Miles Kington: How to use those undrinkable holiday liqueurs

A few are aniseed flavoured, and thus of interest only to dogs with a drink problem
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The Independent Online

Last week, if you remember, we learnt how to make your favourite newspaper into any size you want. (And we also learnt, incidentally, that when President Kennedy said: "Ich bin ein Berliner", he really meant: "I am a newspaper smaller than a broadsheet but larger than a tabloid, sort of like The Guardian..."!)

This week's lesson is something quite different: How To Make A Cocktail. And I don't mean how to tamely make a Manhattan, a Screwdriver, a Pink Lady or any of the traditional recipes. I mean, how to create a new cocktail of your very own!

So let's go!

A scientist writes: Of course, the phrase "creating a new cocktail" makes no scientific sense. Matter can neither be created or destroyed. So there is no sense in which a new cocktail can actually be "created". Devised, or invented, perhaps. But not actually created.

Miles Kington writes: And that's a good example of the sort of pontificating, killjoy attitude we're going to meet in the cocktail world, so it's as well to encounter it early on and be ready for it.

But then, the cocktail world is full of unreasonable ukases and shibboleths. Many people, for instance, are put off from trying the mixer's art when they buy a book on cocktails and find that they now have to go out and buy a cupboardful of equipment, such as highball glasses, shakers, stirrers, pourers, strainers, and so on.

What a load of hooey!

All you need for making cocktails is:

1. A glass jar with screwtop lid

2. Ice

3. A cupboard or cellar in which you have gradually accumulated over the previous 20 years a huge collection of half-finished bottles of liqueurs, fruit drinks, spirits, aperitifs, tourist tipples and exotic things picked up in duty free or on holiday, ranging (alphabetically) from absinthe to ylang-ylang.

(NB: The ylang-ylang should be removed to the bathroom immediately, as it is a perfume oil.)

The reason that all these spirits and liqueurs have remained there so long is that individually they are all quite repulsive (especially the ones picked up on holiday). Some taste like melted down crystallised fruits; some like left-over cold coffee; some like hard-line peppermint, and some like the kind of colourless fluid you find in a big jar in a doctor's surgery marked "Dangerous". A few are aniseed flavoured, and thus of interest only to dogs with a drink problem.

People have tried various methods of making them interesting, such as putting coffee beans in them and setting fire to them, or putting them in coffee and giving the result a regional name like Irish Coffee or Jamaican Coffee or some such. None of these has ever caught on, not even in Ireland or Jamaica, which is a bit of a giveaway.

So the last resort is to mix these potions together and see if they became any more palatable in combination. The results, known as cocktails, come into four categories:

1. Too sweet

2. Too strong

3. A funny colour

4. Highly inflammable

A good cocktail will always produce the same reaction - "Hey, that's nice! I'll have another of those!" Unfortunately, that leads to another and another. So it is better to stick to bad cocktails, which is luckily what most cocktails are, and of which you will need only one.

The usual way of rescuing a bad cocktail is by giving it a distinctive name, and much of the ingenuity of the cocktail inventor goes into the nomenclature. Cocktail names come into three main categories:

1. The names of totally forgotten people (eg Tom Collins, Gibson)

2. Light-hearted, jokey names (Between the Sheets, Screwdriver)

3. Names better given to racehorses (Pink Lady, Petite Fleur, Bloody Mary etc etc etc)

So there you are! To create a cocktail, mix together anything you have got and call it anything you like. Enjoy!

Next week's lesson: How to make sure you are not related to Jeremy Paxman.