It’s been a while since the ’50s, when cocktails were shaken, stirred and sipped in bars and lounges on a nightly basis. But, happily, cocktails are making a comeback and are being styled by mixologists around the country into delicious works of art.
A mixed drink lends a celebratory air when catching up with friends and that’s a great reason to try your hand at some homemade versions. In fact, spring is the perfect time to style your own ‘bar’ at home. Stock a tray on your benchtop or a trolley in the living room with bottles of various shapes, sizes and colours, classy glassware, a shaker and accoutrement. With it all set up and a tip or two from our expert, you can create gorgeous cocktails for your next dinner party or barbecue.
"Cocktails are very popular at the moment and bars all over the world are doing really interesting and different things,” says Katie Cramphorn, bar manager and mixologist at Coley & Punch whisky and cocktail bar on Auckland’s Princes Wharf. The 32-year-old launched her bartending career in Melbourne eight years ago, after learning how to make a few key cocktails: "I remember waking up after a very long, busy shift and I had to go straight back into work and do it all over again – all I could think was, ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life’.”
The current trend in cocktails is a return to classic concoctions like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned, says Katie. And, as long as you put quality spirits and mixes at the forefront, she says, you can keep your home bartending as easy or as intricate as you like. To shake, muddle and stir this season, follow Katie’s eight top tips:
- Spring flavours
"Keep things fresh and light for spring and summer – think cucumber, celery, mint and kiwi,” says Katie. "Serve tall drinks over ice with a touch of soda or give a drink a little lift with Champagne. If you want to keep things simple, go for an Americano, which uses Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water. It’s very refreshing, easy to put together and low in alcohol. If you are a gin and tonic fan, jazz it up with a touch of elderflower, mint and cucumber.”
2. In the spirit
"Come spring, everyone thinks of gin, vodka and aperitifs such as Campari and Aperol, but there’s nothing wrong with using whisky or rum in the warmer months,” says Katie. "A great summer drink is the classic Mint Julep; a cool, refreshing bourbon-based cocktail which is easy to make at home. All you need is some bourbon, sugar, fresh mint and crushed ice. The Mojito is another well-known rum-based drink and contains fresh lime, sugar syrup, fresh mint and a healthy dose of rum. It’s a very versatile drink that you can put your own spin on at home by adding complementary flavours such as raspberries, passionfruit, kiwifruit and apple.” Your own twist will make it a much more interesting drink, says Katie, who gives hers a personal touch with quality bourbon, fresh apple and vanilla sugar.
3. Keep it fresh
"Muddling fresh strawberries with sugar and citrus straight into a drink works well. In spring and summer, think mango, pineapple and berries. It’s also a great time to use herbs such as basil, coriander and thyme.” Fresh fruit juice makes a significant difference to the quality of a cocktail and a citrus juicer is a must-have for the home cocktail maker, says Katie.
4. A professional touch
To add that bartender’s touch, Katie recommends using flavours such as elderflower, lavender and chamomile. "Use an elderflower liqueur or cordial, along with some gin, citrus, cucumber and fresh basil. You can buy lavender syrup at specialty stores – it adds a nice floral edge to your drinks. I like to use chamomile in a syrup or infuse it in a bottle of gin. For infusing, I use Tanqueray No10 as it contains chamomile, one of the eight botanicals used to make this gin. Or try a well-chilled Tanqueray No10 for a martini with touch of chamomile syrup – it goes down very nicely.”
5. Get the gear
"A jigger is vital for measuring the proportions of a drink. Getting measurements wrong, even slightly, can throw the drink in a another direction.” Katie also says a tea strainer or fine strainer is key for the home bartender. "After shaking a cocktail many people only use the one strainer but it’s good to use a second fine strainer to stop all those broken shards of ice and pulp slipping into the drink.”
Make the presentation of your cocktail as over the top, understated or as elegant as you like. "I pay close attention to detail with garnishes as this is what gives guests their first impression of the drink,” says Katie. " I like to use edible flowers, fresh herbs and fresh fruit. Dehydrated fruit is becoming popular in the bar world because it looks great, but not everyone has a dehydrator at home. But, you can never go wrong with fresh.”
7. Quality spirits
Spending a little extra on quality spirits and liqueurs can make a significant difference to the outcome of your cocktail, says Katie. "I suggest not going for the less-expensive gin or rum and reading the bottle for the flavour profile to see if it suits your tastes and the flavours you want in your cocktails.”
8. Nice ice
"Good ice is often overlooked at home. An ice mould that creates large cubes to shake, stir and serve will chill your drink without diluting it too much because of the large surface area. Using smaller ice cubes can add too much water to a drink, which can result in it seeming thin in the mouth instead of having a velvety, viscous feel,” says Katie.