Cocktails at Home – A Beginner’s Guide

By on July 6th, 2022 in Blog
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There is a certain amount of commitment required to make cocktails at home, but it can be so rewarding! How many of us have acquired a cocktail set, only to use it once and give up? As with many things, a better understanding is the key to enjoyment.

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The Foundations

Fortunately, there are just a handful of simple building blocks to most cocktails. Although there is no completely definitive ‘family tree’ the vast majority broadly fall into these six categories: The ‘Cocktail’ (aka Ancestral); The Spirit Forward Cocktail; Cobbler; Sour (or Punch); Highball; Flip. The Flip is an old-school oddity containing a whole egg, of which Eggnog is the most famous. We’ll leave those for now. A highball is simply a spirit + mixer (ie a G&T) – we probably don’t need to explore these either. So let’s look at the 4 in which most of us will be interested:


The ‘Cocktail’

Yup, there’s a family of cocktails called ‘The Cocktail’. This was the daddy, none came before, and many came after. It’s just four ingredients: base spirit; water (ice); sweetener (sugar); bitters. The most popular and familiar is the Old Fashioned. Its name shortened from ‘A Whisky Cocktail Made The Old Fashioned Way’, the Old Fashioned proves that keeping things simple never goes out of fashion (sorry). Douse a sugar cube in Angostura bitters or Old Fashioned Bitters. Add it to a measure of Uncle Nearest 1884 bourbon with a large ice cube in it. Stir for longer than you think till the ice melts to just the right point. Serve. Ok, you can use other bourbons, but Uncle Nearest is just so awesome. It’s named after the ex-slave who invented the Lincoln County Process of distillation, (the one Jack Daniels copied) is as smooth as velvet and puts the world’s most popular whiskey firmly in the shade.

Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Whiskey cocktails at home blog whiskey tennessee

The Spirit Forward Cocktail

A bit like ‘The Cocktail’ the ‘Spirit Forward Cocktail’ uses simple methods to achieve excellent results. Bitters are added to the base spirit. It’s almost always shaken or stirred over ice (which adds water). But then the sweetener comes in the form of a fortified or aromatised wine – usually vermouth. Think Manhattan or better still, The Martini. Here we recommend the same gin recommended to me at the Savoy’s American Bar; Portobello Road No. 171 Gin. Light, elegant, citrusy, with coriander, fresh coconut and a round juniper undercurrent. Martinis were originally made with equal measures of gin and dry vermouth and topped off with orange bitters before being stirred down. Many now simply coat the glass with vermouth, and stir the gin down with just a drop of bitters, if any. Regardless – whichever way you make your Martini, Portobello’s 171 should always be the first choice.

Portobello Road No. 171 Gin cocktails at home

The Cobbler

This one’s a little less defined. The Cobbler contains a base spirit, a sweetener of some description (again, usually sugar) and something else. This wild card element creates many opportunities for a bit of experimentation, so why not give it a go. First, though, let’s nail a classic – The Mint Julep. Muddle (or pound and crush) some fresh mint in a shaker. Add 70ml NYDC Ragtime Rye Bottled in Bond and 10ml sugar syrup add a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters if desired and shake. Then pour over crushed ice, stir and top up with more crushed ice. Now, you may have noticed we’ve suggested a Rye whisky here. Usually, you’d use a Bourbon but we think its flavours of lemon, butterscotch, burnt sugar, cedarwood and a little mintiness make this perfect for the drink of choice at The Kentucky Derby.

NYDC Ragtime Rye Bottled in Bond cocktails at home blog

The Sour/ Punch

Effectively all Punches are Sours, but not all Sours are Punches. The first 3 ingredients are the same; base spirit, sour element (often fresh citrus juice), and sweetener. Then add spices and water to your sour, and you’ve got a punch. Simple! A perfect summer party drink, the Rum Punch nails it every time. Jamaica is the home of the Rum Punch and we’ve yet to try a better version – 35ml FAIR Muscovado Rum, 15ml fresh lime juice, 30ml sugar syrup, 2 dashes of aromatic bitter (Angostura/ Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters) add water to taste. An overproof white Jamaican rum would normally be used but at 55%, FAIR Muscovado Rum offers so much more. Flavours of green mango, ripe peach, cracked pepper and toasted marshmallow add layers of complexity to an already outstanding and easy-to-make drink. Get involved!

Fair Muscovado Rum cocktails at home blog