The wine buff: Cocktails to bank on
There's nothing better than being served a beautifully made cocktail when you arrive at someone's house. It feels very celebratory.
Of course, there's a bit of work involved, but if you're having a relaxed gathering and have kept the food simple, it can be fairly low stress, and you can chat away as you channel your inner Tom Cruise.
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Orlando Marzo, crowned World's Best Bartender at Diageo's World Class Bartender of the Year event in Berlin last October, was in Ireland recently, and I thought: who better to ask for advice?
If it's a dinner party, he suggests starting with something light, like a Tanqueray Tom Collins, and finishing with a Bulleit Bourbon Old Fashioned. Heavy cocktails should always be served near the end of a meal to avoid any overpowering flavours. "A traditional Tom Collins calls for gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup topped with soda," says Orlando.
"You can make sugar syrup yourself and add in-season fruit such as strawberries. You can also make a lovely aromatic syrup with lime or mint. A simple method for making sugar syrup is to use one part water and one part caster sugar. Combine and stir in a pot, then place on a stove. Finally, add your choice of seasonal fruits or herbs and leave to cool."
If you want to kick things up a notch, Orlando suggests a method he calls "reserve cooking". "Take one part caster sugar to one part water, combine on a stove and bring to boil before taking it off and pouring the mixture over your ingredients. The temperature will then cool down to create fresher flavours."
Advance prepping is important but don't make the mistake of overcomplicating your cocktail. "Recipes are great but don't feel like you have to follow them exactly," says Orlando. "For example, if you are making a daiquiri, recipes will generally call for a white rum, but if you have a fantastic dark rum in your cupboard, like Zacapa, this will also work incredibly well. Don't be afraid to adapt your recipes and experiment!"
While a Tom Collins and negroni rank among his favourite cocktails, he also loves a well-made martini. "Just three ingredients - gin, vermouth, with dilution achieved by ice. Wherever I go, I will always ask the bartender to make a martini. That's how you know a bartender is skilled. It is the perfect harmony between the right temperature, the right aroma, balanced with a quality vermouth such as Belsazar," he says.
And he has one final nugget of advice: "Invest in some quality ice. Ice is one of the ingredients people pay least attention to but it can make a huge difference to your drink. Make your own at home using good bottled still water and cut it yourself to set your cocktail apart. If you really want to impress, pick up a nice ice mould for interesting, unique shapes."
If you live in Dublin, be a visitor in your own city this bank holiday. Take a visit to the Epic Museum in CHQ in the late afternoon, and when you're finished, head out on to one of the best outdoor areas in town. Epic Museum has teamed up with Urban Brewing, which is serving its special craft beers as well as some tasty bites in this sun-drenched terrace.
Chinnery Dublin Dry Gin
€50, 43pc, from O'Briens, Celtic Whiskey Shop, Martins Fairview, Baggot Street Wines, Deveney's and independent off-licences
Housed in a stunning-looking bottle that reflects portrait painter George Chinnery's Irish-Chinese connection, the botanicals in this gin evoke exotic aromas of China, with osmanthus flower, oolong tea, cassia bark, grains of paradise, liquorice, sweet orange peel and spice.
Ballykeefe Extra Dry Irish Gin
€45, 40pc, from SuperValu and The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, thewinecentre.ie
Winning gold at the World Gin Awards this year, Ballykeefe Gin is distilled by Morgan Ging in a custom-built distillery on his Kilkenny farm. With 12 botanicals vapour-infused in a copper pot still, flavours of juniper mix with cubeb peppers, elderflower, pink grapefruit and cassia.
Tanqueray No. Ten
€40, reduced from €50, 47.3pc, from O'Briens
Tanqueray No. Ten is named after the small copper pot still that is used to produce the spirit. With more complexity than the standard Tanqueray, as well as juniper and coriander, it has a floral chamomile note and citrus flavours of grapefruit, lime and orange.