I love cocktails. The name of my blog may give this away… so I thought I’d show you a few recipes that I invented recently.
I love the different combinations of ingredients requisite to a good cocktail, and how they create a unique flavour that your palette puzzles over, until it is able to discern the individual components. A perfume designed for consumption. The different textures, additions of fruit, spices or herbs, different levels of flavour depending on whether you sip from the rim or mine the depths with a straw – a cocktail is an experience unlike most other alcoholic drinks. The glamour, excitement and elegance they have retained from the age of Prohibition, when their popularity boomed in the 1920s and 30s and they came to represent an era (as sweet ingredients masked the poor-quality spirits available), has also never been lost. ‘Going out for cocktails’ feels a lot more special than simply meeting someone for ‘a drink’.
Traditional or vintage cocktail recipes can transport your imagination back in time to the hotel bar that invented them, or the circle of writers and artists that drank them. Just as much fun, however, is inventing your own! My father has always made his own drinks, and is keen on experimenting himself. Is this an Australian thing, or just a dad thing? I grew up tiptoeing around vats of beer, ale, cider, mead, alcoholic ginger beer, and elderflower wine, to name the more successful projects. I remember once Dad made me show him my favourite climbing tree, a huge, twisted lime tree in the jungle near our house on Nauru. I was about six, and we spent hours collecting buckets of limes to turn into homemade limeade. It tasted wonderful. He managed to bottle the experience of scrabbling up into the tree’s canopy, then stretching out along branches that swayed gently in the breeze, surrounded by small, dark leaves and bright green baubles.
The scent of fresh lime still transports me back to that tree. My experiments are less ambitious than my father’s, mixology being my focus rather than alchemy (out of laziness and impatience), but I’ve still inherited his interest in creating something you can actually consume and enjoy. I also share my parents’ penchant for flavours and ingredients you could find in a hedgerow, or walking through the countryside; particularly the more unusual. I invited a few of my best
guinea pigs friends round to test them out. Four of the best below:
1) The Lovejoy
- Homemade Cider
You want to know what Lovage is don’t you (I’m glad you asked). Lovage is an alcoholic cordial, made primarily from the eponymous herb (which looks like a massive weed, but apparently is good for you). It’s distilled in Devon from local herbs and spices, and is traditionally drunk with brandy, but I thought I’d try something different with it. It does smell a bit unusual, but it tastes like sugary fennel – simultaneously sweet and herby. It works well with very dry cider as otherwise the flavour is hidden (we tried it with ginger ale and couldn’t taste the Lovage at all) so I purloined a couple of bottles of Dad’s super-dry home-made cider. The blackberries enhance this cocktail’s autumnal feel, and of course taste delicious.
Lovejoy ingredients (mint masquerading as lovage, but you get the idea)
2) Midsummer Night’s Dram
- Quince liqueur
- Fresh fig
- Fresh mint leaves
To be honest the champagne and quince liqueur work perfectly in combination, without needing further additions, but the mint and fig make it a bit more exciting! Quince – just in case you haven’t encountered them before – are a bit like bright gold, hard, squat, lumpy pears (and, er, more appealing than they sound). Their cultivation also preceded that of the apple, so old references to apples may actually be inciting the humble quince. They’re usually roasted, baked or stewed, or turned into jams and jellies, but they also work perfectly as a liqueur. I muddled it with torn mint leaves, mixed both with ice in a cocktail shaker, then poured into glass flutes and topped them up with champagne. A quarter of a fig secured to the rim was the finishing touch.
Midsummer Night’s Dram ingredients
Katya, Katy and I drinking Midsummer Night’s Drams
3) Cider With Rosie
- Wild rosehip syrup
- Hot cider
I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for the rosehip syrup, found here. Rosehips always remind me of foraging in the countryside when I was growing up. They glow like rubies above prickly hedges, and picking them always felt like gathering treasure. I’d gather bucketfuls, dry them out in my parents’ airing cupboard, and Katy and I would feed them to my pony throughout the winter. They’re packed with vitamins and health, particularly vitamin C, and taste like a cross between plums, tart apples and rose petals. I made the syrup at my parents’ house last weekend (and also picked up a couple of bottles of Dad’s home-made cider). I heated the latter gently in a saucepan with cinnamon sticks and cloves. This cocktail was certainly the most fun to drink -the perfect thing to drink around an autumn bonfire!
Cider With Rosie ingredients
4) Damson’s Creek
- Damson Gin
- Sloe Gin
- Elderflower Cordial
- Juice from a fresh lime
I was able to use a cocktail shaker filled with ice to mix all the ingredients together in this one, as it didn’t include anything that needed to retain fizz, and it really made a difference. Sweet, sharp, floral and chilled, and very strong! Damsons are slightly larger, egg-shaped, sweet sloes (the latter of which will make your mouth shrivel up if tasted in their natural form), though are otherwise identical to their sloe-gin-cousins. Of all the cocktails, this one had an edge in terms of flavour, and tasted the most like something you’d actually buy in a bar. It didn’t quite beat the Cider With Rosie though, which was a clear favourite.
Damson’s Creek ingredients
Katya and I drinking Damson’s Creeks
Let me know if you try any of the recipes, and if you have a favourite!
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