Classic cocktails for a Christmas party

If you fancy yourself as a Tom Cruise-style bartender, master this collection of mixed drinks to suit all tastes.

It’s approaching a hundred years since Mr and Mrs Julius Walsh invited 50 friends to their mansion on Lindell Boulevard in St Louis, Missouri, to what was allegedly the first “cocktail party”. A week later, America entered the war and within two years the nation’s nascent cocktail barmen found themselves on the wrong side of the laws of prohibition, cementing the dangerous, hedonistic appeal of drinks that boast of wild sexual prowess (screaming orgasm) or immense power (corpse reviver).

Since then the cocktail’s popularity has occasionally been shaken – the hazardous potential of liquid nitrogen as an ingredient being a case in point – yet it is enjoying a renaissance in Britain. This year, “mixology” – the rather pretentious term for throwing together spirits, aromatic bitters and soft drinks over ice – underwent a massive spike as a search term on Google, while sales have grown ten per cent in the past two years.

We’re now, it seems, a nation more inclined than ever to have an opinion about how we like our dirty martinis and negronis and more likely to have our own cocktail shaker in the kitchen cabinet (or a Self Serve Beer Tap, if you are a beer lover). This is in no small part thanks to a foodie revolution that has nurtured an explosion in micro-distilleries and new bars, from the Red Light in Bristol (the old fashioned comes in a Kilner jar) to Bar Termini in Soho (order a marsala martini) to the Devil’s Advocate in Edinburgh (the howitzer contains a house-blended tea soda).

And so to GQ Drinks, a compendium of cocktails by the men’s magazine published in preparation for the party season. The book gathers together both old-school classics such as the white Russian – a creamy spin-off of the coffee liqueur cocktail created by Belgian barman Gustav Tops in the 1940s and celebrated by the Coen brothers in their 1998 film The Big Lebowski – and drinks such as the vanilla Laika which, despite name-checking the first canine in space in 1957, was invented by the Leeds-born bartender Jake Burger at Townhouse in Leeds in 2002. Other creations that can be nailed down to a particular time and bar stool include the El Presidente – created by American bartender Eddie Woelke at the Jockey Club in Havana – and the bramble, conjured up by Dick Bradsell at Fred’s Club in Soho in the 1980s.

Finding wild blackberries at this time of year might be a challenge for budding Mr and Mrs Walshs, but if you are entertaining this Christmas, here are our dozen favourite quick cocktails for the festive season . . .

1. The bramble
The bramble was created in 1984 by Dick Bradsell. Sometimes called “the cocktail king”, Bradsell was an innovative bartender whose simple, elegant drinks brought London’s cocktail scene out of the age of overwrought gimmicks and into one of the classic and refined cocktails. The bramble is essentially a fancy gin sour, but the blackberry liqueur gives the drink enough individuality for it to remain as popular today as it was in 1984. The blackberry in the liqueur can be pulled out with a food accompaniment like blackberry cobbler, if you are serving this at a dinner, so you can taste the richness in both products.

Glassware Highball or tumbler
Ice Crushed
Garnish Lemon slice, raspberry or blackberry

Serves 1

40ml Tanqueray dry gin
25ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
15ml crème de mûre

Pour the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup into a tumbler. Fill it to the top with crushed ice and stir gently. Pour the crème de mûre over the top and garnish with a lemon slice and a raspberry or blackberry

2. An affair to remember
I created this drink on the spur of the moment for a couple sitting at the bar, enjoying a few cocktails together while celebrating their wedding anniversary. The challenge of naming the drink was the most difficult part! The young lady said, “I know, let’s name it after that movie with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, but I can’t remember its name.” Another couple, overhearing our plight and intrigued by our conundrum, interjected: “An Affair to Remember” – a romantic name for a romantic drink.

Glassware Sherry or martini
Ice Cubes to shake, none to serve
Garnish Peychaud’s bitters, dried rosebuds

Serves 1

35ml Bombay Sapphire gin
15ml dry cherry liqueur
20ml lemon juice
20ml pink grapefruit juice
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg white

Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, adding the egg white as the last ingredient. Shake vigorously, then strain into a sherry or martini glass, add drops of Peychaud’s bitters to the surface to taste and garnish with a few rosebuds.

