About Ice & Bitters

‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made’.
Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

If a drink’s got more than two ingredients, I get restless’.

Lloyd Shepherd, writer

This is not meant to be an exhaustive study on cocktail recipes, just the ones I have discovered, liked, and want to drink again; I like mixing drinks, and I like the classic (not necessarily drinks that are defined as ‘classic’*) cocktails. It does seem to me that the word mixology suggests that unless you have a bar that looks a chemistry lab, you cannot make a decent drink, or at least not at home anymore. This is simply not true – after all, we’re mixing a drink out of two or three ingredients, not creating cold fusion.

I am also intrigued by the number of cocktail revivals that have happened through the C20th to the C21st (1920s, 1950s, 1980s & now the 2010s) at roughly thirty year intervals – and at times of great social change and upheaval. Perhaps people turn to strong drinks at times of great crisis, or maybe look back when stressed at times that may have seen more carefree, and try to recreate those times in their social behaviour. I guess at the moment that the cocktail is a bit of a safety valve or an escape back to the Mad Men era; hence (in my opinion) the return to the classic recipes: the Martini, the Manhattan, the Collinses & the Sours.

Either way, I like to make a decent mixed drink at the weekends as a way to relax & let out the stresses of the week. Over the years, my tastes have changed – back in the 80s, I was excited by big, sweet flavours & presentation: my favourites were a brandy Alexander, the white russian & a piña colada or two. When I got a bit older, the whisky sour & a decent Margarita became my drinks of choice. Now, I enjoy the classics – especially the Manhattan. I am especially fascinated by the upsurge in bitters & the recreation of the lost recipes of older bitters.

Please note, I don’t claim any of the recipes here to be definitive, or ‘the one’.  Every drink can be mixed any number of ways, and the tiniest change in proportions can radically alter the way a drink turns out. Cocktails are personal things, and one person’s perfect dry martini might appall someone else. The only true test is your own taste, so make some drinks and decide which way you like them best.

*Cocktails can be ‘officially’ defined in three ways:

Traditional – their recipe is to be found in Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide, 1862

Classic – the recipe appears after this book, but before the end of Prohibition in the U.S.

Modern – the recipe appears after the end of Prohibition.


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