This week we have been thinking about dinner party cocktails. Quite a grandiose sounding theme, but we think the dinner party is set to make a comeback, especially with the popularity of TV shows like Come Dine With Me.
What are aperitifs?
Traditionally, aperitifs were served to sharpen the appetite, and awaken the palate. As such they tend to be light but intensely flavoured, and are often quite strong too. Aperitifs are in fact a class of liquor in their own right, especially in Italy and France. Arguably the king of these is Campari, the bittersweet orange aperitif from Milan. In France, products like Lillet, a Bordeaux-based aperitif with herb and fruit extracts, are common. In England, many of us reach for the G&T before supper, although many more are discovering the delicious world of mixed aperitifs.
One of our favourite aperitif cocktails here at sub 13 is a Negroni. That Italian Classic is derived from another traditional pre-dinner tipple, the Americano. So named because the droves of thirsty Americans escaping prohibition back home would order this refreshing mixture of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda. So popular was it with these booze-tourists that the local bartenders renamed it in their honour. But it was an Italian who we have to thank for the Negroni, and it still bears his name, the story goes as follows: Count Camillo Negroni, on a visit to the Hotel Baglioni in Florence in 1925, requested something like an Americano, but stronger. The bartender obliged by adding a shot of London a dry gin in place of the soda, and a new classic was born.
25ml Cocci Terrino vermouth
25ml Beefeater gin
Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass or small tumbler, stir with cubed ice and garnish with an orange zest twist.
The Negroni proves that often the simplest things are the most delicious, and this certainly makes for an excellent start to dinner!
The Dry Martini
Another classic cocktail served as an aperitif has got to be a dry martini. Now we could fill (and will) multiple blog posts with the history, evolution and arguments surrounding this iconic drink, but here we will confine things to the basics! It is one of those drinks that people have very specific personal preferences for, and as such there are very few rights or wrongs.
Traditionally, gin was mixed with vermouth during the dreaded prohibition era in the States, when necessity would drive deprived folk to distill their own ‘bathtub gin’, a libation of dubious quality and terrible flavour. Adding vermouth helped to mask this and gave rise to a classic pairing. In more enlightened times, the quality of gin improved to the point that it was no longer necessary to mask the flavour, and vermouth began to play more of a supporting role, or was even removed altogether, as Winston Churchill famously said “glance at the vermouth bottle briefly while pouring the juniper distillate freely.” Bartenders refer to the amount of vermouth used on a scale from wet (lots) to dry (very little). As tastes in America began to favour vodka, so martinis began to be made with this new Russian import. Now people enjoy both, and whilst traditionally a dry martini is a gin cocktail, both have their place.
We have probably all heard James Bond requesting his martini be “shaken, not stirred” which although sounding great, is really a disaster when it comes to a good martini. Shaking a cocktail creates a great deal of aeration, and the chilling effect mutes the more delicate flavours of the gin and vermouth. We therefore never shake a martini and suggest you do not either! Stirring in a shaker with cubed ice for about 30 seconds is sufficient to chill, mix and dilute the drink to perfection.
Finally, the choice of garnish really is down to personal preference, a pitted green olive, or a twist of lemon. As the number of gins with other citrus botanicals have increased, it has become fashionable to use other citrus garnish to enhance this, like pink grapefruit or orange.
Here is our martini recipe, feel free to adjust to taste.
10ml Noilly Prat dry vermouth
60ml Quality London Dry gin, Tanqueray, Beefeater 24, Martin Millers and No. 3 are all great
In the base of a shaker, add cubed ice and the vermouth, stir briefly then discard half of the vermouth. Add the gin and stir for about 20 to 30 seconds. Strain into a martini glass that has been chilled in the freezer. Garnish with your choice of an olive or a twist.
So there we have two classic aperitifs to try at home, or next time you have friends over. We also serve both at the bar so we can always do the honours!