Tired of your tried-and-tested Happy Hour order? These drinks experts explain how to update old favourites with innovative twists
If you like drinking piña coladas in the pouring rain, then you’re in luck in Britain – it seems cocktail culture is here to stay (as is poor weather).
But like anything else in life, it’s easy to get stuck in a loop of comfortable familiarity. So if you find yourself ordering the same cocktail over and over, consider mixing things up.
Adrian Smith, The Independent’s wine and spirits columnist, points to the phenomenal drinks being introduced with spirits you wouldn’t typically associate with the more well-known cocktails.
Smith, who is also the founder and “chief drinker” of Sypped, also raves about “the rebirth of sherry”, which you may or may not associate with your grandmother’s dusty cabinet. Essentially, he explains, replacing gin with sherry can work wonders in the right scenario – “it can add a real surge of flavour, and it’s a fraction of the price.”
“There’s a plethora of incredible cocktails being created. You’ll see it continuing to appear on cocktail menus and can have a stab at creating you’re on your own at home, with variations of spritz, collins or tonics.”
The Independent spoke to a selection of drinks experts about how to swap classic cocktails for less well known alternatives.
Dan Miles, who represented New Zealand in the 42BELOW Cocktail World Cup, and managed Christopher’s in Covent Garden, explains that many classic cocktails such as the Mojito, Margarita and Daiquiri, as well as any of the sours, depend on a a balance between sweet and sour.
Diana Isac, CEO of Winerist.com, advises using 100 per cent freshly pressed juice, or organic rose water. “After all, if it is real and fresh, it has to be better for you!”
Smith prefers avoiding mixers altogether and focuses on neat cocktails, such as a vodka Martini or Manhattan.
Here are seven beloved classic cocktails, with some rum advice on how to spice them up.
Gin & Tonic
One part gin, one / two parts tonic, over ice and garnished
A drink so ubiquitous that you might not even associate it with the cocktail world at all, the G&T is a staple in most people’s booze arsenal.
And with the gin category continuing to boom, mixology expert Jenny Griffiths says she’d like to see other highball drinks lengthened with tonic.
“Everyone loves a G&T,” she says, “so it’d be great to see more twists on tequila and tonics, rum and tonics and simple highball drinks.”
But if you’ve done the unthinkable and grown bored with your G&T, swap it for a classic Tom Collins (gin with lemon juice, syrup and club soda) for an elegant alternative.
Sugar, bitters, bourbon / rye whiskey and garnish
Old fashioned by name, old fashioned by origin, this cocktail predates just about everything else on the menu .
It’s such a simple and elegant classic that it almost cries out for a revamp. Jo Turner, drinks journalist and experienced bartender, recommends a radical change in base spirit from whiskey to tequila.
“Tequila’s the best, because there’s a surprising sweetness and cooked agave flavours when you stir it down.”
Anthony Gregson, trainer and licensing consultant at Hospitality Training Solutions, recommends swapping the Old Fashioned for an American Trilogy (Laird’s Applejack, rye whiskey, orange bitters and a brown sugar cube.
“The American Trilogy is a nice twist of a classic, using two base spirits, and the Applejack significantly changes the flavour. The key features of an Old Fashioned are still there (spirit, bitters, sugar), while keeping it fundamentally American. It’s smooth, spicy and buttery.”
One part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari
A bitter from Italy, the Negroni is a firm favourite in most cocktail drinker’s arsenal.
Smith recommends modernising the historic drink with a dash of rum: “My go-to choice here would be rum, given it’s ability to add such vibrant flavour.
“Rum, Aperol and White Vermouth, alongside a garnish of grapefruit and rosemary, make for the explorative perfect treat.”
You can also replace the gin with sparkling wine or prosecco to make a sbagliato, or substituting the gin with tequila for a so-called “tegroni”.
Paolo Tonellotto, mixologist at The Hide bar, suggests the “Milanese G&T” as a twist on the Negroni, where the vermouth is replaced with tonic, or a Boulevardier, which is two parts bourbon and one part each of Campari and red vermouth, stirred down and served straight up with orange zest.
“It is a warm and complex drink,” he says, “perfect for after dinner or the ideal conversational cocktail, and best enjoyed in an atmospheric bar to feel the full effect.”
Tequila, triple sec, lime juice and salt
Dating all the way back to the 1930s, the Mexican favourite is most often served straight up, or blended with ice as a frozen margarita, in an eponymous glass.
Standard variations, however, see flavoured additions like cointreau and blue curaçao to create different colour options.
Or, if you’re feeling naughty, go for a “Coronarita” – turning a bottle of Corona upside down to train into the cocktail.
Turner also recommends switching the tequila to mezcal, “tequila’s earthier, smokier cousin”, for a punchier, greener flavour.
Rye whiskey, vermouth, bitters
Lachlan Rooney, whisky writer and bar manager at The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh, explains the enduring popularity of the Manhattan as “its timeless sophistication and the aura of respect it commands”.
“Many of the biggest names in Hollywood, politics, aristocracy and the military have all laid praise upon the drink, and when imbibing it almost feels like you’re tasting a piece of history.”
His favourite twist of the moment is the sweet rye Manhattan: 50ml rye, 25ml Antica formula, 1 dash angostura bitters and 1 dash orange bitters.
“Thoroughly stir all of the ingredients down, then double strain into an ice cold coupette. Zest an orange peel over the glass then discard, maraschino cherry optional.”
He also suggests an exciting alternative: the “Rob Roy”.
“It follows the same principles as the Manhattan, yet when you introduce something like a Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Cask, the flavour profile and depth of the drink change completely.
“Also halving the sweet vermouth and adding some dry instead makes the perfect ‘Rob Roy’ when experimenting with the likes of a Caribbean rum cask finished whisky.”
Gin, vermouth, garnished with olive or lemon twist
The last decade has seen a a gin renaissance in the city, and nowadays gin lovers will find a multitude of options on the back bar.
An espresso Martini is a delightful and trendy twist: it can be enjoyed anytime of day or night, during different occasions; it is versatile and can work as an aperitif or as a going-out drink. It is refreshing, and the aromas of coffee pair really well with the natural notes of the alcohol.
Rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, mint
The mojito is arguably one of the most popular cocktails – it’s simple, easy to make and to put your own stamp on.
Dominykas Smagurauskas, senior bartender at Bokan bar in London, says: “With the summer just around the corner I’m strongly feeling my mojito. Any variation on the classic is always going to catch my attention. Here at Bokan, I’ve introduced a rhubarb version which is perfect for the season.”
And Joe Tivey has a healthy and more exciting swap option: the mint julep (bourbon, water, shaved ice and mint).
“My riff on the julep is simple, current, dairy free (!) and adds a little length and effervescence to what is normally a very spirituous serve. Ingredients are bourbon, fresh mint, sugar (or vanilla sugar), shop or home made coconut water kefir, rose water.”
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