ‘nightly whisky-and-soda’, placed by Jeeves at his elbow; or indeed the classic tipple for four in the afternoon, a Gin and Tonic. For those of us without a Jeeves, what can be whipped up from the pantry when the four o’clock thirst arrives? Here is a selection of my top tipples from ingredients you’re bound to have at hand.
This classic prohibition cocktail is a simple mix of gin, honey and lemon juice using the golden ratio of 2:1:1. Put 25ml of rich, runny honey and an equal amount of lemon juice into a cocktail shaker with a touch of hot water to help the honey dissolve. Shake heartily before adding 50ml of gin and a handful of ice. Shake again, and strain into a coup.
Often cited as the perfect cocktail for weekend brunch, this is a simple twist on the regular martini, taking 50ml of vodka, two teaspoons of sugar and two heaped teaspoons of good quality marmalade. Add all this into a shaker, with a splash of water and some ice, and give it a long, hard shake. Once you think you’ve finished shaking, go again – his really needs to mix down as much as possible. Then strain and serve into a martini glass.
Maple Syrup Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is one of the easiest drinks to make, and as a ‘built’ cocktail is even mixed in the glass. For the maple syrup version, simply add a teaspoon of maple syrup into a tumbler or Old Fashioned glass, with 30ml of bourbon whiskey (rye whiskey if possible). Add a couple of blocks of ice and start to stir. As the ice dilutes, add a couple more blocks and keep stirring. Then add a few dashes of Angostura bitters, and stir some more. Taste for dilution levels (not too weak, not too sweet) and add more ice if needed. Serve with a wedge of orange and a cocktail cherry.
Almost a dessert more than a drink, the classic recipe calls for two parts brandy, 1 part cream and 1 part creme de cacao. However, if you’re lacking in creme de cacao, you can use an Irish cream liqueur, or, if you’re really going DIY, a couple of tablespoons of chocolate powder in this works a treat. Shake up with ice, strain and serve.