A guide to whipping up exciting cocktails at home
Your favourite bar is shut. You just want a drink that looks nice and has an umbrella in it or a dehydrated rind of a lemon.
The good news is that you can make your favourite cocktails at home, using ingredients in your pantry. Think vegetables, fruits, spices, even tea and coffee.
“All it takes it few ingredients, bar tools, glassware and creativity,” says Ranjeet Shirke, bar head at Qualia. You need just three things to make a good cocktail: lemon/ limes for acidity, sweetness from grain sugar, brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup and a spirit like vodka, gin, rum, tequila or whisky. “With only 3 ingredients you can make so many cocktails at home. An equal part of lemon juice and sugar syrup added with gin is a gin sour if added with a rum is a daiquiri,” he adds.
Chef and mixologist Arina Suchde suggests visiting your local market to find fresh fruit and vegetables, which can be turned into juices, cordials, syrups and more. “One of the first things I tell people at my cocktail-making workshops is you don’t need fancy liqueurs or syrups to make a good drink. Your local supermarket has fruit juices or cold-pressed juices and herbs. Or just make your own using fruits or vegetables. Always try and use simple ingredients,” she says, adding that she has used tomato ketchup to make Bloody Mary. Suchde is now working on a line of botanical-forward, low sugar cocktail mixers.
Make your own (sugar) syrup
The one thing that’s easiest to make at home and which lends flavour to different cocktails is a simple sugar syrup. “You can add things to it – beetroot, fruit peels, vanilla, herbs, mixed whole spices, red or green chilli – and let it infuse. This syrup then forms the base of any drink,” says Suchde.
Her recipe is simple: a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water, boiled till sugar dissolves and is slightly thick. Add the flavourings when it is boiling. Let it cool down and then strain the flavourings or leave it in. Sugar can be replaced with stevia powder or jaggery. “Make smaller quantities. Mint might go bad if you leave it in, and fruit might start fermenting, so you just ‘burrp’ it a little.” Brown sugar takes over the colour and flavour of the drink, so it is ideal for darker drinks. Raw cane sugar gives a golden colour that mellows out on dilution.
Dip into your spice box
Ajit Balgi, founder of The Happy High Bartending Academy promotes the use of Indian spices in drinks. “They are readily available, they are economical and they also have a lot of therapeutic properties. Right from turmeric to sandalwood to vetiver to black pepper to different teas,” he says. Balgi uses pepper to make a jaggery-pepper syrup for his signature cognac cocktail, Pondicherry Dusk (recipe below). He melts 500 gm jaggery in water, with 30 gm ground black pepper and simmers till it reaches one string consistency, and then strains this mixture a few times through a muslin cloth. “We use pepper to balance the sweetness from the jaggery and the Cognac and bring out the added dusky note,” he says.
Steep your own spirits
Last Christmas, food writer and blogger Nikhil Merchant gave his heart and whiskey and warm spices and then, gave those bottles away.
“My go-to bar ‘keeps’ are definitely steeped spirits,” he says. Merchant started steeping over a decade ago, beginning with cheap vodka in which he would infuse different fruits and sugar with spices and citrus to make interesting liqueurs. He moved on to steeping gin with herbs and flowers like the blue butterfly pea flower, and finally darker spirits such as Cognac.
A favourite recipe is 500 ml Hennessy – “it has a natural sweet spiciness to it and a caramel finish” – with two cinnamon sticks, four-star anise, three black cardamoms, some fresh orange peels and sometimes an inch of ginger juliennes. He drinks this with a slice of orange, ice and tonic.
Another idea is to fill a jar with fresh pitted black/dark red cherries, cover a quarter of it with ground sugar and top it with the spiced cognac. Shake it every few days till the sugar melts. “They make for good gifts. The cherries can go in a cake, as cocktail garnishes and even eaten cold by themselves,” he says.
Use fresh and seasonal fruit
Many cocktails have a fruity element to them: either juice, the peels, a slice for garnish or in the form of a syrup. “Citrus ones like oranges, limes, and grapefruits are the most versatile and work beautifully with gin, vodka and rum-based cocktails,” says Kevin Philip Rodrigues, sommelier and bar manager, KA Hospitality (Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Nara and CinCin).
The acid in citrus fruit blends well with the sugar in alcohol, making the drink more palatable.
“Berries like strawberries and raspberries blends with almost all clear spirits and uplifts the cocktail. Blackberries, blueberries go well with aged rums, tequilas and whiskies. We can muddle (press them gently against the base of a container to extract essential oils or juices) them with other ingredients or just put everything in a blender with few ice cubes and do boozy slushes,” says Shirke.
Another trick is dehydrating fruit, which concentrates the flavour and adds an intense sweetness and different texture to a drink. “It not only acts as garnishes to make your cocktails look sophisticated but also because they have a longer shelf life,” adds Rodrigues. You can use orange, grapefruit, lemons, apples, or apricots. He suggests placing the fruit on a baking tray and drizzling it with some castor sugar and putting this in the oven at a low temperature for a few hours. “The sugar crystallises and preserves the fruit, giving you a beautiful garnish for your cocktail,” he adds.