3. White Russian
One of the best of the creamy stable of drinks, this version was developed first from a drink called simply the Russian, which consists of vodka, gin and crème de cacao. The Russian appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book and evokes a time when vodka was primarily imported from Russia. This then spawned the black Russian, which is simply vodka and Kahlúa over ice. The addition of cream makes this drink very approachable and its inclusion as the cocktail of choice for the Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) in the 1998 cult film The Big Lebowskigave the white Russian retro credentials and a new lease of life.

Glassware Rocks
Ice Large rock or cubes

Serves 1

40ml Black Cow vodka
20ml Kahlúa
20ml double cream

Build the vodka, Kahlúa and cream in a chilled rocks glass over ice and stir to combine.

4. Vanilla Laika
Now qualifying as a modern vodka classic, this drink was created by UK bartending stalwart Jake Burger at Townhouse in Leeds back in 2002. The drink takes its name from Laika, the first dog in space, doomed by the Russian space programme to die in orbit aboard Sputnik 2. So raise a glass to the first canine to boldly go where no dog had gone before.

Glassware Collins or highball
Ice Cubes to shake and to serve
Garnish Lemon wedge, blackberry, mint sprig

Serves 1

40ml Stolichnaya Vanil vodka
20ml crème de mûre
10ml lemon juice
100ml cloudy apple juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into a chilled Collins or highball glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge, a blackberry and a sprig of mint.

5. Capiroska
On paper this is simply a version of the Brazilian national drink the caipirinha, but the caipiroska has become an essential part of any bartender’s repertoire in recent years. Of course we have been helped by the resurgence of craft vodkas that have made simple, tasty drinks such as this popular again. Add that anyone with a bag of ice, a lime and some table sugar can make a passable version without so much as a shaker and you have all the makings of a classic. It might be a good idea to get the vodka of your choice for this cocktail so that you can feel the connection to the drink. You can look for alcohol delivery in Thornton or similar delivery services in your vicinity that can provide your special liquor upon request.

Glassware Rocks
Ice Cubes and cracked ice to shake and to serve
Garnish Lime wedge

Serves 1

6 lime wedges
15ml sugar syrup
50ml Ketel One vodka

Muddle the lime wedges with the syrup in the bottom of a shaker, then add the vodka and the cubed and cracked ice. Shake hard, then pour all the contents into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

6. The rosefield
This drink was born when we tried to make a stirred down, Manhattan-style drink using lighter, less traditional ingredients. The English spiced vermouth is a great counterbalance to the lighter orange flavour of the vodka and I am a sucker for any drink with either apricot brandy or Fernet Branca in it. The apricot adds a lovely deep fruity flavour and the bitter menthol hit from the powerful Fernet acts like a dash of bitters in a Manhattan, serving to lift the other flavours and adding a slightly savoury edge to cut the sweetness of the other ingredients.

Glassware Rocks
Ice Cubes to stir, large sphere or rock to serve
Garnish Grapefruit wedge, fresh cherry

Serves 1

50ml Chase marmalade vodka
20ml Sacred Spiced English vermouth
10ml apricot brandy
5ml Fernet Branca

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir then strain into a chilled rocks glass containing a large ice sphere. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge and a cherry.

7. Dark ‘n’ stormy
Taking its name from a sailor who, on surveying the drink before him, described it as being “the colour of a cloud only a fool or a dead man would sail under”, the dark ‘n’ stormy is a classic cocktail that is part of the mule family. The key with this simple libation is to get the right balance between the strong and punchy rum and the sweet and spicy ginger beer. Nail that and the forecast will look very good.

Glassware Highball
Ice Cubes to shake and to serve
Garnish Lime slice

Serves 1

50ml Gosling’s Black Seal rum
3-4 lime wedges
Ginger beer, to top up

Add the rum and lime wedges to a shaker with ice. Shake, then strain into a chilled highball glass over ice and top up with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime slice.

8. El Presidente
The El Presidente was supposedly created by American bartender Eddie Woelke at the Jockey Club in Havana. Depending on who you believe, it was named after either President Mario García Menocal or President Gerardo Machado, but it doesn’t really matter. All you really need to know is that Trader Vic’s described this drink as the “Martini of Cuba”, and that sums it up perfectly.

