So, tomorrow brings with it a new year and a new decade full of promise and excitement. Slates will be wiped clean, resolutions drawn up – we'll shake the Etch-a-Sketch of life, hit the "restart" button and make a fresh start. But, before we plunge from the noughties into – what, the noughteens? – there remains one hurdle in our path – three words that will strike joy or dread into the heart: New Year's Eve.
What are you doing tonight? Perhaps you're one of those terribly organised people who sent out emails weeks ago, when you had your pick of bars you might actually want to spend time in. Or maybe you left it a late and have been fleeced by some average restaurant that promises snacks and one (likely lukewarm, half-empty) glass of champagne for 30 quid. You'll do the conga with drunken strangers under rented disco lights before being kicked out at 12:30 to traipse home through the wintry wastes.
Or perhaps the pressure to make New Year's Eve the biggest, best night of the year is all too much and you're not going anywhere. Last year, a survey by National Savings & Investment revealed that more than half of us had no plans to go out, while a Post Office poll showed belt-tightening meant fewer than one in three of us planned to see in the new year in a club or bar.
But a night in doesn't have to be a damp squib in front of the telly. Whether you're counting down to 2010 with a special someone or entertaining half the village, you'll want to keep festive spirits flowing. Something that sparkles will do the job but to really impress you'll want to get mixing. Nothing spells sophistication like a cocktail and, from the Absinthe Sour to a Zhivago Martini – and a thousand stalwart and exotic concoctions in between – you choice is limited only by your imagination (that and the size of your drinks cabinet/drawer/corner next to the toaster).
But where to start, if you don't know your brandy liqueur from your vermouth, or your angostura bitters from your sirop de gomme? To help you decide whether you want to keep things classic or make a statement with something new, Life asked three of Britain's top mixologists to provide 11 exciting recipes, from the ultimate punch to a possibly dubious hangover cure containing whisky and absinthe.
But first, a bit of history. Use of the word "cocktail" dates to 1803; we have to wait another three years for a definition. When a reporter used the word in a satirical swipe at a candidate during 1806 elections in Hudson, New York, a reader asked in a letter: "What is meant by this species of refreshment?" The editor of The Balance, and Columbian Repository replied: "Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters – it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time it fuddles the head."
It was in America that cocktails hit the big time. In 1862, a pioneering New York bartender called "Professor" Jerry Thomas published The Bar-Tender's Guide (also known as The Bon-Vivant's Companion), a bible in the drinks trade. With his flamboyant shaker-juggling and extravagant dress-sense, Thomas also set the standard for the modern bartender and is considered to be the "father of modern mixology". His signature drink was the Blue Blazer, a whiskey punch he mixed by throwing the flaming ingredients between two cups held more than a metre apart, creating a spectacular arc of fire.
Cocktails became fashionable during Prohibition in Twenties America, when bootleg liquor of dubious origin needed to be sweetened and flavoured to make it drinkable. Gin grew popular as an alternative to whisky because it didn't need to be aged, making illicit production easier.
"The Americans were very vocal about cocktail making in the early days," says Nick Strangeway, an award-winning bartender and consultant mixologist. "If you were European you were looked down upon. But do your research and you'll see that the British invented mixed drinks before America existed. I've got punchbowls that date back to the 1600s."
Strangeway is right – sailors with the British East India Company started mixing spices into potent concoctions served in punch bowls in the early 17th century. Wine or brandy usually served as the base until Jamaican rum became a popular alternative. By the 1670s, punch houses had sprung up in London to quench a growing thirst for the drink. It's only fitting that Strangeway includes a classic punch as one of his recipes. Anyone looking for a more modern twist on the historic cocktail should check out the offerings from hot-shot "molecular mixologist", Ryan Chetiyawardana, who won top prize at this year's "bartending Oscars". And then there's the man they call "The Maestro" – Salvatore Calabrese.
Ryan Chetiyawardana is riding high in the bartending fraternity after bagging the biggest prize in drinks. Last July, Marco Pierre White crowned the student Britain's best bartender in the final of World Class 2009 – the Oscars of the bartending world. Pierre said Chetiyawardana, who does his thing at Edinburgh's trendy if tiny Bramble bar, was "as creative and skilful as a leading chef".
It was the Three Storm Flip that won Chetiyawardana top spot. With an aged Venezuelan rum base, it also included a splash of Velvet Falernum (a lime-laced sugary liqueur) and a dash of Lagavulin Scotch, as well as orange bitters, nutmeg, seasoning and one raw egg. It sounds exotic but by Chetiyawardana's standards it's almost conservative. The Edinburgh bartender says his studies have helped him add a dash of something special to his growing repertoire (he's only 25). "I'm known as a methodical, precise mixologist, which probably comes from my background as a biology student," he says. "I enjoy working with flavours and concocting unusual balances."
