Thanks to television shows and movies, cocktails have made a big revival in the past few years. The last big cocktail phase was during the fifties and sixties when every fashionable hotel had a cocktail bar with lots of starched collars, crisp white uniforms and bow ties. In 2009 the typical uniform for a cocktail barman seems to be black, although usually with the addition of a very flashy tie. The use of the word cocktail dates back to 1806 in New York so they have been around a long time, yet many have stood the test of time and have the same ingredients today as they had 100 years ago. A typical cocktail contains about 30-40 per cent high strength alcohol with the remainder being flavourings of one kind or another.
Cocktails are pretty expensive so the possibility of making them at home should appeal to many, especially those who want to have a session during the recession. The downside of having cocktails at home is that you will miss the pzazz and glitter which is the backdrop in most cocktail bars, and of course the theatre of watching a really good mixologist do his thing. The most expensive cocktail I have seen on an Irish cocktail list is £500 in The Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast. The reason for the high price is the use of a very rare and very old rum base. Apparently a local lottery winner ordered 10 of them one night for a cool £5,000.
There are no mysteries to making a cocktail; the only tools you really need are a cocktail shaker and a spirit measure. The addition of correct shaped glasses is worth the few euro though not absolutely essential to the taste, and of course lots of ice. There are several pre-mixed bottles of cocktails where you just add ice and perhaps lemon, lime, or mint, but these are for the lazy barman and not as good as those you mix yourself. I am assuming that you have one or two favourite cocktails already as if not it is hard to know where to start. It will also be difficult for you to know what final taste you are aiming for. If you are trying to recreate the taste of a cocktail you experienced while on holidays in the sun, remember nothing ever replaces that total experience: An exotic location, sun, company, and cocktail.
Every cocktail has a base spirit, eg, vodka, rum, gin, brandy, whiskey, etc. It has some sugar syrup or some lime or lemon juice, some fruit juice, liqueurs, or bitters. If making them at home try using fresh juice and I think you will agree it is a big improvement over the processed juices. As there are thousands and thousands of cocktails out there I recommend a book called Professional Bartending by Adam W Freeth. I found it in Dubray Books in Shop Street. As a starter why not try a really simple and delicious cocktail called a Screwdriver. Put a shot of vodka and 4oz of fresh orange juice into a cocktail shaker plus a load of ice cubes. Shake really, really, well and pour it into a tall glass filled with ice (and a maraschino cherry as optional ). To convert this into a Harvey Wall Banger, just float a half measure of Galliano liqueur on top. Add a wheel of sliced fresh orange and a wide straw. I would also recommend you have your cocktail glasses in the fridge a while before serving, to give it an extra cool feel.
I had my first Harvey Wall Banger in 1976 while sitting on the terrace of a steak house in Puerto Rico while staring out of an electric storm over the Caribbean — every time I have had one since I can recreate that moment in my head. That’s what a first cocktail can do for you.
The ‘in’ cocktails now are Cosmopolitan, Mojito, and Sex on the Beach. However, why not start off by choosing your favourite spirit and work up from there? If you like rum add orange, if you don’t like that try rum and pineapple, if that seems good add a little Malibu, for example. Don’t worry if you don’t like something, just toss it away and start again. Once you have perfected your own favourite cocktail you can then start to match your accomplishments against some of our local cocktail making emporia, the most glamorous being the cocktail bar at the g where all of the above cocktails plus many more are available. My own favourite is a Brandy Alexander served after dinner.
As always if you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me on [email protected]