Is there any moment that whispers “drink!” more insistently than an early summer evening? When the sun is retreating over the pavilion and the shadows are advancing across the lawn, the tinkle of ice cubes and the “psst” of soda bottles is almost mandatory. The French call this l’apéro, the Italians l’aperitivo and the English the sundowner. It goes hand-in-hand with salty things to eat – almonds, olives, artichokes – languid conversation and a slightly wistful feeling.
While the quintessential sundowner is the gin and tonic (an unimprovable combination of juniper and quinine), there are other ways to hit that particular spot. The trick is to play around with clean, hard liquor, vegetal bitterness, herbal uplift and a hint of sour. In all instances, use much more ice than you think you need, and chill your glasses in the freezer as you prepare the drinks. This causes a perfect and brilliantly refreshing condensation to form as you pour.
Best for unwinding after an afternoon idling at badminton or cricket
Mr Erik Lorincz, the unflappable head barman at the American Bar at The Savoy hotel in London, came up with this dewy classic. It’s a good formula to fool around with – mint, tarragon or sage work well in place of the basil. Use only the freshest eggs, or do without.
- 2oz gin (Hayman’s Old Tom)
- 3/4oz lemon juice
- 1/2oz golden sugar syrup
- 5 basil leaves
- 1/2oz egg white
- Dash of celery bitters (optional)
For the golden sugar syrup, combine one cup of water and two cups of golden (ie, unrefined) sugar in a pan. Warm gently, stirring all the while. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, remove from the heat, allow to cool and then decant. It will keep for a couple of months in the fridge.
For the Green Park itself, as with any cocktail containing eggs, you need to perform a “reverse double shake” to ensure the egg white is properly frothed up: shake everything hard in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice, then strain the results through a sieve into a spare glass. Remove the ice from the shaker and “dry-shake” the cocktail a second time. Pour into an ice-cold Martini glass – the egg white should form a thin foam over the top – and garnish with a basil leaf.
Best for recalibrating in sultry climates as ceiling fans whir and cicadas chirp
I think of the El Presidente as a Martini in a linen suit. It does not have the fame of its urban counterpart, and yet if you use really good rum – El Dorado three-year from Guyana or the no-longer-contraband Havana Club three-year – and proper home-made grenadine, it has equal finesse.
- 2oz light rum (El Dorado three-year)
- 3/4oz French vermouth (Noilly Prat)
- 1/4oz home-made grenadine
First, you must make your own grenadine, since it is impossible to buy a decent one (unless you like e-numbers and corn syrup). Follow the sugar-syrup method as outlined in the Green Park recipe, above, only using fresh-pressed pomegranate juice (or Pom Wonderful 100%) instead of water, adding a dash of pomegranate molasses and/ or orange flower water if desired. It will keep in the fridge for six weeks or so.
For the cocktail, stir all liquids in a mixing vessel with plenty of ice. Strain into an ice-cold Martini glass and garnish with a length of orange peel.
Best for sipping while watching somebody else play tennis
A “smash” was a Victorian style of drink involving mint and fresh berries. Here’s my modern take made with Campari, the classic Italian apéritif. The bitterness of the Campari chimes beautifully with the strawberries, the mint provides refreshing uplift, while the rose water adds a little Middle Eastern intrigue.
- 2oz vodka (Konik’s Tail)
- 1oz Campari
- 1/4oz golden sugar syrup
- Drop of rose water
- 2 fresh strawberries
- 5 fresh mint leaves
Shake everything hard with plenty of ice, then double-strain into an ice-cold Martini glass. Garnish with a mint leaf.
Best for an avant-garde art party on an imaginary Riviera
The Fernet Sling is a stroke of mad genius from Mr Maksym Pazuniak, co-author of the cult manual Beta Cocktails. Fernet-Branca is an intensely bitter and woody digestif that Italian mothers administer to their poorly bambini and has become a favourite among bartenders. Mr Pazuniak describes his creation as tasting of pine cones and toothpaste, like “a weird soda from a weird country I’ve never been to”. A holiday in itself, then.
- 2oz Fernet-Branca
- 3/4oz Italian vermouth (Carpano Antica)
- 1/2oz lemon juice
- 1/4oz golden sugar syrup
- Sparkling water
Shake up the first four ingredients (see Green Park, above, for sugar syrup recipe), double-strain into a collins glass filled with ice cubes and top with a splash of sparkling water. Garnish with a length of orange peel.
Best for when you’re feeling a little hot under the collar
The Stinger is usually made with brandy and served after dinner but if you opt for a gin base, it becomes the most refreshing cocktail known to man. In sultry climates, it almost counts as medicine.
- 2oz gin (Sipsmith)
- 3/4oz white crème de menthe
- 5 fresh mint leaves
- Dash of peach bitters (Fee Brothers)
Churn everything around in a rocks glass with plenty of ice cubes and serve as it is.
Best for poolside flirting
Piña Colada #2
The traditional Piña Colada is heavy, gaudy and creamy, not to be sipped when you want to impress. Here, I’ve taken the central pineapple-coconut flavour and tweaked it to create a lighter-bodied (but much more potent) version.
- 1 1/2oz dark rum (Appleton Estate V/X)
- 3/4oz coconut rum (Koko Kanu)
- 1 1/2oz pineapple juice
- 3/4oz coconut water
- Dash of Angostura bitters
Shake up the first four ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with still more ice cubes. Shake a few drops of bitters onto the foam by way of garnish.
Illustrations by Mr Antony Hare