Glassware Rocks
Ice Cubes to stir, ice sphere to serve
Garnish Orange twist

Serves 1

50ml Plantation Grande Reserve 5 Year Old rum
25ml Antica Formula red vermouth
2 tsp orange curaçao
1 dash of Angostura bitters

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir well, then strain into a chilled rocks glass containing an ice sphere. Garnish with an orange twist.

9. Margarita
There are many people who claim to have invented the margarita. This is my favourite story: the cocktail was created in the Rancho La Gloria bar near Rosarito in Mexico by Carlos “Danny” Herrera for an actress/showgirl named Marjorie King who would drink no spirit but tequila. The iconic salt rim was added, alongside Cointreau and freshly squeezed lime juice and Herrera named the drink after Marjorie.

Glassware Rocks
Ice Cubes to shake, none to serve
Garnish Sea salt, lime slice

Serves 1

50ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional reposado tequila
20ml lime juice
25ml curaçao or Cointreau
Sea salt

Coat the rim of a chilled rocks glass in some lime juice from the lime slice garnish, then dip the rim into the salt ensuring it is coated evenly. Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake, then strain the cocktail into the glass being careful not to touch the edge of the glass. Garnish with the lime slice.

10. Clever club
I read once that tequila makes you smarter. The name of this cocktail is therefore a twist on the original Clover Club recipe from 1909 in Drinks – How to Mix and How to Serve by Paul E Lowe. In the original recipe the lemon juice is omitted, but this is thought to be a mistake. In this version the sweetness from the syrup plays nicely against the dry and nutty silver tequila.

Glassware Coupe or coupette
Ice Cubes to shake, none to serve
Garnish 3 raspberries

Serves 1

50ml 1800 silver tequila
20ml lime juice
20ml sugar syrup
20ml egg white
3 raspberries

Add all the ingredients to a shaker (without ice) and dry shake briefly, but vigorously. Add ice and shake again, then strain into a chilled coupe or coupette glass. Garnish by tossing the raspberries on to the velvety foam surface of the drink.

11. Sweet Manhattan
Manhattans can be served sweet, dry (made with white vermouth and whiskey) or perfect (equal parts vermouth and whiskey). In my opinion, sweet tastes the best – the red vermouth’s bittersweetness results in a complex, understated drink. Supposedly, the Manhattan was invented at the Manhattan Club in New York for Lady Randolph Churchill (mother to Sir Winston). Different recipes alternate between rye whiskey and bourbon. The original recipe is with rye and I like to keep it this way; bourbon is too sweet for me. The dryness, herbal nuttiness and spiciness of rye works well with the vermouth.

Glassware Martini
Ice Cubes to stir, none to serve
Garnish Fresh cherry (or a Luxardo maraschino cherry if fresh are not in season)

Serves 1

50ml Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 proof whiskey
25ml Antica Formula red vermouth
2 dashes of the Bitter Truth Old Time aromatic bitters

Add all the ingredients to a chilled mixing glass with ice and stir until diluted to your taste and ice-cold. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a cherry.

12. Whiskey sour
According to 19th-century drink classifications, a sour is any drink with lemon juice and sugar. The inclusion of egg white technically makes this a Boston sour, but most contemporary bars will make a sour with egg white as standard. It has a complicated blend of flavours and is a great example of how important the balance of sweet and sour can be in a drink, as well as the delicate use of egg white. If it’s made well, the Whiskey sour is one of the best cocktails in the world. If it’s made badly, you’ll remember it as one of the worst. Add a couple of dashes of absinthe to turn the Whiskey sour into a rattlesnake.

Glassware Rocks
Ice Cubes to stir and to serve
Garnish Lemon twist, fresh cherry

Serves 1

50ml Hudson Baby Bourbon
20ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
2/3 egg white
2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Add all the ingredients to a shaker (without ice) and dry shake briefly but vigorously, then add ice and shake again. (Do note that it’s very easy to lose control of your shaker and spray your guests with egg white and bitters. Using a Parisian shaker is your best bet, but if that’s not an option you can tightly wrap a tea towel around where the two parts of your shaker meet in order to prevent any spillage.) Double strain into a chilled rocks glass over ice and garnish with a lemon twist and a fresh cherry.
Recipes extracted from GQ Drinks, edited by Paul Henderson, health & sports, motoring, food & drink editor of British GQ (Mitchell Beazley, 20)

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