When I was growing up, the word ‘cocktail’ didn’t have the allure that it has today. It conjured up images of lurid sugary concoctions bristling with sparklers and little paper umbrellas – holiday drinks. Even specialist bartenders would be more interested in pretending to be Tom Cruise in Cocktail than learning the basics of how to mix a good drink. Beware of a bar where the staff are having more fun than the customers.
It took me a long time to discover that cocktails should be simple. They are about quality, not quantity. Ingredients should be few – some of the greatest cocktails have only three components – and they should be of the best quality you can find. You don’t need a lot of elaborate equipment or obscure bottles, and you don’t need to know how to juggle. But nor is it simply a matter of throwing things together, thinking you’re being creative. Cocktail making is as much a science as an art. Relying as it does on exact measurements, ratios and temperatures, it bears more resemblance to baking than ordinary cooking.
The cocktails I’ve picked are a nice mix of the simple (the Americano), the elaborate, (the Mai Tai), and a modern classic, the Bramble (but you need to hurry – blackberries are almost over). None of these drinks requires special techniques or hard-to-find ingredients, but it’s worth following the recipe as exactly as possible. Once you’ve mastered the basics, then you can get creative. And above all else, don’t stint on the ice.
This cocktail gets the James Bond seal of approval. It crops up in Ian Fleming’s short story ‘From a View to a Kill’, where Bond recommends drinking it in hot weather when one of his more usual drinks (like a Vodka Martini) would be too strong. The Americano was previously known as a Milano-Torino, after the homes of its two principal ingredients, Campari and Martini Rosso vermouth. It was originally served at the Milan bar belonging to Gaspare Campari, the creator of Campari. Campari was just one of many bitter herbal liqueurs, or amari, that were made in Italy at the time. With his genius for marketing, Gaspare’s son, Davide, turned his father’s creation into an international brand. The Milano-Torino proved so popular with American tourists who flocked to Italy in the 1920s that it became known as the Americano. It’s a great drink for when you really want a Negroni but have to do your tax return or bump off a Smersh agent in the afternoon.
- ICE CUBES
- 1 MEASURE CAMPARI
- 1 MEASURE SWEET VERMOUTH
- SODA WATER, TO TOP UP
- ORANGE SLICE, TO GARNISH
Fill a highball glass with cubed ice, add the Campari and sweet vermouth, stir and top with soda water. Garnish with an orange slice.
The Mai Tai was invented by Trader Vic, aka Victor Jules Bergeron Jr, at the very first Trader Vic restaurant in Oakland, California, which opened in 1934. The cocktail followed ten years later and, according to Vic, the name comes from a Tahitian word for ‘out of this world’. The original recipe calls for a Jamaican rum called J. Wray & Nephew 17-year-old. The problem is that this rum is no longer made. In 2007, an original bottle sold at auction for £26,000 (about $33,500)! Let’s hope the purchaser immediately tried to make an authentic Mai Tai with it. The great challenge for tiki aficionados is to try to recreate the taste of this legendary rum – which, of course, none of them has ever tasted. In 2017 French-owned rum house Plantation produced a limited-edition bottling called The Collector, made from old rums from Jamaica’s Long Pond Distillery and blended to taste like J. Wray & Nephew’s legendary 17-year-old. Only 999 bottles were filled and they’re almost as hard to get hold of as the original. So for this recipe, we’ve called for a golden rum and a little Navy to give flavour, but using top-quality Jamaican stuff from Plantation or Appleton Estate will make your Mai Tai truly taste out of this world.
- ICE CUBES
- CRUSHED ICE
- 2 MEASURES GOLDEN RUM
- ½ MEASURE ORANGE CURAÇAO
- ½ MEASURE ORGEAT SYRUP
- 2 TABLESPOONS FRESH LIME JUICE
- 2 TEASPOONS WOOD’S NAVY RUM
- LIME SPIRAL AND MINT SPRIG, TO GARNISH
Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes and put some crushed ice into a rocks glass. Add the golden rum, curaçao, orgeat syrup and lime juice to the shaker and shake until a frost forms on the outside. Strain over the ice in the glass. Float the Navy Rum on top (see page 94). Garnish with a lime spiral and a mint sprig.
Fill an old-fashioned glass with cubed ice, and add all the ingredients. Stir for 10 seconds, then garnish with a orange twist.
Dick Bradsell was bartender to the stars in 1980s and ’90s London. He worked at joints like the Atlantic Bar, Zanzibar and Soho Brasserie. Bradsell pioneered a return to cocktails made from scratch with fresh ingredients when everyone else was making violently coloured concoctions with syrups. Bradsell put London on the cocktail map. Sadly, he died in 2016, aged just 56, but he left behind an incredible legacy, and at least two stone-cold classic inventions: the Espresso Martini and the Bramble. The Bramble was inspired by Bradsell’s childhood summers spent hunting for blackberries. It’s very simple to make. The only difficulty is that you must use crushed ice. In place of blackberry liqueur you could use Chambord (raspberry), crème de cassis (blackcurrant) or even, according to the man himself, Ribena.
- CRUSHED ICE
- 2 MEASURES GIN
- 1 MEASURE FRESH LEMON JUICE
- ½ MEASURE SUGAR SYRUP
- ½ MEASURE CRÈME DE MÛRE (BLACKBERRY LIQUEUR)
- BLACKBERRY AND LEMON WEDGE, TO GARNISH
Fill an old-fashioned glass with crushed ice, packing it in tightly. Add the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup and stir. Slowly drizzle the crème de mûre on top, so that it ‘bleeds’ down into the drink. Top with more crushed ice and garnish with a blackberry and a lemon wedge.
The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Z of cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley, 03/09/2020, £15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk