We generally pay a bit of attention to the booze in our hand but what about everything else in the glass? Delaney Mes thinks it's time to focus on the often overlooked aspects of a mixed drink
Gin and the good stuff
Premium mixers have really come into their own in the last few years. Artisan tonic brands have left supermarket stuff for dust in terms of sugar level, quality and, of course, taste. It’s great news for drinkers, and now with brands such as Quina Fina, East Imperial or Fever Tree doing different takes on tonic water, you can play around with your favourites. Gin has 12 botanicals and you can play up different ones with garnishes, which can heighten flavour. Try a thick slice of cucumber, or orange peel, a sprig of rosemary, a few juniper berries, lavender and lemon, or a few strawberries and mint.
With three-quarters of your drink as the mixer, it’s important to think about what it is and where it’s come from. Gin and juice is a classic drink, but what about gin and fresh apple with mint? Many people have juicers in their cupboard, and a bag of apples is the perfect place to pack more punch into your beverage. Fresh watermelon is a summer fruit you may not have thought to juice either – but it’s great in a daiquiri, or with bourbon, or vodka. If you don’t have a juicer, just blend and strain.
Cup of tea, love?
Tea is no longer just in the realm of your morning break, served with milk. Herbal infusions are an untapped playground when it comes to mixing your drinks. There are a few ways to get tea in your cocktails. Cold brew is an easy method: place the tea bags of your choice into a jug or jar of cold water, and leave to infuse overnight in the fridge. Add fresh herbs if you want extra flavour. Another option is to make a potent brew of hot tea and then let it cool and use it in drinks. Try this with chai, or with black tea which you can then sweeten and use instead of sugar syrup. Loose leaf herbal tea makes a great garnish. A simple mixer to go with gin or vodka is cold chamomile tea, fresh lemon and a little honey.
It’s all in the garnish
A well thought out garnish can turn a simple drink into something beautiful and is nearly guaranteed to wow your friends. The garden is a great place to start with a bit of foraging, especially a herb garden. Edible flowers (that you don’t have to eat but look great) are often easily found: try nasturtiums, pansy petals, cornflowers, and calendula. Even more satisfying is if you grow them from seed – simply grab some potting mix and get planting. Freeze-dried fruit is increasingly available in stores and a well-placed piece of mandarin or raspberry can add a totally different flavour dimension: and look impressive. Fresh fruit is limited only by your imagination too – if there are notes of orange in your liqueur, don’t be afraid to add a large slice of orange zest curling over the glass for a bit of wow factor.
Soda syrup fun
Artisan soda syrups make a great base for drinks, especially as many people are now sparkling their own water at home. Elderflower cordial is great with white spirits and a fresh herb of your choice. Making your own syrups is a lot of fun, too: have a look for recipes such as a pear and rosemary syrup or a rhubarb and ginger one. Syrups add a twist to classic cocktails: try adding rosemary or thyme to sugar syrup in a Tom Collins, or fresh ginger and plum to sugar syrup in a whisky sour. It’s a great way to keep with the seasons.
Ice ice baby
Ice is another area that is sometimes overlooked but can be an amazing addition. Ice spheres are the new cubes and cheap moulds are available at discount department stores. Also large slabs are great: simply freeze some water in a small plastic container and hack it with a small sharp knife once it’s set to get large shards. These are especially striking when sticking out the top of a short glass. Adding herbs or flowers or a few berries to your ice cubes also look very cool once they’re set, especially with a pop of colour.
A few twists can lift your drink and impress your guests. Although if you don’t have guests, there is something incredibly satisfying in making something beautiful just for yourself. Experiment with flavour, play around with colour, and most of all enjoy yourself!