Cocktail Hour

Ah, welcome. Good evening, come in, sit down; take a load off. Can I get you a drink? The bar is fully stocked; I am sure I can help you find something to suit the mood. Just you relax, it’s Cocktail Hour.

Would it come as a surprise to find out that I like a drink? Yes, I do enjoy the feeling of inebriation, but more than that, I like to consume tasty things. I have written about food at length on this blog, but I have never crossed the Rubicon in to the world of booze, and the pseudology of mixology. Over the last few years, my partner and I have concocted several drinks which we would love to share with the world at large. Some of them have rather peculiar names, which is part of the fun of it all.

Just for starters, as a bit of background, my favourite drink is whiskey: plain old whiskey, in a glass. Admittedly, that affects one’s ability to walk and/or talk rather rapidly, so I pair it with a long drink (not “Long Drink”, that’s a Finnish Gin and Grapefruit mixed drink, and it is absolutely superb) so I don’t lose my mind. More often than not, it is lager. In some circles, this combination of beer and a shot is called a Boilermaker. To me, a Boilermaker has the shot dropped in the beer. Not for me.

This conflict between different naming conventions strikes at the heart of pouring drinks all too often. For the avoidance of all doubt, I am unaware of any alternative versions of any of the drinks which I am about to detail. If you have already made them and given them a different name, then I salute you. If you have drunk them under a different name, in a bar say, please do let me know.

First things first, I am off to Iceland tomorrow, and one of the things I am looking forward to most is Brennivin. In most travel writing you will find it described as one of the most evil, unpalatable spirits to grace the lips of man. Personally, I love the stuff, and it brings back great memories of holidays in and around Reykjavik. I have also spent some wonderful time in the most serene city of Venice.

Aperol is a drink which I find to be ubiquitous with Venice, although Select is actually far more widely seen advertised there. Made with rhubarb and bitter orange, Aperol is slightly thick, lightly alcoholic, and perfect in cocktails. Orange Lagoon is essentially a Martini variant, mixing equal quantities of Aperol and Brennivin over Ice (shaken or stirred, your preference). It shimmers like slaked whisky.

I spent many years at two rather splendid universities studying Mathematics. I specialised in Algebra, particularly the stuff that you can never actually visualise: multi-dimensional algebra. I have spent a decade working, largely, as an analyst, handling large quantities of numbers in various forms. It therefore appals me that the main use I have for my education is mixing drinks to the right strength.

More on that later: First I would like to recount a lesson in getting those quantities wrong. You see, home measures are very different from pub measures. Unless you live in certain areas surrounding the Mediterranean, and a Vodka and Coke is 2:1. I was looking for an Autumnal drink. Google gave up a list of middle-class / hipster twaddle, and I put my brain in to soak. None of them were right.

Some of the flavours made me very happy, as if the direction of travel was correct, but the recipes were overwrought and over thought. Fast Gin was born from these ideas. Some recipes included cider, spices and liqueurs. Some included sloe gin, whiskey and various seltzers. Cut to the chase, I thought. Give me something simpler. A large measure of sloe gin in a large glass, topped with cider.

It doesn’t really matter whether or not I tell you that it can be drunk chilled, at room temperature or warmed through, like a bruised mulled cider. The effect will probably punch you in the face just as hard. I chose to use a weaker cider, at around 5%, but I came very close to using an artisanal version, at 8.2%. I would strongly recommend against this: the alcohol flavour will easily overpower the fruit.

Then again, perhaps moderation is the key in all things. I had several Fast Gins, drunk slowly, and felt fine with the whole thing; on the other hand, my partner drinks faster than I, and so fared less well.

Algebra time: I have a rather large cocktail jar, a glass vessel with a metal tap on the front, which will often find itself coming down for parties. It holds five litres of liquid, so is very time efficient. I knew that I wanted to create something based on Aperol and cloudy lemonade, but I didn’t know how much spirit to add to bring it to the right volume. I pulled out a pad of paper and got to calculating.

A 700ml bottle of Aperol, two litres of cloudy / pink lemonade and a handful of ice will need 250ml of 40% spirit – I used vodka – to make a 5-6% solution. Just the right strength for a shindig, I say.

We never got round to naming this particular beverage, but know it as A Pitcher of Aperol. It is not in a pitcher, and it is not solely Aperol, but it fits, and that is what is most important. To us, anyway.

I have a little more space to fill, and would like to share something with you, which you may already be relatively familiar with, at least in passing. Aperol Spritz. If this drink is new to you, please allow me to welcome you to a world of pure bliss. It was my partner who first introduced me to the spritz, and I think I was won over instantly. I have never really enjoyed prosecco, but mixed I found it to be the perfect foil for the sticky orange of the Aperol. In Venice it made even more sense again. Oddly.

Three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol, one part soda water. That’s it. It’s difficult to pour, without knocking all of the bubbles out of the fizzy wine, but it is worth it. The first time I was tasked with pouring it myself I misunderstood the ratios, and put three parts Aperol in. It was out of balance, as you can imagine. In Venice I finally understood the soda: bars are businesses, hence parsimonious, however they are also right. The soda lightens the drink, and gives it room to breathe. It is needed.