Bottle bitches are Shakin' Things Up
This Bottle Bitches’ love for a tipple doesn’t just stop at the wine rack. In fact, I cut my teeth in the drinks industry with a foray into mixology many years ago, and ever since watching Tom Cruise wow the crowds of a New York bar in 1988's legendary film Cocktail, I’ve found myself captivated by the alchemy of how spirits, bitters, and mixers marry together.
Okay, so I might not be able to match Tom’s bottle juggling, but give me a muddler and a shaker and let me loose on the bar and I instantly want to experiment! So when I was asked to host the bar recently for a cocktail party, I not only dusted off my best bartending get-up (read bow-tie and sparkly waistcoat) I also reached for two of my favourite books for inspiration: The Curious Bartender by Tristan Stephenson and Good Things to Drink with Mr Lyan and Friends by Ryan Chetiyawardana to soak up some classic recipes and decide on some simple infusions for mixing.
Tip: if you're hosting a party and don’t fancy being stuck behind the bar all night, pop your infusion in canisters with handy instructions for guests to build their own drinks!
I was lucky to learn how to make cocktails from the brilliant Ryan Chetiyawardana, founder of legendary and award-winning cocktail bars White Lyan and Dandelyan at Sea Containers, amongst other pop-ups. During that time, I learned that it's not just a case of blending base spirits with mixers, but that there's a whole process to building drinks, from learning different manipulations of ice and garnishes to how the timing of adding ingredients can change aspects of how a drink tastes.
I also learnt about the wonderful world of infusions under Chetiyawardana. Infusing is a terrific technique when you're running a busy bar (or hosting a party) and need to be able to produce great-tasting cocktails with minimal effort and time. So how does it work? Infusing is a way of bathing a base spirit with fruits, herbs and spices so they taint the alcohol with another flavour which either enhances the base spirit or gives It another dimension, which thereby adds a new dimension to the final cocktail. Infusing is a really easy way to make sure you have a quick and interesting welcome drink for guests when you're hosting, and are a great way to guarantee that you always have a beautifully infused spirit in the fridge door to mix over ice and soda for an alternative to a simple gin ‘n’ tonic after work.
To make sure nobody went thirsty at the party I bartended, I created a selection of drinks specifically chosen to fulfil a variety of palate requests, from a classic London dry gin mixed with cucumber, mint, simple syrup (always make your own – its so, well, simple!) and soda known as a Southside, to a summer punch perfect for a balmy evening that was infused with rhubarb, pears, cardamom pods and cinnamon. I also served a rum I soaked in pineapple and ginger for 36 hours (that pineapple was so boozy) and served it over crushed ice and ginger beer with lots of lime. And though we started the party with very precise cocktails made exactly to recipe specifications, by the end of the night guests were mixing and matching infusions to create their one signature drinks. (Though I really can't speak to whether or not they were any good.)
And that's the beauty of cocktails! You can add a bit more of this or a little less of that and wind up with a whole new drink. By choosing a variety of spirits for a party and stocking your bar with a selection of mixers, herbs (like basil, mint and rosemary) and fruits (such as lime, grapefruit, orchard fruit and pomegranates) you'll have a variety of elements to play and be sure to please the crowd. You never know, you might muddle it all up and create the best cocktail you've ever had! Just be sure to remember to write it down...
Here's a selection of a few of our favourite cocktails from the night, complete with recipes. Mix some yourself and let us know your thoughts (or questions) in the comments!
Select a flute glass or small wine glass
Add 2 tbsp apricot brandy
Add 25ml of Fino sherry
Top with Cava
Garnish with a gently rubbed basil leaf
This recipe was taken from Good Things To Drink with Mr Lyan and Friends.
Choose a highball glass and wrap a cucumber slither around the edge
Fill with Crushed ice
Add 50ml London dry gin
Mix in 25ml lime juice and 1 tbsp. sugar syrup
Add a splash of elderflower cordial
Top with soda & garnish with mint
Note: We made a delicious non-alcoholic version of this for our non-drinkers by replacing the gin with a juniper-infused simple syrup, giving it the illusion of a gin addition.
Peach and Mint Juleps
The day before: Take a 1lt bottle or jug with a flip-top closure and fill it with 100g of light brown sugar and a bottle of good quality bourbon (you're going to be drinking this almost neat, so quality is key! We used Bulleit Bourbon.)
In an oven, cook 2 peaches wrapped in foil for 20 minutes at 150c to warm. Allow to cool before slicing the peaches into pieces and adding them to the bourbon.
Take a bunch of mint and wash gently. Wrap a piece of string around the stems and suspend into the liquid so that it's submerged.
Place in the fridge until needed
On the day of drinking: Remove the mint from the bottle.
Take a cocktail shaker and fill with ice and 50ml of the infused bourbon and stir.
Fill a small tumbler with crushed ice and strain over the bourbon
Garnish with a bunch of fresh mint.
Note: If the drinker finds this drink too strong, throw it in their face!
Just kidding! Simply add a dash of soda or peach juice to taste.
Okay, so this was one of those moments where it may have been wise to write down what our thought process was behind this drink. But a case of ‘hmm maybe a little bit of this and a little bit more of that’ led to a delicious concoction made specially for Caro’s palate.
And it went a little bit like this...
Take a highball glass and fill it with ice
In a cocktail shaker, add 2 tbsp of fresh pomegranate seeds and a few basil leaves and muddle with the end of a bartender spoon till mixed
Add 50ml of London dry gin to the shaker and stir
Strain into the highball glass and add 2 tbsp of apricot brandy to the glass and stir
Brush a sprig of rosemary between your palm to release the aromatics and slide into the glass
Top with a mix of pomegranate juice and soda and garnish with more fresh pomegranate seeds