Cocktails have been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years. Cocktail bars have come back into vogue with their old-school, noirish glamour and people want the drinks to fit the venue. And as old recipes are rediscovered and new ones are created, it’s become evident that this interest is no mere fad — cocktails are here to stay for the foreseeable future. If you’ve never dabbled in the wonderful world of cocktails previously or you’re simply looking for some new drinks to try, we’ve assembled a selection below that you may want to sample. No matter your preferred spirit, there’s a cocktail out there to suit your palette.
What is a cocktail?
Though mixed drinks have been popular in various forms for centuries, no one is exactly sure when the first cocktails came into existence. The term seems to have entered common parlance in the 19th century, though there’s some debate about whether it applied to cocktails as we would recognise them in 2021. What is known for certain is that by the early 20th century, the concept of “cocktail parties” had begun to emerge. This was in part due to the Prohibition Era; purchasing beer and wine was difficult while distilling spirits presented a far easier prospect.
Today, a cocktail is an alcoholic beverage that involves at least one spirit and one mixer. Some hardline purists will argue that it requires at least three ingredients to be considered a “proper” cocktail, but classics such as bourbon & coke, gimlets and screwdrivers (among others) will all beg to differ
Beyond these simple prescriptions, cocktails are remarkably diverse in their makeup. Mixologists all over the world have worked to create a tremendous array of flavours out of existing spirits, mixers, liqueurs and all manner of other ingredients. Yet complexity is not necessarily an indicator of quality, either; although there’s something undeniably impressive about seeing a multi-part cocktail successfully executed, there’s also something to be said for the relative simplicity of some of the classics. An Old Fashioned, for example, may take only minutes to learn how to make — but it takes a lifetime to master its execution.
Additionally, almost every classic cocktail has endless variations. Though recipes are arguably more standardised these days thanks to bartending schools and the internet, many of these older drinks emerged from an era where cocktail trade secrets were either jealously guarded or only passed on orally. Accordingly, almost every bar you’ll ever visit has its own unique take on staples such as martinis, Singapore slings, Cosmopolitans or whichever other drink you care to name. It makes it an endlessly fascinating pursuit, to discover which variations you enjoy the most — and eventually, perhaps, which ones you might like to try and put your own twist on.
Vodka arguably lends itself to more cocktails than any other spirit, given its transparent colour, relatively neutral flavour and the ease with which it can be combined with mixers. So, what cocktails can you make with vodka? It’s long been a favourite at the sweeter end of the spectrum, due to the ease with which it blends with sweet liqueurs, fruit juices and fizzy drinks. Vodka cocktails are an ever-expanding list as new mixers enter the market, so make sure you sample a wide variety.
- Cosmopolitan — A sweet yet tart concoction, the Cosmopolitan features cranberry juice and triple sec with a splash of lime juice to create a bright pink flavour sensation. A perennial favourite at ladies nights, though by no means limited to them.
- Screwdriver — Also known as a vodka orange juice, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than this — but it’s a classic for a reason. Ideal for any time of the day, the screwdriver is sweet and citrusy, while still packing a flavourful punch.
- Vodka Martini — After something drier? Though traditionally made with gin, the vodka martini is a favourite among fans of something a little more savoury. Garnishing with olives is mandatory for the complete effect.
Gin is a powerfully flavoured drink in its own right, thanks to the unique range of botanicals it incorporates during the distilling process. Accordingly, even the simplest gin cocktails have a tremendous amount of flavour variations depending on the brand of gin that’s being used. So, what cocktails can you make with gin?
- Gin Fizz — Sour and acidic, the Gin Fizz adds an extra edge to the botanical flavours normally found in gin. An excellent introduction to the spirit and a highly worthy drink in its own right.
- Negroni — A frequently stiff aperitif, enjoying a Negroni is a mark of a sophisticated gin fan. While perhaps not the ideal drink for those new to gin, it’s a rewarding cocktail for those who are looking to level up their enjoyment of the drink.
- Gin & Tonic — Arguably the most iconic of all the gin cocktails, the G&T is perfect for first-timers and old-timers alike. Often imitated with other spirits, never bettered.
