DRINKING COCKTAILS can be risky. Eddie Clarke, who was the first President of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild, and won the World Cocktail Championship on three occasions, said there were over 8,000 different recipes. That was back in the 60s, so heaven knows how many there are now. He also said that about two thirds of them were probably unfit for human consumption, but could probably clear blocked drains. And there lies the risk ….
By definition, a cocktail is a mixed drink, and back in the 30s, when cocktail bars were very fashionable, beer wasn’t sold in any of them. They sold only spirits, brandies, fortified wines, wines, liqueurs, vermouths, bitters, and non-alcoholic drinks.
In Portugal, last year, they held a competition to find the best cocktail shaker of the year. These shakers would have been better employed as jugglers in a circus. The shaker went over the arm, under it, behind the back, between the legs, and high in the air. Frequent ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ were heard, but what it had to do with making cocktails is a mystery. The shaker action should be a short, sharp, snappy movement and for no more than 15 seconds. However, for sours and noggs, the action should last around 25 seconds or more, as the ingredients will need extra mixing.
Like wine, cocktail making is not an exact science, but the art of blending drinks calls for skill, and only a heathen would take bottles at random, just because they have nice labels. There are unwritten rules such as the base for any cocktail is a good spirit. Another is that the amount of each ingredient, when added together, should total 100 per cent, dashes excluded. For example, if making a White Lady, you use one measure Gin, half measure Cointreau, half measure lemon juice, which equals 100 per cent. Be careful with liqueurs. Some will fight each other, while others will blend nicely. Citrus liqueurs are ideal companions for each other and Creme de Noyaux and Maraschino have similar flavours. But if you use Creme de Cacao, Drambuie, and Creme de Menthe in one cocktail, then cancel all appointments for the next few days. Cocktails shouldn’t contain more than 25 per cent of liqueur as a flavouring agent, and if it is highly flavoured, only 15 per cent.
If the recipe says, “stir”, then stir. A gentle stir mixes the drinks crystal clear; whereas if shaken, the various molecules will break down, and the drink could turn cloudy.
After dinner liqueurs act as a digestive, and here are a few you may like to try in a cocktail or just on their own: Akvavit, Kummel, Curacao, Tia Maria, Southern Comfort, Creme de Cacao, Kirsch, Raspail and Creme de Menthe, green or white. Of course it’s very hard to beat a good Cognac, but whatever you fancy, do try and avoid cream liqueurs. They may be lovely to drink, but they’re not very good for settling the tummy.
If you haven’t got the confidence to shake your own cocktails, then get professional advice. Finding a good mixer is not easy these days. Most pubs have a cocktail shaker behind the bar. It’s fashionable, and a good piece of bar equipment to have, provided there’s somebody working the bar who knows how to use it. Obviously there are some very good mixers in Portugal, although they didn’t enter for the competition last year!
If you want cocktails, go to the cocktail bars which can be found all over the Algarve. If you live between Lagos and Burgau, you can find an exceptional one in Praia da Luz. It’s called Clive’s Cocktail Bar and is situated on Rua 25 Abril. Clive is a very amiable chap, with a good sense of humour and a great selection of cocktails. More important is the fact that he knows how to shake them. He doesn’t use measures (not a legal requirement anywhere), but if he pours ingredients for four cocktails into a shaker, then when he pours the cocktail, each of the four glasses will have equal quantities, and there won’t be any left in the shaker. Truly a sign of a professional Cocktail Bartender.
If you’re new to drinking cocktails, I know a Perfect Lady, Between The Sheets, is Paradise, though some say it’s indecent! A word of advice. Don’t go on a cocktail binge. The names are attractive, and the cocktails are fun to drink but remember though, drinking different spirits won’t make you more drunk, as your alcohol intake will be the same, but it can make you very ill.
At the launching of a yacht for the Americas Cup, I was asked to make a cocktail for the Royals, incorporating the yacht’s colours, which were blue and yellow. That was easy as I just used a gin base and added Blue Curacao. I then hung a slice of lemon over the glass. The night before the event, I was told that all 400 guests were to be given one of these cocktails. This was going to be impossible using conventional shakers. So I got two tea urns early the following morning, and put the ingredients in. Some trainees sliced enough lemon to decorate each glass, while giving the cocktail an occasional stir, and ‘Hey Presto’, 400 cocktails. Worth remembering when you’re mixing for large numbers.
Shaken or stirred, enjoy your mixing.
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By Maurice P. Lee