Here's a little cocktailing secret. The easiest thing about mixing drinks is making the drinks themselves. Anyone can do that. If you learn a few techniques and ratios and get to know your ingredients, there ceases to be much mystery to it.
Where it gets hard is knowing what to make for any given person at any given time. Some people like gin, some people like sweet things, some people had a terrible tequila-related trauma in their teens and are still sore about it. So if you want to delight your guests with cocktails, you need to become quite good at guessing who will appreciate what, when.
Still, if you remember the best cocktail you ever had, it probably had very little to do with how deftly it was stirred - or how pretentious your mixologist was. It was much more to do with how well it matched the company, the moment, the mood. Pay attention to these things and you can find something to suit even the most particular drinker. Just be sure to serve your drinks ice cold (store your glasses in the freezer so they frost up), and taste as you go.
The virtuous drinker
There's an idea among some people that vodka and soda is the "clean" way to drink. But for zero extra calories (if that's what you're worried about), you can mix it up and try a gin-based cocktail for a change. And if you're so into green living, why not throw in an actual vegetable too? Boring old celery becomes pale and interesting in this virtuous variation on the Martini.
Ten or so thin slices of celery
10ml Lillet Blanc
(or any sweet white vermouth)
Dash celery bitters (optional)
Bash the celery about in the bottom of your mixing vessel with the gin and Lillet to tease out the flavour. Add plenty of ice - enough to come well over the gin-line - and stir patiently. Strain into an ice-cold cocktail glass and garnish with a little more celery.
The directional drinker
You were serving Spritzes before anyone else (with Campari as opposed to Aperol), you consider the Pisco Sour passé and you have no words for people who order the Cosmopolitan. So what do you drink? Well, you could do a lot worse than the Brown Derby. It was the house drink of an old Hollywood hangout in the 1940s, so it's nicely vintage. It impresses bartenders, but it's also dead simple - and the fact it's made with bourbon gives it proper bite.
30ml pink grapefruit juice
10ml maple syrup
Shake all the ingredients hard with plenty of ice, and strain through a tea-strainer or sieve into an ice-cold cocktail glass. Garnish with a length of grapefruit peel, taking care not to include any of the white pith.
The prudent cocktailer
There are times when you want a cocktail to have its wicked way with you. (Legend has it that the Espresso Martini was invented when a supermodel walked into a bar and asked for something that would "wake me up then fuck me up".) But there are also times when you want to savour the moment without the after-effects. There is a lovely term for low-alcohol drinks that don't scrimp on flavour - shims - and this is one of my favourites.
30ml fino sherry
30ml peach or apricot liqueur
30ml fizzy water
Combine in a tall glass filled with ice cubes and garnish with a little fresh mint.
The wine devotee
There's a certain kind of drinker who will not be parted from her sauvignon plonk. It makes me wonder what they put in that stuff. But if she refuses to see the virtues of gin, you can always use the wine in the cocktail. Here's a patriotic update on the Aperol Spritz created by Alex Kammerling, who makes a gorgeous bittersweet ginseng apéritif called Kamm & Sons. Consider it a gateway drug.
35ml Kamm & Sons
15ml elderflower cordial
50ml sparkling wine
(English if possible)
50ml fizzy water
Stir all the ingredients over plenty of ice in a wine glass, with a slice of cucumber and a wedge of grapefruit for garnish.
The cocktail refusenik
If someone says they can't stand cocktails, they haven't tried enough cocktails. Or they've tried the wrong sort: sickly neon things with names like Blue Love Juice or Rum Herpes. Refresh the palate with an El Presidente, a Cuban classic of matchless elegance. If you use good rum, make your own grenadine syrup and don't make it too sweet, it will not fail to bring joy to the most jaded palate.
50ml light rum
(eg El Dorado 3-year-old or Havana Club 3 años)
20ml dry French vermouth (eg Noilly Prat)
To make grenadine, combine one cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and two cups of golden caster sugar in a pan. Warm on a low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. For the cocktail, stir the ingredients patiently over plenty of ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with orange peel.
My five cocktail essentials:
The most important ingredient in cocktails, aside from booze, is ICE. Fortunately, it's free! Fill any plastic containers that you own with fresh water, freeze, then hack off shards when you need. If you're throwing a party, you want half a freezer full.
The home bartender needs a good shaker, of course, but the piece of equipment I use most is my little Oxo measuring jug. It goes all the way down to tiny millilitre measurements, which is essential when you're balancing your cocktails. Available from Lakeland and other good homeware stores.
Herbs and spices are great for providing variations on classic recipes. Mint, basil and tarragon give freshness and flavour, while cinnamon, vanilla pods and cardamom add depth and mystery.
The bottle I replace most often is El Dorado 3-year-old light rum. My wife adores an El Presidente and I like to take a Daiquiri - and it cannot be bettered in both.
I've developed a passion for vintage cocktail glasses. It's worth a nose in charity shops for castaways, while eBay turns up some great finds.
by Richard Godwin (£16.99) is published by Square Peg