Thursday, 27 March 2014

Creating a Drink Part 1: Party Drinks at Home...

As I find myself in the wonderful situation of still working within bars and restaurants every day I get asked quite often for advice with organizing food and drinks for parties and special occasions.

This week I answer the most common question I get asked from friends and family in other professions, (aside from 'When are you going to get a real job?...") - I'll try and explain the creative process behind making a drink.  This week I'm focusing on drinks designed for parties and at home.


This is the boring bit, I'm sorry but taking a few minutes to think about a few key factors could save a huge amount of stress later on. The first thing I do no matter how vague the parameters is create a brief.  It could be as simple as 'a simple sparkling drink for the guests on arrival.'  Already you have direction.

Logistics can also play a big part.  Making a drink to go with food for a dinner party of twelve people has very few time or logistical constraints, however creating a drink for 250 guests at a wedding, all of whom are due to arrive at the same time, is a very different story.  Almost anyone who has worked in hotel bars will have a horror story or two of trying to make a few hundred mojitos in ten minutes, inevitably running out of mint and crushed ice.

Knowing how much time and resources you will have should allow you to plan something that is comfortably achievable.

Power of the Punch

Punches are great party drinks.  Vintage punch bowls are pretty easy to come across online, and they have the added bonus of allowing the guests to serve themselves!  The classic proportions can be found in this wonderful little rhyme from an 1908 edition of the New York Times describing a Planters Punch...

 Taken from Ryan Ganon1 photostream under the CC
This recipe I give to thee,

Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.

The 'sweet' could refer to grenadine, cane syrup, falernum or any other sugar heavy ingredient you may want to substitute in.  Similarly the weak is often best a fruit juice, although champagne or sparkling water can work equally as well.

Punches are great because it's in their nature to be tweaked, changed and have ingredients substituted through necessity.  My favourite punch to serve is the Fish House Punch, a delicious pre-prohibition drink that hails from Philadelphia. Although you will find many versions, this is my favorite specification.

Fish House Punch recipe (serves four)

Taken from Farther Along photostream under the CC
  • 100ml Cognac
  • 100ml Dark Rum (El dorado 5 works really well) 
  • 80ml Peach Liquor
  • 100ml Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 4 teaspoons castor sugar
  • 150ml Strong cold Earl Grey Tea (optional)
For smaller numbers, combine in a shaker with ice and shake briefly, before serving over shaved ice with orange and lemon slices.

If scaling up, simply combine ingredients with ice cubes in a punch bowl and garnish with orange, lemon and mint.

Working Backwards

If you want to try something more elaborate involving a built or shaken drink try working backwards and imagine the taste, texture, aroma, colour of your finished article.  For example, for arguments sake, if I was trying to create a refreshing drink with few ingredients, I most likely would try and think of something similar to a classic daiquiri.  I know that I would want some acidity and bite, most than likely from citrus, I would be thinking of a light, un-aged base spirit and probably a floral and simple sweetener to balance.

Some combinations are fairly straight forward: lime and ginger, elder flower and apple, for example.

For inspiration with rarer ingredients I often look to cookery books and restaurant menus.  If your drink is running with a theme, or designed to match certain food, this should be fun and relatively straightforward.
For example, if you are serving Thai food you most likely already have lime, lemongrass, chilli, ginger, coriander that could all be incorporated  easily into a drink.

If all this seems a bit daunting, try adding extra components to drinks you are already familiar with.  For example, muddling some lemongrass into your mojito and topping with ginger beer instead of soda is a really easy twist.

Finally, don't forget your garnish - simple aromatic herbs such as mint or rosemary, fresh citrus or even berries adds aroma and finesse to your final serve.

Image from Tim Lucas via CCL

Now, doing a take on a Bellini has been done a million times over, so I regard this as a bit of a cheat. However, making a simple glass of cheap fizz more exciting with the addition of fruit is a quick, stress-free way to provide your guests with a tasty drink on arrival.  If you do choose this just remember a few key points;

  • Sugar - Our pre-disposition is to associate many flavours, particularly fruits, with sugar.  How often as a child did you eat something fruit-flavoured rather than the fresh fruit itself e.g. sweets, milkshakes ice cream.  What this means is that without certain levels of sugar we find it hard to pick up certain flavours.  Bear this in mind, particularly when pairing with dry sparkling wine.
  • Texture  - if you make a homemade fruit puree make sure you get all seeds, pulp and pips etc out.  A drink can easily be ruined with an unpleasant texture 
  • Booze - Sparkling wine has a tendency to go straight to people's heads anyway! If considering a classic champagne cocktail or Kir Royale with the addition of extra liquor, take it easy if you want your guests to make it to dinner!

Head image taken from My Chef photo stream under the creative commons.


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