If you grow your own herbs at home, just pluck some sprigs and add it to cocktails for a refreshing twist. “Thyme, rosemary, mint, basil and cilantro can be infused into a syrup or muddled into cocktails,” says Rodrigues. “Another trick could be lightly charring them to give a slightly smoky aroma to the cocktail and using it as a garnish.”
“Adding herbs like mint, thyme, basil and rosemary gives more complexity and enhances the flavour profile of the cocktail,” adds Shirke.
Use your scraps
Suchde has been championing low and zero-waste cooking for a decade now. A fun tip from her involves using aquafaba, the plain (not spiced) water left over from boiling chhole as an egg white substitute for drinks like whiskey sour.
Mixologist Karl Fernandes recommends using peels or skins to make tasty cordials (a sweetened distilled spirit) and Tepache (a fermented beverage made using the rind of pineapples). To make the cordial: melt a cup of sugar in a cup of water, simmer the chopped peel of a grapefruit and then let it steep for 2-4 hours. “Similar cordials can be made with oranges, limes, sweet limes and pomelos. Just avoid the bitter white pit. The easiest ways to enjoy it is replacing this cordial in place of sugar in your fresh lime soda and pour it over a white spirit to enjoy it.”
To make the tepache: Place one whole pineapple skin, 1.5 litres water, 100 gm sugar, two three-inch cinnamon sticks, five cloves and black peppercorns each, and two-star anise in a jar and cover it so it’s airtight. Refrigerate for three days, stirring it every 24 hours. Once ready, strain but don’t seal the bottle tight. This has to be refrigerated and consumed within two days. “A Tepache can be enjoyed over ice. Also, a 50 ml shot of any spirit can be added. I personally prefer white spirits like vodka, gin or feni,” says Fernandes.
Lam Peak Martini – Kevin Philip Rodrigues
Add 4-5 ice cubes to the cocktail shaker or a tall glass, with two chunks of muddled pineapple, three muddled basil leaves, 10 ml martini Bianco vermouth (optional), 10 ml lemon juice, 25 ml pineapple juice and 50 ml Tanqueray No. 10 gin (or any other gin can). Shake well. Double strain into a frozen martini glass. Garnish with a basil leaf.
Gentle Banana Cocktail
“It’s so simple to shake up at home. The sweet and heady aroma of a ripe banana really compliments the caramel, vanilla and toffee undertones of a good whiskey,” says Harshit Agarwal, Mixologist – Copitas, Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru.
Mix together 60ml whiskey, 20 ml banana syrup, and 5-6 caramelised banana pieces and shake well. Garnish with a dehydrated banana skin.
To make caramelized banana: Cut two bananas into medium-sized rings/rounds, coat them with sugar on both sides and put on a non-stick pan on low flame for 10 min. To make the banana syrup: Boil equal parts of sugar and water. Put a banana skin in the pan and lower the flame and cook it on slow for 10 min. Cool and then refrigerate.
Flair bartender and juggle Ami Shroff suggest a recipe made with ingredients can be found in most kitchens. “This works well with the Indian food and palate.”
Rub the rim of the glass with a slice of lime and dip in in black salt. Crush one slit chilli and four curry leaves in a shaker. Add 10 ml lime juice, 150 ml guava or pineapple juice and 50ml vodka with ice and give a light shake. Strain into the salt-rimmed glass.
Garnish with a curry leaf.
“The Pondi dusk is a simple cocktail. You can also make it virgin by omitting the cognac and top up the jaggery and lemon mix with soda water,” says Balgi.
Mix 45 ml Cognac, 20 ml jaggery-pepper syrup, 20 ml fresh lime juice in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake well. If there’s no shaker, use a tumbler or airtight container. Strain over a block of ice. Garnish with some freshly cracked pepper or a lemon twist.
Espresso Old Fashioned – Sainath Kodi, hotel manager, Le Cafe, Hotel Jewel of Chembur
Combine a double shot espresso (room temperature) espresso, 50 ml bourbon, 20 ml sugar syrup, orange zest and bitters (if available) in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Stir until outside of shaker is frosty, pour in a glass filled with ice and garnish with an orange slice.
Hole in the wall – Shirke, bar head at Qualia
Muddle three sliced Bhavnagri (or any other chilli). Add 80 ml pineapple juice, 30 ml lime juice, 30 ml honey, and 30 ml tequila in a shaker. Shake and double strain. Garnish with pineapples.
Take a tall glass and fill it with ice. Add 20 ml jaggery and cinnamon syrup, 180 ml black coffee and 50 ml vodka. Stir well.
To make the jaggery & cinnamon syrup: take 90ml water and add 3 big sticks of cinnamon along with a tablespoon of jaggery. Bring the mixture to a boil.
“You can also freeze the syrup in your ice trays and use them instead of plain ice. Just add these cubes in a glass and top it with cold black coffee and vodka,” says Nilesh Patel, beverage head (West) at SOCIAL.