Cocktail culture has had a shake up since the Mad Men days, when ‘cocktail party’ brought to mind fussy fashion and fine glassware. Fast forward to 2018 and we’re much more relaxed: think G&Ts on picnic blankets, and jeans in place of cocktail dresses.
Modern cocktails are all about simple serves, great ingredients, and relaxed environments – and the quality’s never been better, as our understanding of flavour and provenance has grown over the years.
Look around and you can see cocktails mirroring the rising food trends of ingredient-lead dishes, as we move on from complicated techniques in both food and drinks, and instead channel our focus into quality ingredients and seasonality. Botanical, foraged and even vegan ingredients have been pouring their way into our glasses.
Whipping up cocktails at home is on the rise, too – a recent study by Tanqueray, Gordon’s and Baileys revealed that almost a quarter of the 2000 people who took part listed cocktail making as the top skill they’d most love to master, and a huge one in five of us already claim ourselves as ‘cocktail aficionados’.
I got together with Anna Jones, author of A Modern Way to Cook and A Modern Way to Eat, to explore how we’re drinking cocktails in the modern day, from the flavours we’re loving to the best cocktails to pair with food.
Here are our tips and recipes for enjoying cocktails at home.
The more casual, the better
We’ve got enough to deal with in 2018 without worrying about ‘the rules’ when it comes to drinking at home. From sundowners on rooftops to gin and tonics in back gardens, today’s cocktail culture is more about bringing people together. Put the dinner jazz away, stick on a playlist you love, and get some mates around. You can even try leaving those pesky phones in bags for some true ‘in the moment’ joy.
Quality ingredients over showy technique
Maybe you can rattle that cocktail shaker like a pro, and if you can, good for you! But for the rest of us, it’s still easy peasy to make a great-tasting cocktail without the kit, by starting with the best ingredients. Quality spirits, a good mixer, fresh herbs and seasonal flavours all make a difference. You can jazz up a simple G&T by adding frozen berries, or try giving it a botanical edge with a sprig of rosemary.
If the cocktails you’re making do call for a bit of equipment, you’ll be surprised at how a lot of the stuff you’ve already got in your kitchen can be used in place of a classic cocktail kit. Anna points out that you can use the end of a rolling pin in a sturdy mixing bowl as a muddler, or try swapping a shaker for the bottom of a bullet blender and its lid.
“There’s no need to get caught up on serving equipment either,” says Anna, “mismatched glassware looks amazing, and you can make a cocktail look ultra-impressive by simply freezing juice and flowers into ice cube trays.”
Cocktails and Food
We all love a cocktail before and after dinner, but they work amazingly with food as well. The flavours in one can really lift and enhance the flavours in the other – just think of those classic combos like pea and mint, and how great they taste together. You can get that same result by pairing cocktails to ingredients in your dishes. To put it to the test, we did a little flavour pairing of our own. Anna whipped up a seriously impressive taco feast, while I mixed a Mexican-inspired Gin Collins with ginger, chilli and lime. The heat and spice in the cocktail worked wonders with the vibrant flavours in the tacos and salsa, and with that, I think we’ve found a new go-to party combo.
You can find more tips in Anna Jones’ brand new The Modern Cocktail Guide, packed with amazing cocktail recipes, food pairing tricks, and hints & hacks for throwing your own at-home cocktail sipping session. It’s out now and it’s free to download.
Abbie Moulton is ES Lifestyle’s wine and drink columnist. Follow her @abbiemoulton