Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Cocktailing for beginners Pt 1

A few people have asked me about getting started making cocktails, so here is a quick multi-part guide to getting going.

Equipment:- You don't really need anything. A cocktail shaker will make life easier later on but for now we can improvise.

Our first cocktail
The dry Martini.
Easy to make, tricky to perfect. Whole books have been written about the Martini, there is a whole lot of lore around it & it has a place in popular culture.

What you need
Vermouth (dry)
Garnish (lemon peel, olives, onions)

Ice :- all cocktails need ice, you'll probably find it easier to buy a bag of ice from a supermarket or similar. The most important thing is to have more ice than you think you'll need.

Gin:- Choose a good gin. Whilst its true cocktails in the prohibition era were made to disguise the awful home brewed spirits that's not the case any more. If you wouldn't drink it neat then don't put it in a cocktail. So which gin ? It's pretty much down to personal preference, but if you aren't sure get a half bottle of a recognized brand. (I tend to go for some of the big hitters, Bombay Sapphire, Tanquery et al).

Vermouth :- Get dry vermouth, Noilly prat is readily available and a good dry. In general French vermouths are dry and Italian ones sweeter. Some of the supermarket own label vermouths are fine for their price, again as with gin the quality is better.

If you have a shaker take off the top & put to one side, fill the tin with ice. If you don't have a shaker then a measuring jug will do just fine.
There is an awful lot of talk about making very dry Martinis using ever decreasing amounts of vermouth, but to start with we'll make something about standard. Normally I use proportions when giving cocktail recipes as that means you can match it to the number of drinks you are making, the size of your glasses and any other factors. In a dry Martini its 1 part (pt or p) of vermouth to 5 parts gin.

Measure it, or do it by eye, again what ever you are most comfortable with. Put the vermouth in first and then add the gin. Stir briskly for about 20-30s, the aim is to chill the drink & mix it, some of the ice will melt, taking the raw edge of the alcohol(*).
If you are using a shaker, put the strainer part of the lid back on, if you are using a jug a sieve or tea strainer will make pouring easier, but again you can improvise with a lid or a spoon. Pour into glasses (traditionally a v-shaped cocktail glass, but any glass with a wide rim will do) keeping the ice in the mixing vessel.
Time to garnish, the garnish adds to a Martini (and most other cocktails) you can use olives (green or black) or lemon peel to give a Martini or cocktail onions to make a Gibson. Drink it before it gets too warm (but don't just knock it back, you've spent some time making the drink, spend some enjoying it).

Try adjusting the proportions, the different garnishes, adding a bit more of the pickle juice or olive brine (this makes your Martini "dirty") until you get the taste you like.

Next week we'll add another ingredient to our drinks cabinet and see what options that gives us.

(*) There are lots of thoughts about the role of ice in mixing drinks, over the coming weeks I'll touch on theory & equipment, usually down here in the footnotes

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