The sky’s the limit when it comes to mixed drinks. Dave Biggs divulges a few secrets en route to cocktail heaven.Anybody who has sat sipping a Bloody Mary in the window seat of a Boeing at 10 000 metres will know, from looking down, that every dark cloud does indeed have a silver lining. And one of the darkest clouds in the history of drinking was that caused by Prohibition in America in the 1920s. As writer Don Marquis said of the era: “Prohibition is enough to make you want to cry into your beer. And then it denies you the beer to cry into.”
It was 13 years of sad, dark times for the devotees of Bacchus. But the silver lining was that it sparked off renewed interest in cocktails and created some of the delightful mixed drinks we enjoy today.
With no really good liquor available on the (legal) market, enterprising people began making their own illegally. Moonshine, poteen and bathtub gin were brewed in the backwoods and bottled in shuttered sheds across America.
And most of it was frankly dreadful stuff, fit only for stripping varnish from bar counters. Or linings from stomachs. But it was all there was, so thirsty Americans made the best of it. They perfected the cocktail.
Add a splash of tomato juice and a stick of celery, a dash of Tabasco sauce to your home-made hooch and behold, you have a perfectly drinkable potion that looks good, tastes fine and frees your inhibitions. You’ve invented the Bloody Mary.
And I’ll let you into a secret about mixing a good Bloody Mary. The perfect Bloody Mary is made with one-third lemon juice to two-thirds tomato juice – apart from the spirit and trimmings, of course. The secret’s in that lemony tang. Try it.
Apart from giving the art of cocktail mixing a big boost, America’s Prohibition laws, that came into force in 1920, produced some bizarre side effects.
One of these was the present American passion for “customising” cars and designing hot-rods. producers of illicit liquor were often chased by stern excise men, eager to trap the naughty bootleggers.
With true American ingenuity, the moonshine distributors designed cars with bigger engines, lower profiles and special transmissions to ensure they could outrun anything driven by a law officer.
Today’s drag races and hot-rod shows are a direct result of an era when speed and jack-rabbit take-off were essential for business survival.
Prohibition was also probably responsible for the design and decor of many modern bars. The old “speakeasy,” was hidden away and guarded by a doorman. It was probably a rather dark, secret place.
Look at our modern cocktail bars, even at midday the lighting is dim and the curtains are drawn. Shades of the bootleg days.
The term “bootleg” originated long before the days of prohibition. In the early days of American settlement it was illegal to sell liquor to the indigenous people.
Sailors coming ashore knew this and knew there was big money to me made selling it illegally to the Indians. It became common practice to slip the occasional bottle of rum into the tops of their wide sea-boots, well hidden until they found a customer.
It’s no secret that the quickest way to increase the price of anything is to make it hard to get. When thirsty customers couldn’t buy liquor legally, they were prepared to pay enormous prices on the black market.
Liquor running became such a lucrative business that it attracted criminals out to make a fast fortune. The notorious gangs headed by the like of Al Capone were started specifically to sell illegal liquor and gangsters were prepared to fight and die to defend their “territories”.
Once the Prohibition laws were repealed in 1933 there was no real reason for the gangs to operate and they simply faded from existence.
Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here in connection with our drug laws. Make them cheap and it becomes pointless for criminals to sell them to teenagers on street corners.
Would you buy a chocolate from a shady character who approached you in a dark alley? Probably not. You can get one cheaper from the corner cafe.
But back to more pleasant business
A good cocktail appeals to all the senses. It must look and smell good, which is why it often has a sprig of mint or a maraschino cherry adding colour. It must obviously taste good too, so an experienced cocktail maker will try to balance the sour with the sweet or add layers of taste surprises. And it must even sound good. There’s not much music to beat the friendly tinkle of ice cubes nudging the sides of a thin glass.
There’s no limit to the surprises one can stir into a good cocktail and one of the biggest of these is to create a blue drink. Think about it. Hardly anything we eat or drink is blue, so a glass of clear blue liquid always comes as something of a shock. The secret ingredient is blue Curacao, and it takes only a small splash of it to colour even a tall drink an intriguing shade of blue.
Try a Blue Arrow as a starter. Place a scoop of crushed ice in your cocktail shaker and pour over it two parts of gin and one part each of Cointreau, lime juice cordial and blue Curacao. Shake well and strain into a small cocktail glass. A drink as pretty as this needs no garnish.
For those of us lucky enough to live in the Cape, brandy should be the base of most of our cocktails, if only from a sense of loyalty to the spirit that kept our wine industry alive for three centuries.
For a really superbly balanced drink, try a B&B. It’s a simple recipe. You place a couple of spoons of crushed ice (or three cubes) in a shaker and add equal parts of brandy and Benedictine. Shake well, strain into small glasses and decorate with a twist of lime.
THE ROLLS ROYCE
One part Cognac
One part Cointreau
One part orange juice
Place three scoops of crushed
ice in a cocktail shaker and add the Cognac, Cointreau and orange juice.
Shake well, then strain the contents into a chilled cocktail
One part mandarin Napoleon liqueur
One part cherry brandy
Lemonade to taste
Place the mandarin Napoleon and cherry brandy in a bar glass
and stir well
Fill a highball glass with ice cubes and pour the cocktail over
Top up with lemonade and serve.
One part gin
One part dry vermouth
A green olive
Place four ice cubes in a bar glass and add the gin and dry
Stir, then strain into a martini glass.
Garnish with the olive on a cocktail stick.
Ten parts gin
One part dry vermouth
Mix the gin and vermouth in a bar glass and pour into as many
martini glasses as you are preparing.
Place them in a freezer and leave until frozen solid.
Serve frozen, so they can be sipped very slowly as they thaw.
BETWEEN THE SHEETS
One part light rum
One part brandy
One part Cointreau
A teaspoon of lemon juice
A twist of lemon rind
Place five or six ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Add the rum,
brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice.
Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.
Serve garnished with a twist of lemon rind.
One generous part vodka
A teaspoon of lime juice
A slice of fresh lime
Place two ice cubes in a chilled highball glass and pour in
the vodka and lime juice.
Stir well and fill with ginger beer.
Garnish with the lime and serve.
Two parts vodka
Half a part fresh lime juice
A teaspoon of sugar (or to taste)
Place a spoon of ice in a cocktail shaker and add the vodka,
lime juice and sugar.
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.
Tear the mint leaves to
release the aroma and drop them on to the drink as garnish.
SPIRIT OF SCOTLAND
Two parts Scotch whisky
One part Drambuie
Half a part of lemon juice
Place a scoop of crushed ice in a blender or cocktail shaker
and add the whisky, Drambuie and lemon juice.
Blend everything together briskly and strain into cocktail glass.
Three dashes of Angostura bitters
Two sherry glasses of amontillado sherry
A bottle of ginger ale or ginger beer
A slice of lemon
Splash the bitters into a chilled highball glass and swirl it
around to coat the inside of the glass.
Pour in the sherry and fill the glass with the ginger ale or
Float an ice cube on top and serve garnished with a slice of
A cube of sugar
A dash of Angostura bitters
Chilled dry champagne
A teaspoon of brandy
A cocktail cherry
Place the cube of sugar
in a champagne flute and add a dash or two of Angostura bitters.
Carefully fill the glass with champagne.
Add the teaspoon of brandy.
Serve decorated with the cocktail cherry.
TNT (TEQUILA ‘N TONIC)
Two parts tequila
Half a part fresh lime juice
Place three ice cubes in a bar glass, add the tequila and lime
juice and stir well.
Strain into a lowball glass, top up with tonic water and garnish
with a twist of lemon peel.