Mixing a cocktail that has kick, taste and good looks is something of an art, but luckily it's also something we're going to help you master right here, right now.
Firstly, you don't need fancy equipment to prepare cocktails at home, but investing in a cocktail shaker is a good idea. If you don't have one, use a clean fruit juice bottle that has a screw-on lid. You'll also need a blender or food processor, grater, strainer, measuring spoons and cups and a jug or large glass for mixing drinks. Add to that funky swizzle sticks, paper umbrellas, straws and toothpicks for garnishing and you're ready to roll out the cocktail carpet.
Garnishing is a big part of a successful cocktail. Stock up on cherries, orange wedges, mint leaves, lemon zest, pineapple wheels, melon balls, edible flowers, grated chocolate or ginger, fancy sweets and whipped cream. You'll also need plenty of ice, a great idea is to fill ice-cube trays with fresh fruit juice to add to your favourite juice or cocktail. You can also add lime slices, strawberries, edible flowers or herbs to water and freeze to make decorative ice cubes.
Keep your garnishes simple and neat; ensure contrast in colour and texture; as a rule of thumb, use fruit to garnish sweet drinks and olives to garnish dry drinks; use less garnishing for short drinks than for tall drinks, and decorate the rim of a cocktail glass by rubbing it with a lime wedge and dipping in sugar or salt.
When it comes to mixing cocktails there are four basic mixing methods you need to get under the belt:
Shaken: Ingredients are placed in a cocktail shaker and shaken by hand. First, fill the shaker three-quarters full with ice, then pour the other ingredients over the ice. Shake, then strain into a glass.
Stirred: Ingredients are stirred together with cubes of ice until chilled. The drink is then strained and served.
Blended: Ingredients are blended together in an electric blender. Crushed ice is added last.
Built: Ingredients are mixed in the glass they will be served in. Built drinks are served with a swizzle stick to mix together ingredients because they may float on top of each other.
The secret of many a cocktail lies in a basic sugar syrup that forms the base of drinks such as Pina Colada and Whisky Sour. To make basic sugar syrup, heat 125 ml water and 125 ml sugar and boil until the sugar dissolves. Cool and store in the fridge until needed.
Choosing the right glass to serve your cocktail in is an important part of presentation. As a rough guide, choose stemmed glasses for cocktails that aren't served on ice because they'll stay cool longer. Use tumblers or highball glasses for drinks served on ice. Stronger cocktails should be served in small glasses and champagne flutes and highball glasses are good for fizzy drinks.
If cocktails are something you're going to serve all summer long, stock up your bar fridge with mineral, soda and tonic water, lime juice, lemonade, bitter lemon, fizzy fruit drinks, ginger ale, fresh fruit juice, tomato juice and Angostura bitters.
Angostura what? You may ask. But any barman worth his Margarita salt will say that, if you don't have Angostura bitters, you might as well pack in the whole cocktail thing. Angostura bitters was developed in 1824 by Dr. J. Siegert, who intended it for use as a tonic to treat fatigue and stomach ailments. It is now the single most widely distributed bar item in the world. It's high in alcohol, and you only need a dash or two to liven up cocktails such as Manhattan and Champagne Cocktail. In fact, there's an old saying that goes: "Bitters makes the cocktail, rum makes the money."
Things to do with cocktails
Mini negroni in a bottle
Granadilla and lime margaritas
Mini gelato affogato