Any bartender can mix ingredients together to produce a drink optimistically called a "cocktail". But these sugary, neon-coloured drinks are an insult to proper cocktails. Mixologists take pride in understanding their ingredients and blending them together to create drinks that are classic, seasonal and always satisfying.
The first recorded use of the word cocktail in the English language occurred all the way back in 1798, followed ten years later by an official definition "Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters". In 1862, the acknowledged father of cocktail making, Jerry Thomas, published his bible "How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant's Companion". I personally like to think of myself a Bon Vivant, so therefore, I feel a natural affinity with Mr. Thomas and his craft.
But before we get started with recipes, I want to share some tips and tools for making cocktails at home. Cocktails are generally either shaken or stirred (the nub of eternal James Bond martini dilemma). As a quick rule of thumb, cocktails made with similar spirits are best stirred, while cocktails with different spirits are best shaken. Based on this knowledge, James Bond would have been better served ordering his martini stirred!
Make sure that your ice cube trays are filled as ice is crucial to making cocktails. You'll need it to cool your glasses and for shaking. A handy shortcut I often take to chilling glasses is to rinse a glass and then place them briefly in the freezer. When used in shaking, ice helps dilute and "crush" the ingredients. I prefer to use a Boston shaker when making cocktails, which consists of a metal bottom and glass top. Although the Cobbler shaker (all metal) is more iconic, the metal pieces tend to fuse together which is frustrating when you're trying to get your delicious creation out into the glass. Best to leave the Cobbler as decoration on the shelf.
Finally, a citrus press (also known as a Mexican elbow) is a great addition to your kitchen gadgets. Most cocktails require citrus of some form, but squeezing limes or lemons quickly becomes monotonous. With a citrus press, juicing is simplified thus permitting you to get to your cocktail all the sooner.
Tequila is one of my favourite spirits and it has such a natural affinity with limes, although it is also partial to grapefruit. A real margarita is served short, cold and definitely not in adult slushie form. Try to find a tequila brand that is labelled as 100% agave to guarantee a good tequila.
I prefer Cointreau in my version, but any triple sec (orange flavoured liquer) will work. The trick here is to find the ratio that works for you, so feel free to vary the proportions to find your favourite. A salt rim is optional, but I should say that tequila loves salt nearly as much as it loves limes.
1oz fresh squeezed lime juice
Dash simple syrup
Place all ingredients into a shaker and add ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and then strain into chilled glasses.
Simple syrup is very simply made by combining equal volumes of white sugar and water in a saucepan, then briefly bringing to the boil before letting it cool down. It allows you to sweeten cocktails and also helps marry flavours together
My second recipe involves a summer classic - rhubarb! Firstly, we will make a rhubarb cordial, which can then be used in alcoholic cocktails or refreshing sparkling drinks.
Take one bunch of rhubarb, trim, chop and place in a saucepan along with one cup of water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Place over medium heat and stew for about 10-15 mins or until the rhubarb is soft and mushy. Using a sieve, strain the rhubarb into a bowl. Do not force it through the sieve, but instead let gravity and time do the work. You will be left with a ruby pink tart juice.
Place equal volumes of the rhubarb juice and white sugar in a saucepan and gently heat until the sugar is dissolved. If any while scum appears during this process, just skim it off. Let the rhubarb cordial cool and add a little squeeze of lemon juice before use.
Rhubarb Aperol Spritz
Here we combine our homemade rhubarb cordial with the classic Italian aperitvo Aperol to make a refreshing sparkling drink. Aperol contains, amongst other ingredients, bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb, so it marries well with the cordial. Although prosecco would ensure an Italian theme in this drink, I personally prefer a nice brut Cava.
1 tablespoon rhubarb cordial
Cava to top
Place the rhubarb cordial and Aperol in the bottom of a wine glass or champagne flute. Mix lightly and then top with chilled Cava. Sit in the sunshine and enjoy
Rhubarb Apple Cooler
Place one tablespoon of the rhubarb cordial in a highball glass, and half fill with a good quality apple juice. Add some ice cubes and top up with sparkling water. The rhubarb and apple juice will naturally settle into different layers, creating a rhubarb and custard type effect. Stir to bring the layers and flavours together.
There are few other liquers which taste as summery and as light as St Germain. It contains elderflowers and comes in the most exquisite 8-sided Art Deco bottle, which is a work of art in its own right. This cocktail combines the floral notes from St Germain with gin and citrus to create a refreshing and balanced drink.
1 oz freshly squeeze grapefruit juice
1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz St Germain liquer
Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds before straining into a small chilled cocktail glass.
Joanne Cronin blogs at Stitch and Bear, visit her blog for more fabulous recipes, photography and similar food and drink features. Don't forget to keep up with both Joanne and RTÉ Food on Twitter too!
All photography (c) Joanne Cronin, except header image, property of Thinkstock.