Summer time, and delicious drinks are in abundance. Supermarkets are crammed full of exotic flavors from soft drinks to ready-made cocktails and flavored spirits. We really are spoiled for choice. The days of simply asking ‘What would you like to drink?’ and expecting a quick response are long gone.
A subject pretty close to my heart is gin, and this particular market has gone through the roof! Your traditional gin and tonic now comes in all manner of shapes and sizes – and then there are all the different accouterments that can be served with it.
Tonic water has become really interesting from tasty Mediterranean tonics to tonics flavored with botanicals which take gin to new heights. The actual stories behind gin – known in the 18th century as ‘Mother’s Ruin’ when it was cheaper than beer and low paid workers were even given gin as part of their wages – are fascinating. There are some great books out there to discover the secrets of this wonderful spirit. Our two favorites are ‘101 Gins to try before you Die’ by Ian Buxton and ‘Gin: The Manual’ by David Broom. These books have really enlightened us and our friends, encouraging us to explore and experiment combinations of different fruits. Currently, pink grapefruit is now featuring in many of our tipples rather than the old faithful lime!
Super gins to try that have made it onto our shelf include:
• Ferdinand’s – just great, beautifully packaged and perfect for a present, www.saar-gin.com
• Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s
• Bathtub Gin – voted the best gin in the world in 2014 and I completely agree! www.mastersofmalt.com
• Rock Rose – handcrafted in Scotland and delicious, www.rockrosegin.co.uk
• Opihr – the most unusual flavor, it’s almost spicy and requires tasting twice as at first it almost doesn’t work, www.opihr.com
• The Botanist – very floral in flavor, www.thebotanist.com
• Dodd’s – beautiful gin made in London, www.londondistillery.com
The list really could go on, and there are new companies cropping up all the time. It seems the more you understand about it, the better it tastes!
As with all food and drinks, the power of the internet can help us to get anything, anytime. However, it is easy to sometimes ignore what is right on our doorstep. Here where I am in Bucks, there is lots of choice right in front of us – all only a stone’s throw away.
For beers, there’s the Chiltern Brewery in Aylesbury, XT Brewing in Long Crendon and Rebellion at Little Marlow. Wine options include the splendid Blanc de Blanc Reserve 2007 from Daws Hill Vineyard at Radnage, and the award-winning results of Chafor Wine Estate at Gawcott, to name just some of our alcohol producers. And then we have the likes of Drovers Hill Organic Pressed Apple Juice, freshly pressed and bottled from Drovers Hill Farm in Saunderton, near Princes Risborough. Berkshire, of course, is also blessed with some wonderful independent brewers and winemakers producing top quality reasons to raise our glasses.
Getting a Balance
Having friends over for Summertime Soirées is great, but it is always really important to make sure that you get the balance right between making sure everything is just ‘so’ and not completely overdoing it – and ending up running around trying to be the ultimate hostess with the mostess’. When the weather is on your side, it is a little easier to spill into the garden too. From a food point of view, try and keep it simple and you can buy some really great disposable plates and cutlery to keep clearing up to a minimum.
I think people’s expectations have changed a lot over the last few years. While we all completely appreciate our own time and that of our friends’ and families, remember it is really the ‘getting together’ bit which by far outshines the ‘what have they prepared for dinner’ element. The best trick is to not only make things simple for you but simple for your guests too! Set out all the drinks, do buckets of beer and jugs of your house cocktail for all to help themselves.
Pimms always goes down a treat, but for a change try the Plymouth Fruit Cup – it’s very similar to Pimms but a little tastier. Instead of adding lemonade, try half lemonade and half ginger beer. In fact, ginger beer is a great summer drink that you can use for a shandy rather than lemonade too. Sea Breeze, vodka cranberry and grapefruit, is easy to make and is really light and refreshing. If you are feeling a little more extravagant, a measure each of Cointreau and gin…a splash of lime topped up with fizz is pretty special.
Cheers until next time!