American whiskey cocktails
American whiskey occupies a unique spot on the flavour spectrum; it’s often woody, smoky or filled with other strong undertones — yet it’s still a remarkably sweet spirit. So what cocktails can you make with American whiskey? Well, while it doesn’t lend itself to the same broad spectrum of drinks as, say, vodka, there is still a grand tradition of whiskey-based cocktails. Often these will lean into American whiskey’s distinct characteristics, bringing out new nuances rather than trying to cover the flavour.
- Old Fashioned — Ultra-smooth, with notes of bitters and citrus. An Old Fashioned is often viewed as a quintessentially “macho” cocktail; it lacks the sweetness of something like a Cosmopolitan but does round out the flavour of the whiskey. Essential drinking.
- Manhattan — Working within the same wheelhouse as the Old Fashioned — but with a slightly sweeter taste due to the inclusion of vermouth — the Manhattan is one of the great American whiskey cocktails. Potent, punchy and inspiring passion amongst its keen fans.
What are the best cocktail garnishes?
Garnishes are quite common among cocktails; sometimes they’re intended to serve as an active part of the flavour experience — a slice of citrus fruit, candied fruit peel, lollies or other edible items, for example — while on other occasions they’re a strictly visual addition. The visual presentation of cocktails has become something of an art form over the decades, with high-end bars creating concoctions that are almost better to gaze at than to drink.
However, it’s hard to go past the classics. Garnishes such as citrus rind, dried fruit, glace cherries, pimento olives, botanicals and mint leaves are all remarkably versatile options for garnishes. They offer an understated look while still serving as an enhancement for the drink itself — something that any good garnish should offer.
How to use a cocktail shaker
Integral to the creation of a cocktail, the cocktail shaker is a simple device to use. There’s an array on the market to choose from, but it doesn’t need to be particularly fancy; however, stainless steel is always a good choice. It’s easy to clean and doesn’t hold scents from potent liquor or mixers, in contrast with plastics or some ceramics.
- Pour the relevant ingredients into the cocktail shaker.
- Add ice (you can also fill the shaker with ice before pouring ingredients in).
- Close the lid of the shaker — make sure this is done properly!
- Hold the shaker with both hands (one covering the lid) and shake it horizontally over your shoulder. The exterior of the shaker will frost up when it’s ready.
- The cocktail is now ready and can be strained into your preferred glass. Just remember to put fresh ice into the glass before pouring.
Of course, not everyone is such a dab hand with the cocktail shaker. Delicious as they are, creating cocktails requires a certain amount of skill and labour, which doesn’t always hold appeal at the moment when one is desiring a cocktail. Couple this with the numerous esoteric (and sometimes expensive) ingredients that tend to be required to produce these drinks and the excitement around making cocktails can wear off very quickly. Fortunately, there is good news on the horizon for your parched throat; enter bottled cocktails.
But what is a bottled cocktail? It’s exactly what it sounds like; a pre-mixed alcoholic beverage that allows drinkers to simply shake up the bottle, open it, pour it straight into a glass and then enjoy. There’s no great mystery about how to open a cocktail bottle; simply unscrew the top and then pour away.
But how are bottled cocktails manufactured, you ask? While it can vary slightly depending on the specific cocktail, broadly it’s in the same way as you would create any other cocktail — just on a larger scale. The ingredients are mixed together to create the desired drink (sans any garnish, which likely wouldn’t travel well) and then bottled to be shelved for later. As the ingredients may separate over time, it’s usually necessary to give them a shake before reopening and pouring them, but otherwise, the effect is much the same. You’re able to pour your favourite tipple into your preferred glass, add the desired garnish and voilà! An instant cocktail with a mere fraction of the effort normally required.
Now the issue becomes more of a question of storage. If you’re thinking of investing in bottled cocktails, you’ll undoubtedly be wondering how long do bottled cocktails last; after all, spirits can potentially last for years on the shelf. Well, while they don’t quite share the same longevity as their unmixed counterparts, bottled cocktails can usually last for several months at least. Just make sure that you check the “Best Before” date when making your purchase.
Here at BevMart, we stock the Twisted Shaker range of bottled cocktails, encompassing a great range of both traditional and modern cocktail flavours, all with a distinct twist. If you’ve never sampled bottled cocktails before — or if you’re well-seasoned on that front — we’re sure that you’ll find a flavour to suit.
Both cocktails and bottled cocktails alike make for exceptional additions to any gathering or even for a solo beverage after a tough day at the office. An intriguing combination of flavour and experimentation, there’s a reason that cocktails have had such an enduring legacy over the decades.