I'm quite inclined to make myself a cocktail at the end of a long day, and I'll certainly put together a few if I have friends coming over, but sometimes you just need something simple and easy. It's the same with dinner; I love putting together a favourite meal, but sometimes I lack the energy or want to peel, chop, simmer and stew- a hunk of bread, some cheese and pickles takes a matter of seconds and more than adequately satiates.
Putting together a cocktail can takes a little time. Although I've described the benefits to having a bit of prep done (and also just to keep as a stalwart) such as a freezer drawer full of ice, some sugar syrup(s) or even a bottled cocktail, sometimes the impetus is lacking to put together a crafted cocktail. Similarly, sometimes a cocktail that you have the ingredients to make may not be fitting of your mood.
So what to do when you still need the wonderful breather that comes with a well made drink, but you're tired of the simple serves you usually have at home? Well, there are a few little additions that can be used to spice up ingredients that you often have around the house. A few of us will have 'everyday' items that are favourites around the house, so the below additions can provide a little spice when you are tired of the same serve, but lack the ingredients or energy to put together a cocktail. Certainly not the ready meal of the cocktail world, more those wonderful 'cheat' ingredients:
Water (and ice)
Now, you might be thinking that either I'm stupid, thinking you're stupid, or simply repeating myself, but this is a key one.
Adding a dash of water to your spirit will open out flavours you might not have known are sitting underneath. Dilution is a key part of a cocktail, but simply adding some water to your spirit (or even wines and beers, although they seldom need it) will draw out the layers to the product. It also raises the temperature slightly helping these aromatics reach your nose. Taking the alcohol edge off will change the flavour too. It seems obvious, but it's amazing the change it makes. Ice will 'close down' flavours a touch, but it will change the texture, and you'll find different notes begin to unfold as the ice melts.
To try- add a couple of drops of water to your favourite whisky, drop by drop, tasting and nosing in between.
Theres's a range of bitters on the market now, but picking up a few simple 'compound' bitters such as Angostura, Boker's and Orange bitters will be useful store-cupboard additions. A dash of these to beers, wines, spirits and simple serves will create interesting twists. You can even use them in cooking. A little really goes a along way, but I like to describe these as the seasoning within mixed drinks. They'll bridge certain flavours in the drink, and highlight others. As the name suggests, they lend towards the bitter end, so often help highlight spice, but some of the citrus led ones can also highlight brighter notes.
To try- add a small splash of a sweeter-style aged rum and a couple dashes of Boker's to an espresso after dinner.
Don't be scared of this one. Although I'm not a huge fan of anise as a flavour, little dashes and rinses of absinthe can transform a drink. As the notable gaz regan describes it, a splash can be 'pure alchemy' and a dash of absinthe to a gin martini really is quite magic. A bottle used in this way will last a good while- pick up a miniature or a small bottle and it'll be a good ally.
To try- add a few drops, or a rinse to a tall gin & pressed apple
It's remarkable what a little citrus oil will do. Think about how fresh a room smells when you've cut a lemon or peeled a tangerine. They're wonderfully uplifting scents. That's why they've been used in perfumes and of course cocktails for so long. A little flourish of citrus oils over the surface can be an indicator of what's to come, or a lovely contrast to the flavours of the drink beneath. They can also wonderfully dry the drink too- be careful though, too much will taste bitter.
To try- take a small strip of citrus peel avoiding too much of the pith- a potato peeler is ideal- and squeeze skin side over the surface of your beer and drop in (grapefruit or orange peel with a bittersweet-style craft beer is ideal). It's amazing how it plays into the brightness of the hops and the richness of the malt.
Salt and syrups
We're drawn to sweeter tastes and salt by design. This doesn't mean you have to have sweet drinks or salty ones of course, but it does mean that a little salt and sugar can draw out flavours amazingly. Use them sparingly and they'll help lift out notes from within your drink- much as it will in your food. Trust me!
To try- add a small pinch of good quality salt to a creamier drink, or a dash of sugar syrup and bitters to your favourite spirit (it's like a crude old fashioned)