Exploring Cocktails

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Published on: February 4, 2013

Ever since I started drinking alcohol, I’ve loved drinking cocktails.  I love all the different tastes you can get from cocktails despite the high alcohol content. I’ve never taken to beer, largely because it’s just too bitter for my taste. Whisky, bourbon, wine, cider and other spirits are no problem for me, but not beer.  Sadly with the exception of cider and wine they are all short drinks, so when drinking with friends I tend to go through 2 or 3 drinks to every one of theirs.  I can’t drink cider all night (and it’s not so widely available outside of the UK) and drinking wine on a night out just doesn’t seem right so switching from JD and cokes to cocktails seems to better fit the pace of my beer drinking friends.

CocktailsIt is only more recently that I began to think about matching cocktails with food.  Wine has always been my natural food matchmaker but unless I’m eating out at a Michelin starred restaurant with a sommelier providing the wine matching it’s not often that I break out a bottle of wine for every course I serve.  The best I will ever do is some kind of aperitif wine like a prosecco, followed by a nice red that will match the following course or two and finally a dessert wine or ice wine to go with whatever dessert I’ve made. Firstly, breaking out several bottles of good wine matched to each course is pretty expensive. Secondly not everyone drinks red, white and rose wine (and some don’t drink wine at all) so sometimes you have to offer an alternative.  Cocktails on the other hand, allow for a lot of flexibility.  Don’t like gin?  Try a vodka based cocktail.  Don’t like strong spirits?  Try a liqueur based cocktail.  Tee-totaler?  Mocktail it is!  And the great thing is, even with those limitations there are still hundreds of different combinations you can come up with, all you need is a little knowledge about the different drinks and what you are serving it with and of course, a very wide selection of drinks!

There is a common misconception that cocktails with a high alcohol content overpower whatever they are paired with.  What actually happens is the high strength alcohol cleanses your palate.  A good vodka leaves no lingering after taste and cuts through all the fatty flavours that tend to cloy the palate.  You could also use a well shaken shot of lemon infused vodka as a replacement for a lemon sorbet course.  Cheap nasty vodka on the other hand, will probably leave some kind of aftertaste.  If you eat foie gras or perhaps some duck or goose, a sip of vodka or other neutral spirit every few mouthfuls will refresh the palate, making each bite taste as good as the first.  But the same can be achieved with a good cocktail, one with a health dose of sour mix (like a long island iced tea) will cut through pretty much anything and bring a tired palate back to life.

The real problem with a cocktail dinner is the amount of alcohol you will consume.  A five course meal with a cocktail in each will leave most of your guests welded to their seats – any attempt to stand will be met with the sudden urge to fall over.  You have to set a pace and the best way to do it is to offer small cocktails – shot sized or a little bigger, but in lowball glasses to encourage sipping rather than downing in one go!  It requires a bit of judgement, you don’t want to give too much but obviously you need enough to last majority of the course.  You could provide a top-up if needed I suppose, so it is better to be a little conservative with your servings than risk forcing your guests to down drinks before the next course comes along.

I’m not going to go into huge technical detail about cocktails here – I will save that for a proper article.  But I just thought I should start branching out, cover some cocktails, wines and other drinks.  I enjoy those almost as much as I enjoy my food and they can add an extra layer to dinner parties that is easily overlooked.  I look forward to writing articles on specific cocktails, food-matching and the general art of mixology.


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