Chetiyawardana says he's "been using salt quite a lot recently, something I've borrowed from my Mum, who used to be a pastry chef". More unusual ingredients include jam, avocado, jelly and, most recently, sweetcorn. "I used young corn whiskey, which has a creamy roasted sweetcorn nose that I paired with fresh sweetcorn to make the Cornrow Cocktail. Some people absolutely loved it – others not so much." Chetiyawardana has invented a new, suitably wintry flip (an old class of mixed drinks comprising spirits, egg, sugar and spice) for The Independent that includes ginger jam. There's no sweetcorn in his special New Year's Eve drinks list but you might have to go on a last-minute mission for buckwheat tea if you want to have a crack at Pass the Buck, while NY Toast includes cardamom and cloves.
Now half way through his final year of a Masters degree in philosophy, Chetiyawardana fits in shifts behind the bar when he can. But he wouldn't miss tonight for anything. "It probably sounds strange to say but my favourite thing to do on New Year's Eve is to work," he says. "I love being part of the fun behind the bar – it's just like hosting a really good party."
RYAN CHETIYAWARDANA'S COCKTAIL RECIPES
A rich, warming spiced cocktail perfectly suited to the colder months, and with flavours reminiscent of the festive period, it is an ideal addition to New Year's Eve gatherings.
1 whole egg
30ml sloe gin
20ml Highland Park 12-year- old whisky
1 barspoon/teaspoon ginger jam
A dash of demerara sugar syrup
A dash of angostura bitters
Stir the jam into alcohol in a shaker, add other ingredients, dry shake (without ice), shake with cubed ice, double strain into a sherry glass without ice, and garnish with grated nutmeg.
Pass the Buck
A sharp, unusual combination of citrus and floral balanced against the nutty notes of the buckwheat.
50ml strong buckwheat tea
20ml pink grapefruit juice
20ml pressed apple juice
15ml elderflower cordial
10ml egg white (optional, omit if serving warm)
2 dashes peach bitters
Soda (optional if serving cold)
If serving cold, shake all ingredients with cubed ice, strain into a highball glass with cubed ice. Add a dash of soda if you want it, garnish with a slice of pink grapefruit and a sprig of mint. To serve warm, brew the buckwheat tea (available in health shops), add to a pan with the other ingredients and gently heat. Serve in a soup pot/punch bowl with tea cups, and garnish with cinnamon quills and orange slices.
Borrowing from the claret snap in a New York sour, this gently spiced drink is a perfect tipple hand to usher in the New Year.
2 cardamom pods
20ml pineapple juice
15ml sugar syrup
10ml lemon juice
15ml red wine – something fruity and lightly tannic
Dash angostura bitters
Gently press cardamom seeds and cloves in bottom of a shaker. Add rum, brandy, sugar syrup and juices; shake with cubed ice, double strain into a champagne flute without ice. Mix red wine and bitters, float snap over drink.
Salvatore Calabrese styles himself as something of a living legend in the bartending world. And he has form, having authored a shelf's worth of books including Classic Cocktails – and manned some of the country's most prestigious bars in a career spanning more than 40 years. Born on the Italian Amalfi Coast, he says the first cocktail he ever made was an Americano. "I was 11," he says. "My mentor at the time said making drinks is all about balance and flavour and I used to get a kick in the backside if I got it wrong."
A world expert in Cognac with a trophy cabinet as big as his collection of drinks – which includes some rare specimens dating back to the 1930s and earlier – Calabrese was famed for his Martinis at London's Lanesborough hotel. He later opened Salvatore Calabrese at Fifty, part of a private members' club. "New Years Eve is one of the best – and busiest – days of the festive period," he says. "But this year is going to be one of those rare times I'll be at home with family and friends. And, of course, I'll be forced to make drinks."
So, what does the Maestro suggest for a DIY cocktail party? "Before dinner you want something to help digestion," he says. "Something to make you hungry. For me that means a Blushing Fran. I invented it recently for my daughter, Francesca, who's 18. She loved it and the heat of the chilli started to make her blush.
"After dinner you want something to raise the blood pressure – a bit of fun. That's where my Slap, Cracker and Pop comes in. Tequila used to be rough and ready and only made pleasant with salt and lime. This is something different – you have the bitter and spicy flavour in the angostura and pepper combined with a top-quality bottle of Don Julio. Trust me – you'll have another one." As an alternative to this fiery concoction, Calabrese prescribes his 2010 Fizz, a Champagne cocktail to be enjoyed at the stroke of midnight.
And if you survive all that? "Well then, you'll need a Morning Glory," Calabrese says. "When I was about 17 I thought I was a big guy and got really drunk on Brandy Alexanders. In the morning my mother gave me an egg yolk topped with chilli and lemon juice in half an egg shell, with a shot of sweet Marsala in the other half. First there was sweetness, then the delicate Marsala, a hit of lemon and the kick of the chilli to really wake you up. It really did the trick."
