Grab a few essential ingredients
Armed with your latest Gin Society selection, you only need a few extra ingredients to shake up (or stir) something special. For starters, adding just a few extra bottles to your home bar will see you through many a classic cocktail recipe. Italian aperitifs like dry and sweet vermouth, Aperol and Campari are always a good call, as well as flavoured liqueurs like Chambord (raspberry), Cointreau (orange), Luxardo (cherry) and St Germain (elderflower). And if you want to keep things super simple, aromatic bitters are an easy and cost-effective way to brighten up your concoction – one bottle can last for years.
Then there’s sugar syrup – also referred to as simple syrup. It’s one of the easiest ways to sweeten and flavour a cocktail, and can be made in your own kitchen. Combine two parts sugar to one part water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Once cooled, it can be stored in a bottle in the fridge for up to a month. If you don’t have any prepared in advance, fear not. It’s also possible to substitute honey or agave nectar – even marmalade or jam for extra flavour. You could also infuse your sugar syrup with herbs like basil, mint and rosemary. And, if you have a few pots growing around the house, you’ll never be short of an aromatic garnish. As for mixers, always keep a bottle of tonic or soda water in the fridge.
Top tip: Don’t leave that orange lingering in the bottom of the fruit bowl to go mouldy. Cut up unwanted fruit – lime, lemon, grapefruit, pineapple and more – into wedges and pop the segments into a plastic bag to freeze. That way you’ll need a less ice and always be able to enjoy a burst of citrus throughout the winter months.
Assemble your cocktail kit
A few simple tools and you’ll be well on your way to taking on Tom Cruise in the DIY cocktail stakes. Get started with a wooden muddler to release the oils and juices of various ingredients, a long bar spoon to swizzle ice cubes and cool down liquids, and a Hawthorne strainer. In addition, a stainless steel jigger will come in handy when measuring out spirits and getting those ratios right.
It can be tempting to go to town with your glassware but, as many cocktails are served in the same style of glass, it’s possible to get away with just a couple of versatile vessels. Coupe glasses add a touch of old-school glamour and should be stored in the fridge for an hour or so before serving up a Manhattan or a Martini. Next, an elegant Old Fashioned glass (also known as a rocks glass or lowball) channels Mad Men-era cool and is perfectly suited to a Negroni or a Martinez.
Then think about what you already have in your cupboard. Most tall glasses that you’d normally use for water or soft drinks can double up as Collins glasses, which are ideal for long cocktails like a Gin Fizz or Singapore Sling. In addition, large red wine glasses can release the aromatic botanicals of a G&T without the need for a Spanish-style Copa or balloon glass.
Top tip: You can always improvise if you don’t have a cocktail shaker – you just need a bottle with a cap that has a large enough opening to add ice and ingredients such as fruit and herbs.
Master some classic recipes
Stanley Tucci threatened to break the internet when his cocktail masterclass went viral – but purists were quick to point out that a Negroni is stirred in the glass, not shaken. Secure your social media stardom by perfecting a few iconic drops.
Let’s start with that Negroni, which is made with equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari. Measure and pour the ingredients into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice and garnish with a wedge of orange. A simple and sophisticated DIY cocktail. Speaking of which, make a Gimlet by shaking two parts gin, 1 part lime juice and 1 part sugar syrup over ice before straining, or create a fizzy French 75 by pouring 10mL gin, 10mL orange liqueur, 10mL lemon juice and 5mL simple syrup into a coupe glass and top up with chilled prosecco or champagne.
If you’re feeling chilly, ditch the mulled wine in favour of a G&T hot toddy. Combine a generous amount of cloudy apple juice in a saucepan with a cinnamon stick, vanilla pod (sliced down the middle) and a teaspoon each of star anise, cloves and cardamom pods. Heat the mixture until just before boiling, then ladle into mugs and add 50mL gin per serving. Guaranteed to keep the winter blues at bay.