I adore cocktails for many reasons, one of which is that, served as a precursor to an elegant meal, it lends an air of glamour, even if you can’t cook!
If you can make a mean cocktail, it will make you save face for eternity. It then goes without saying that you have to be prepared with all you need to have on hand to prevent self sabotage. You have no-one to blame if you are unprepared, and then end up with a sub-par flop of a drink, neither you or anyone else wants to ingest.
Anyways, just because I like to geek out on the things I like, I’ve very briefly listed a few geeky but interesting facts about cocktails and the history behind them.
Cocktails are “mixed drinks consisting of one or more spirits, together with a multitude of different flavorings such as fruit, herbs or spices, liquors, or juices”. Not only do they look good, they also usually taste divine.
There is no cemented method in making a cocktail, even though Ian Fleming’s debatable James Bond catchphrase has been immortalised in “Shaken, not stirred”.
You can make your cocktails however you prefer, whether chilled, shaken or stirred, with or without ice- with one caveat being that they are served in specific glasses and ideally should be enjoyed slowly
The History of the Cocktail
There is a lot of history surrounding the cocktail.
The post I did on easy homemade cocktails would no doubt offend most mixologists, as mixing up a few spirits doesn’t a cocktail make! If they are still downing the teachings of Jerry Thomas (aka Prof Thomas) I may yet be hung drawn and quartered.
If you really want to know about cocktails, read this book – which is an incredibly comprehensive encyclopedia to tastefully experiment with.
Although it appears the cocktail is an American invention, it was actually inspired by the British punch-houses of the 18th century and perhaps named well before, as the term was printed in a British newspaper as early as 1798. Otherwise, there seem to be a plethora of purported inspirations including coquetier – the French egg cup in which mixed drinks were poured from in a 19th century New Orleans bar.
It is assumed that cocktails became quite popular because the alcohol content was significantly higher in those days– as much as 135% proof, which of course then needed to be diluted in order to be remotely palatable. Different regions then continued to develop cocktails to their own recipes with rum punches becoming extremely popular in the Caribbean. This is because rum is the preferred spirit that is widely available.
I adore rum punches as it is one failsafe cocktail. You simply CANNOT mess up a rum punch.
Although nowadays the word cocktail is a blanket term for a wide variety of mixed drinks, it was originally confined to a small group of drinks described as “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters”
Cocktails really took off during the second half of the 19th century, but almost ground to a halt in the USA due to a prohibition lobby in 1920 which basically made alcohol illegal. This subsequently sent it underground whilst at the same time fuelling the black market as the demand remained significantly high.
On the other hand, whilst Prohibition was in full swing in America, cocktail drinking continued to flourish in Europe. The liberated rich continually regularly enjoyed cocktails as pre-lunch appetizers and continued to indulge in ritzy cocktail parties.
With the end of Prohibition in the USA, Hollywood filmmakers proceeded to glamourize the cocktail as a mark of sophistication. That is until of course the introduction of the “Happy Hour” in the early 1980s.
The young were no longer interested in the genteel cocktail but instead fuelled by the quick throat-burning gratification of nouveau drinks such as Liquid Cocaine, and Brain Hemorrhage.
Thank goodness for the film Cocktail, which resoundingly brought the classics back to the forefront, so now we can focus on stocking our home bars and transporting ourselves back to a time of elegance and glamour
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ESSENTIAL HOME BAR BASICS
It goes without saying that a home bar cannot be functional without the essential equipment which is vital for any cocktail or dinner party. It is absolutely extremely important to ensure all equipment is cleaned in between cocktails to avoid a disaster. I know, I’ve experienced the tragedy of tasting Tia Maria in an Aviator – abominable.
You may need to strain your cocktail, and having a proper strainer not only looks stylish, but is also practical as some drinks require double straining.
Sharp knife and chopping board for cutting up fruit and garnishes.
Long Spiralled Handled Bar Spoon – not only for muddling and stirring but for floating liquors to create layered drinks.
Tongs or Ice Scooper
Ice Crusher (only if you regularly have cocktail parties)- otherwise a wooden rolling pin will suffice
Choose between a Boston (has no integral strainer and may have one half made of glass with measurements etched in) and a European which has an integrated strainer.
The success of a cocktail depends on the balance of flavours. A measure helps to gauge this.
To serve up a glamour party, you need to put the effort in getting the right glasses as this alone can make or break your party regardless of how genius a mixologist you are.
Cocktails are usually grouped to make things easy.
Long stemmed cocktail glasses are ideal for the classics with are mostly either shaken or stirred with ice, then strained eg. The Manhattan.
Highball glasses are ideal for long drinks which are commonly made with spirits mixed with fruit juices over ice.
Champagne flutes are ideal for cocktails made with sparkling wine.
Lowball glasses are typically used for short drinks containing one or two spirits with only a small amount of mixer for sipping slowly.
Shot glasses- well, if you are a fan of knocking your drinks back in one go with a single spirit then these are a must have.
To make your drinks pop, go all out with embellishments such as colored straws, umbrellas, metal cocktail sticks or twizzle sticks.
This depends on what you will be making and when, and should be tailored accordingly to keep the bar minimalistic. If you are having a party, then go all out, but it would be best to have a basic selection and add as you go along.
Flavourings and Garnishes
Lemons, limes, oranges, olives and cocktail cherries are MUST HAVES.
Keep your fruit bowl stocked with bananas, strawberries apples, and pineapples and have mint in the fridge.
I constantly mess up cocktails by substituting- I suggest you do not. Stick to the recipe.
Have plenty to hand as ice is usually integral to a good cocktail. The more ice you have on hand, the longer your drinks stay chilled. It took me a while to understand this paradox- ice doesn’t dilute the drink- so put in as much as possible.
Common Spirits- Rum, Whisky, Gin, Vodka, Dry and Sweet Vermouth, Champagne, Brandy and Tequila.
Mixer Drinks – Lemonade, Cranberry Juice, Pineapple Juice, Cola, Soda Water, Tonic Water and Ginger Ale.
Common Miscellaneous Cocktail Ingredients
Coconut Milk, Sugar Syrup, Tabasco Sauce, Eggs, Cocoa, Cream
So, Dear Sybarites, there you have it!
The ultimate list of must-haves to stock your home bar to make the ultimate cocktails for your next party!
Leave me a comment on what are your ride or die basics for your home-bar. I’m always forgetting something significant at the store.
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