Shake till you freeze

RICHARD EHRLICH'S beverage REPORT
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The Independent Culture
Some Cocktails are revolting, little more than sops to the mind- less hunger for novelty in food and drink. They're the alcoholic equivalent of polenta-crusted salmon with horseradish and avocado salsa. But even good cocktails can be ruined, because there's more to a recipe than ingredients and proportions. You also have to know how to put each drink together.

There are, roughly speaking, three ways to mix a cocktail, and the simplest is plain old stirring. (Any old long-handled spoon will do.) More complicated is shaking. You have to use plenty of ice - fill the glass half of the shaker at least three-quarters full of the stuff. Then, when all the ingredients have gone in, secure the metal half with a thump, and shake hard. You have to shake till you ache, not just mixing but getting the drink Arctically cold. Many barmen hold the shaker next to their ear, so they can feel the temperature. Now hold the shaker upright and tap the metal edge firmly on something hard to loosen it. Remove the top, and pour through a strainer onto fresh ice (very important) or into a glass if serving straight up.

The other method, building, shows the barman's art at its height, requiring patience and infinite care. It usually begins with one or two flavourings, which are stirred gently (muddled) or crushed with a pestle. Then the remaining ingredients (liquids and ice) are added gradually at the appropriate moment. The aim is to attain the correct balance and dilution at the precise moment the cocktail is to be drunk.

Building is exemplified perfectly in the Old Fashioned, an American classic which most American bartenders no longer make properly. Dick Bradsell of Detroit calls the making of Old Fashioneds "an exercise in controlled dilution", and his version is a stunner. The drink calls for Gomme, a bottled sugar syrup which bartenders use constantly. You can make your own by gently heating equal parts of castor sugar and water till the sugar dissolves.

The other drinks here are both shaken. One is an exquisite daiquiri perfected by barman Brian Duell, the other a modern classic called Sea Breeze. Made with cranberry juice (Fergie's favourite), this is more often stirred than shaken. But shaking transforms the drink, making it smooth and sweetish rather than thin and tart. I'm sure there's a truly fascinating explanation for this phenomenon, but I haven't the faintest idea what it is.

All these recipes are practical for home bartenders. Some cocktails are not. I'd love to give Detroit's Mai Tai recipe, for example, but few of us own almond syrup, apricot liqueur, and orange liqueur. If you want to get serious about cocktails at home, start off with drinks that can be concocted from readily available ingredients. Anyway, it's surely much better to make three cocktails very well than 50 badly.

OLD FASHIONED

Here's the recipe used by Dick Bradsell at Detroit. The better the Bourbon the better the cocktail; he uses Maker's Mark.

10ml/1 teaspoon Gomme or sugar syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

50ml/2fl oz bourbon

twist of orange peel

Have a large number of ice cubes to hand. In a tumbler, muddle the syrup and bitters. Add a single ice cube and stir 20 times. Add half the Bourbon and stir 20 times. Add more ice and stir again 20 times. Add the remaining Bourbon and stir 20 times, then top up with ice and squeeze the orange zest into the drink. Drop in the zest. Drink.

LIME DAIQUIRI

50ml/2fl oz top-quality rum

12.5ml/12fl oz lime juice

10ml/12fl oz sugar syrup

This is Brian Duell's recipe. Put a stemmed cocktail glass in the freezer. Put the rum in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Add the juice and syrup, then shake vigorously until the shaker is so cold you can hardly bear to hold it. Separate the two halves of the shaker, and strain the drink into the chilled glass. Drink quickly, but savour each sip.

DETROIT SEA BREEZE

50ml/2fl oz vodka

50ml/2fl oz cranberry juice

75ml/3fl oz grapefruit juice

Fill a shaker two-thirds with ice and add the remaining ingredients. Shake vigorously until the shaker is really cold. Fill a tall glass with ice, and pour over. There should be a nice froth on top, and the drink will be smooth to both palate and throat.

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