Hosting a classic cocktail soiree is a fantastic way to gather friends together for a fun evening of drinks and chat.
Just like a great DIY wine-tasting session, a varied evening of delicious cocktails always feels a tad more structured and sophisticated than your average hangout over a couple of cans of supermarket lager, but it needn’t cost the earth to do it right.
Cocktail-mixing is also brilliant for learning more about how the flavours and characteristics of basic spirits can be developed, brightened or subdued by adding them to other combinations of ingredients in varying measures.
Best of all, putting together a small but perfectly formed bar that touches on all the key spirit groups acts as a great introduction to the wonderful world of mixology – there’s no better way to learn than by doing.
If you’re hosting a larger gathering, you can of course ask everyone to bring a bottle with them, which is ideal for helping to keep costs down. If you opt to provide the bar yourself, however, think of it as an investment for the future; after all, well-stocked spirits cupboard is seldom a burden!
Either way, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got all your basic spirit groups covered, so if you’re inviting people to supply bottles then try to make sure you’ve arranged for different people to bring specific types.
You might be surprised at the vast range of cocktails you can make with just a small but smartly chosen ingredients bar. In fact, online food magazine The Kitchn notes that you can create a ‘small yet mighty’ home bar with just nine bottles, namely:
Dry Gin – not just for the classic G&Ts; check out a list of fabulous gin concoctions for an idea of just how versatile this sophisticated staple can be!
Rye Whisky (or Bourbon) – great for creating slightly heavier-hitting ‘sipper’ cocktails later in the evening; it can be made into both sweet and sour drinks with ease
White Rum – pairs wonderfully with most fruit-based mixers, as it supports sweet, bitter and spicy notes equally well
Sweet Vermouth – vermouths are fortified wines with a faintly herbal note; sweet versions are what give the classic Manhattan its characteristic note of subtle complexity
Dry Vermouth – a less sweet version, most often associated with Martinis; different brands will offer varying levels of herbaceous complexity, so decide on whether you’d prefer a cleaner-tasting ‘basic’ version, or one that offers slightly more complex and interesting flavours
Maraschino Liqueur – syrupy and seductive, perfect for adding note of rich dark fruitiness that can be very useful in weightier mixes; the characteristic flavour derives from a combination of cherries, ground pits (giving it an almond-like hint) and honeyed sweetness
Orange Liqueur – similar uses to the above, but with a brighter citrus sweetness
Aromatic Bitters and Orange Bitters – think of your highly concentrated, intensely flavoured bitters as ‘the spice rack of the cocktail world’, and use in small dashes to add complexity
Mixers are what really give you free reign to explore a huge array of flavour profiles, but it’s important to remember that not all combinations of spirits and lengtheners work well together. That’s not a problem if you shop smart, though – once again, you can achieve a surprisingly high degree of flexibility with just a few staple classics. Your shopping list should include:
Tonic water – most people will opt for a diet version if there’s one going, as ‘full-fat’ tonic waters actually contain quite a lot of sugar, despite the slight bitterness that comes from its all-important quinine content
Soda water – any sort of carbonated water will do here; it’s simply for lengthening and diluting drinks that seem overly strong in flavour (or booze content!)
Ginger beer – this pairs wonderfully with darker or richer spirits like whisky and rum; ginger ale will do in a pinch, but it’s more cloying and less satisfyingly fiery than cloudy fermented ‘beer’ versions
Fruit fizzes – always lemonade (ideally the cloudy type with more citrus flavour), then one or two others (perhaps orange, elderflower and/or lime) if your guests are especially into their sweeter mixes
Apple juice – again, ideally the cloudier, more natural-tasting varieties
At least one cordial – useful for adding a flavour hit without watering down spirits too much; if you’re only getting one, we’d suggest the ever-versatile lime
Finally, your choice of glassware, bar tools, garnishes and other extras is also important. Think of the following as your key ‘bar back’ bits and pieces, and you’ll have pretty much everything you could need on hand for crafting your myriad delicious combinations:
A couple of different glass types – tumblers, highballs and wine bowls, at the very least; the classic Martini glass is also a nice option to have
Cocktail shaker with strainer
A long ‘muddling’ spoon – look for one with a flattened disc at the handle end, which is useful for crushing (many dedicated cocktails spoons will have this)
A jigger or spirits measure – ideally with a couple of different volume options
Corkscrew with bottle opener
Sugar syrup – make this ahead of time by mixing equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan over a low heat, bringing to the boil and stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. After a couple of minutes at a light boil, reduce the heat and continue to stir until the mixture has slightly thickened, before leaving it to cool completely and storing it in the fridge
Fruits and leaves – include fresh mint, raspberries, lemons and limes, as well as a sharp knife for slicing (and a zester if you want to get really fancy)
Ice – ideally have both cubed and crushed ice in stock, and always more than you think you’ll need
If you’ve got all of the above assembled, then congratulations – you’re rocking one fine little home bar that will punch well above its fairly meagre weight in terms of drink-slinging flexibility!
Article provided by Plato Catering Hire.