SALVATORE CALABRESE'S COCKTAIL RECIPES
1.5cl framboise liqueur
1.5cl elderflower cordial (Bottle Green)
1cl fresh lemon juice
Half slice fresh pineapple
2 thin slices of red chilli pepper
Cut the pineapple into chunks and place and muddle to extract the juice. Add the remaining ingredients and ice and shake. Double strain into sugar-crusted cocktail glasses. Garnish with the chilli pepper on the rim of the glass.
Slap, Cracker and Pop
Perfect to start the evening. It stimulates the appetite and has a wonderful combination of flavours. It's fresh, fruity, sweet and spicy and will set the mood for celebration.
A shot glass of good aged Tequila
5-7 dashes of angostura bitters
Half tsp coarsely ground black pepper
Mix the bitters with the pepper in a saucer until it turns into a paste. Coat one side of a wedge of lime with the paste and serve alongside the tequila. Bite the lime, and follow with the shot.
2cl Benedictine liqueur
3cl fresh raspberry purée
Shake the Benedictine and raspberry purée in a shaker filled with ice. Strain into a champagne flute, top up with the champagne and stir. Garnish with two raspberries on a cocktail stick separated by a fresh mint leaf.
Morning Glory Fizz
The earliest-known reference of this cocktail dates back to 1895. It was created for medicinal purposes (to cure hangovers). Perfect for the early hours of 2010.
2cl fresh lemon juice
1.5 tsp castor sugar
1 small egg white
Twist of lemon
Place all the ingredients except the soda water in a shaker filled with ice, shake well to allow the egg white to foam and the sugar to dissolve. Strain into a glass, top up with the soda water and stir. Garnish with the lemon.
Nick Strangeway, one of London's leading mixologists, was seen earlier this year behind the bar at the Hawksmoor, a modern British steakhouse and cocktail bar in Shoreditch, and, most recently, in the basement at Hix, a new Soho restaurant run by the chef and Independent Magazine cookery writer, Mark Hix.
An award-winning bartender and, for the past 10 years, an in-demand consultant working with hotels and drinks companies to develop new cocktails, Strangeway often browses the library for inspiration. Below you'll find his recipe for a punch that evokes the spirit of the original drink, first enjoyed by British sailors almost 400 years ago. "Anything you can make in a big batch is ideal for New Year's Eve," says Strangeway. "The last thing you want is to be stuck making drinks all night."
Strangeway also recommends two tequila cocktails and a sbagliato, which is the Italian for "mistake". "It was apparently created when someone used prosecco rather than gin while attempting to make a Negroni," Strangeway says. "It's a slightly more grown-up drink." The Italian concoction, conceived in the early 1900s, is as simple as it is delicious. "Always make things as easy as possible otherwise you're only going to have a bad time," he adds.
Strangeway has been on the circuit long enough that he doesn't have to work on New Year's Eve. "This year I'll probably disappear to the countryside to my parents' village and have a couple of drinks," he says. "We'll start with some sbagliatas or a nice Bellini and finish with a whisky at the end of the night. There's such a build-up in London but you usually end up running late and missing midnight because you're stuck in a taxi."
NICK STRANGEWAY'S COCKTAIL RECIPES
This light, refreshing yet bitter drink is a wonderfully grown-up cocktail. You might also want to have some peach purée on hand. This way by stirring 1 part peach purée with 3 parts prosecco one makes the delightfully delicate and fruity Bellini.
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth
4 parts prosecco
1 slice of orange
Stir equal quantities of Campari and sweet vermouth on ice in a highball. Top up with prosecco and garnish with a slice of orange.
Tequila is guaranteed to make any party go with a bang. I like to drink mine in margarita-style cocktails that are sweet and sour. This one was created by the owner of Tommy's in San Francisco, Julio Bermejo. Alternatively, try the Armalita Chico, which is slightly more complicated but still simple enough.
4 parts tequila
2 parts fresh lime juice
1 part agave syrup
Shake and serve
4 parts tequila
2 parts fresh lime juice
2 parts pomegranate juice
1 part grenadine
A dash of orange blossom water
Shake and serve
Punches traditionally contain alcohol, spice, citrus, water or tea and sugar. As a rule of thumb refer to an old rhyme that says "one sour, two sweet, three strong and four weak."
1 part Beefeater gin
2 parts Somerset cider brandy
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part spiced syrup (recipe below)
1 part clementine and lemon sherbet (below)
4 parts Pressed Apple Juice
Mix all the above in any quantity and chill. Garnish with wheels of lemon and clementine.
For the spiced syrup:
Roast a large stick of cinnamon, 6 cloves, 6 allspice, 4 green cardamoms and 1 star anise in a pan. When they start releasing their essential oils, add 250ml of boiling water, 500g of castor sugar and 2cm of grated fresh ginger. Simmer for 10 mins and strain.
For the sherbet:
Grind the grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 clementine with 5 tblsp of caster sugar in a pestle and mortar. Add the lemon and clementine juice and heat until the sugar dissolves. Strain.