Read This Before Dinner
Drinks, of course, can serve a purpose – that much is true to those of us who like to use liquor-induced confidence when approaching attractive strangers at a bar. But other than filling up my date-book (still empty, in case anyone was wondering), what are some of the other times in which our drinks are working hard for us?
All the time, of course.
We all know by now the legendary stories of liquor coming to the rescue when one was suffering from gout, tuberculosis, malaria or the common cold. But our little friendly bottles are working not only to ensure we survive with our scarred livers intact, but also to ensure that we are enjoying every moment of life to its fullest. And if that includes whetting our appetites before dinner, then that, my friends, is what cocktails will do for us.
…SUCKERS! You thought you were going to be reading about booze but really, I’m talking to you about WORDS! Not only that; OLD words to boot! Aperitif is a word we’ve all seen stamped on our Campari bottles but what’s the deal with everyone drinking herby bitter things before dinner? Well, if you trace its roots back through some French twisting of the Latin original, aperitif comes to us from ‘aperire’ – ‘to open’. How fitting, right?
In the name of twelve-course degustation and pot luck dinners alike, I’d like to take you through some of our favourite aperitifs in the hope that the next time you’re planning a dinner party you’ll consider a zesty opening gambit from our little list of winners:
We’ve all heard the maxim ‘shaken, not stirred’, and each of us are picturing our favourite Bond uttering them, no doubt (mine is in the dulcet voice of Sean Connery), and most of us rightfully associate England’s deadliest weapon with a Vesper Martini.
Did you know that the first cocktail mentioned in the James Bond novels is actually the Americano? Bond sips his in the Hermitage whilst waiting for Vesper and Mathis – personally I enjoy mine in my backyard with my dog happily napping next to me – but, each to their own.
Bond has his Americanos as an aperitif to dinner and to DANGER – but may we suggest that you leave the mortal peril to the professionals and instead consider this cocktail for your next backyard gathering.
Here’s how you can make them at home:
30ml Sweet vermouth (we like local legends Maidenii)
Fill glass with ice
Top with soda (Bond’s favourite is Perrier)
A Negroni is a classic example of an ‘equal parts’ cocktail. It’s made by mixing:
30ml dry Gin
30ml sweet Vermouth
Over ice, stirring it down and then garnishing with an orange rind.
You might notice some similarities between it and the Americano, and that’s no mistake. One fine afternoon in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni walked into Caffe Casconi in Florence. Here’s a verbatim account of what happened next:
Count Negroni: ‘Blimey, mate, I’m thirsty as f**k’.
Bartender: ‘It’s before dinner, so have an aperitif. How about an Americano?’
Count Negroni: ‘Good idea, but let’s crank it up a notch. Ditch the soda.’
Bartender: ‘But then the glass won’t be full?’
Count Negroni: ‘Fill it up with gin instead.’
Bartender: ‘F**k mate you’re a genius.’
Count Negroni takes a victory sip and nods slowly.
The first sunny day of the season has me reaching for the Aperol. Is there a more iconic summer classic than an Aperol Spritz? It’s refreshing, a little fizzy, and super easy to make. It’s as easy as 1 (part soda), 2 (parts Aperol), 3 (parts prosecco).
Here you go, get building.
In a wine glass add:
Fill glass with ice and garnish with a wedge of orange.
Aperol was originally created in Padua in 1919 but didn’t really take off until after World War II. The Spritz was invented later still and rose to popularity in the 1950s. It’s undertaking a revival now with many venues having this simple classic on their menu, or even on tap. Definitely worth adding to your Home Bartender repertoire.
The drink that ‘makes me feel civilised’ (thanks Hemingway). The Martini is a classic creation that has outlived the cream-based drinks era, the frozen cocktail trend, the Why Does Everything Have Orange Juice In It years, and particularly throughout the 90s and early 2000s (the Just Put It In A Martini Glass epoch) inspired many variations (some that I’d rather forget).
The beauty of the martini is that it’s highly personal. Depending on preference, the type of gin or vodka used, or the time of day, recipes and garnishes can very. Put very simply a martini is gin or vodka, stirred down with dry vermouth. You’ve heard of a ‘dry’ martini – this just has less vermouth added than its counterpart. Similarly, a ‘dirty’ martini boasts the addition of olive brine to add flavour and texture and is garnished with olive.
The origin of the cocktail is murky, but it’s widely conceded that the drink first appeared in the 1890s. Originally gin, Martini & Rossi brand vermouth and a few dashes of orange bitters, it was followed in the 1960s by its vodka-based counterpart, and today it’s common to be asked your preference when ordering.
The variations on this recipe are nuanced and endless – in the interests of expediting this article let’s just have a look at how to make my personal favourite, a dry gin martini with a twist.
60ml Gin (I quite enjoy Four Pillars or Loch Distillery when garnishing with lemon)
10ml dry Vermouth
Now the creation of the cocktail ends up being somewhat contentious among bartenders (and Bond fans alike) – shaken or stirred? Personally I prefer stirred, it’s a nice gentle way to chill and dilute a drink. Some will tell you one way is more effective than the other (I once heard a haughty mixologist huff because shaking gin ‘bruises’ it – this may be true but I’ve plenty of favourite shaken gin cocktails, so call me a plebeian).
If you’re not sure on which is best, I’m going to divert you back to my usual mantra – you drink your martini however you damn well please. But make sure you do it fast – the drink is designed to be cold from start to finish, so get sipping.