I was asked by a journalist recently whether I saw the benefit to a cocktail, over say, a glass of wine. Of course, I am quick to defend my craft, but I think in particular, I view cocktails differently to many people.
To some, a cocktail is something that comes in a particular glass - notably the 'V' shaped martini glass. To others it has a traditional definition - that of a spirit (or liqueur) mixed with sugar, bitters and water (usually ice). Most see it as a mixed alcoholic drink though - but usually in a 'fancy' sense.
Simple hi-balls such as a Whisky & Soda or a G&T are some of my favourite cocktails and a indicator that more can be more. But referencing the aforementioned glass of wine, this too can be considered a cocktail. It is a composite blend; the skill of a winemaker to create an assembly that is greater then the sum of its parts. Even single malt whisky - often an example cited by those that 'don't do cocktails' as a complete drink that needs no messing with - is a cocktail created by a master blender with tremendous cocktail skills; being an orchestrated blend of many barrels to ensure harmony of flavour, and continued consistency.
But the real focus for me with a cocktail is the ability it has to suit, bolster or contrast a mood, and I don't think there's anything else that does this as well - aside from having good company. A cocktail can relax you after a hard day, pick you up when you need a little pep, or be the perfect introduction (or outro) to a meal. However, with this ability in mind, there's many everyday scenarios where there isn't the ability to have a well crafted drink to compliment the scenario perfectly. Often this is due to lazy, or greedy operators offering very sub standard and mediocre offerings (often at over inflated prices), but there's a lot that can be done for yourselves in these places. First, some of the worst culprits that could do so much better:
The cocktail has been immortalized in many iconic films, and the glitz of the silver screen seems synonymous with a fine tipple, but the experience of going to the cinema is let down by buckets of coca cola and too much ice cream (although, I'm not sure you can ever have too much ice cream). There are a few boutique cinemas that are branching out into better booze (a recent trip to the Aubin Cinema saw a great cinema experience accompanied by a fine Whisky Buck), but this is by no means the norm. You're sitting down for well into two hours so you don't want anything too boozy, and the ability to chill a drink isn't usually available, so a hip flask cocktail able to be sipped slowly is perfect.
The heyday of luxury global travel has very much passed! In the past, globetrotters would enjoy a crafted cocktail aboard their flight (usually joined by a cigarette!). Unless you're travelling at great expense, options today are usually pretty light on flavour. Your palate does change at altitude, and you need to be aware that the drink will hit you harder, but a fine drink can still ease the cabin fever. A lazy Manhattan utilizing a couple of miniatures of whiskey and vermouth is perfect poured over ice. Careful though, although below the security limit of 100ml, some airlines won't allow you to consume stowed hooch on board.
Sporting events usually cater for drinking requests with larger format serves of cheap beer. Although these definitely can fulfill a need, sometimes a mixed drink is exactly what's needed. This was made even more clear to me on a very cold Christmas a few years back where my dad's thermos of tea was greatly appreciated. More fitting would've been a hot cocktail to really warm us up. This is also perfect now the colder months have crept back around. This would serve well after a long walk, or simply to warm up with once back in the house:
40ml Linie Aquavit (or gin if you prefer something less spiced)
20ml brown butter syrup*
2 slices fresh ginger
100ml hot water
Add all ingredients to a cup and garnish with a twist of lemon peel or decant into a thermos and take on a long walk.
* add 50g salted butter to a pan and heat until it turns light brown and nutty. Remove from the heat and add 500g demerara sugar and 300ml of water and stir until dissolved. Cool, then pour through a sieve.