Cocktails | How to make simple, great cocktails


How to make simple, great cocktails

You may find the idea of making cocktails daunting but bar consultant Kate Hawkings says it's simply a question of stirring a couple of good ingredients in a glass. Here are four of her current favourites.

Those of us of a certain age will remember when the cocktail world was all about novelty glassware, silly umbrellas and ridiculous 'flairing' - that preposterous juggling of bottles and shakers made famous by Tom Cruise in the execrable 1988 film, Cocktail.

The drinks were often sweet and fruity; layering and sugared rims were cool. Then considered sophisticated and glamorous, it now all seems the very height of naffness and we should be grateful those days gone.

Today, hipster cocktail bars are all the rage and the best of them serve astonishingly good drinks, made by clever bartenders who take their subject so seriously they could be accused of geekery.

They have access to incredible ranges of arcane spirits and other ingredients, and many now infuse, distill, barrel-age and even smoke their own. While it can be such a pleasure to drink these creations, they are generally better left to the pros and few of us could, or should, attempt to recreate them.

Good cocktails can be hard to get right - mojitos are one of my particular bug-bears - so delicious when properly made; so often, er, cocked up - but, while many do require skilled bartenders with finely tuned palates, encyclopaedic knowledge and the full panoply of bar paraphernalia behind them, it's perfectly possible to create stonkingly good drinks with very little in the way of training or special kit.

I write the drinks list for Bell's Diner, a small neighbourhood restaurant in Bristol, and wanted just a few great cocktails that are foolproof to make but taste pitch-perfect. The bar there is tiny so there is no space for special glasses or bar utensils, let alone a huge array of bottles, so the list has to make the best of what we've got to hand.

After months of arduous research and testing, these are some of my current favourites, all quick and very easy to make.

All except the Gingerbell start the same way - take a rocks glass or tumbler and fill it with ice. Don't skimp on the ice: it's there to chill your drink and keep the flavours precise, and while I rather like gradual dilution as ice slowly melts, if you're stingy the ice will melt too quickly and make the drink watery.

Gin and Co.

Inspired by the Gin and It, an iconic cocktail made with gin and Italian (sweet) vermouth, this uses The Collector, a new vermouth made by Jack Bevan from The Ethicurean restaurant near Bristol (which I made my drink of the week recently FB). Its gorgeous orange and caramel notes sit beautifully against gin's juniper twang.

25ml gin - at Bell's we use Portobello Road but if I had to choose one all-purpose gin it would be Beefeater. It's the classic bartender's gin for a very good reason.

50ml The Collector vermouth

1 bay leaf

Pour the gin and vermouth over the ice, stir well then garnish with the bay leaf, threaded onto a cocktail stick if you're feeling fancy.

Classic gimlet

A gimlet is one of my favourite drinks, and is what I call my 'store cupboard' cocktail because I always have the ingredients to hand at home. In Raymond Chandler's 'The Long Goodbye' it is Philip Marlowe's drink of choice. "It beats martinis hollow," as the great detective said. Purists would probably shake it on ice and serve it in a martini glass but I think it works just as well on the rocks.

50ml gin

35ml Rose's Lime Cordial (it MUST be Rose's)

Mix the two together. No garnish required.

Rhubarb ginger gimlet

Chase Distillery's rhubarb vodka doesn't come cheap but is absolutely delicious. I could quite happily drink it neat over ice; here it becomes something really quite special.

50ml Chase rhubarb vodka

5ml Belvoir ginger cordial

1 lime wedge

Mix the vodka and ginger cordial together, squeeze the lime over the top and drop it into the glass.


This is a great drink for winter - it's a kind of rum-based bastard child of whisky mac and hot toddy.

At Bell's we heat it in a small jug using the steamer of the coffee machine but you could easily warm it in a small saucepan or microwave. Just be careful not too let it boil.

25ml Havana Club 3 year old rum - I like its gentle notes of vanilla and ripe bananas but other aged rums could work just as well. Avoid Bacardi or other white rums.

100ml Stone's Original ginger wine

1 lime wedge

Heat the rum and ginger wine, pour into a small wine glass, squeeze over the lime wedge and drop it into the glass.

Kate Hawkings is a polymath: a food, wine and travel journalist, an events organiser, a maître d', a staff trainer, a wine buyer and a drinks consultant. Oh, and chair of the Guild of Food Writers. You can find her on Twitter @katehawkings

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Comments: 1 (Add)

MIkeeH on March 24 2017 at 16:34

There is nothing quite like a well made cocktail - my all time favourite to open the tastebuds is a Negroni - what could be simpler than equal measures of good Gin, Campari and a sweet vermouth (like The Collector you mention above - also one of my go to choices!). Stir with chunky ice and garnish with a sliver of orange zest (after cracking the oils on top).

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