How to mix a great cocktail

Mark Jenner, master mixologist at the Connaught Hotel in London, explains how to create professional cocktails at home.

Train to become a master mixologist in your own home with these handy tips. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Train to become a master mixologist in your own home with these handy tips. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Ask the experts

Don't be afraid to ask a bartender for advice. It's a complete myth that you can't recreate these things at home. The godfather of modern bartending is Dale DeGroff. His book The Craft of the Cocktail is a great starting point for a beginner.

Equip yourself

Invest in an industry standard shaker. A basic three-piece shaker has a built-in strainer and is good for beginners.

Deep freeze

Keep things as cool as possible. Chill your glasses in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using them, or fill with crushed ice if short of time. If you can, make your ice cubes with filtered or mineral water - it makes a surprising difference to the overall taste.

Well stocked

Christmas is a great time to fill your drinks cabinet, as a lot of the stores have special offers on spirits.

Gin, vodka, rum and whisky should all be in there. My favourite gin is Tanqueray - it has a beautiful juniper note to it, which isn't lost when mixed. Try a bourbon or rye whiskey rather than the more obvious Tennessee brands, and opt for Smirnoff Black Vodka if you can find it. It's distilled in a similar way to whisky and has a softer, creamy taste.

Shake it up

Shaking chills and dilutes the spirit, taking the edge off the alcohol. You're also introducing air to the mix, which makes for a lighter, slightly frothier drink. Give the lid a good tap with the palm of your hand first, to create a tight seal. Shake in whatever way feels most comfortable, but always use two hands and give it some welly. Your cocktail is ready when it's so cold that your hand starts to stick to the side of the shaker.

Stirring stuff

Stirred cocktails tend to be stronger. Purists prefer them to shaken drinks as the alcohol isn't bruised in any way. The key is to stir with a long-handled metal spoon until you can see condensation forming on the sides of the glass.

Learn the basics

Perfect a classic martini. Fill a large mixing glass with ice and pour over 5ml (one teaspoon) dry vermouth, such as Noilly Prat. Stir with a long-handled spoon and then carefully tip out the liquid - I know it seems like a crime, but the residual flavour is all you need. Next, pour in 75ml gin, add some more ice and stir again. Stain into a chilled glass and garnish with a twist of lemon zest. Be careful to shave off any white pith as it can make the cocktail taste bitter.

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