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Raise a glass to festive fun

Make your summer party season easy with these simple tips for classy cocktails.

WHEN it comes to getting a party started, it’s hard to go past cocktails. And with the festive season looming, summer get-togethers and celebrations with friends and family offer the perfect opportunity for everyone to unwind, with a glass of something elegantly refreshing in hand.

If the prospect of being the one left wrangling drinks gets anxiety levels rising, take a breath. Allie Brent, head mixologist at Brisbane’s stylish inner-city bolt hole, Spicers Balfour, says there’s really only one ‘must obey’ rule hosts need to follow: have fun and don’t stress.

“Summer get-togethers are about having fun, so the cocktails you’re serving should be easy to make and drinks that everyone can enjoy,” Allie says.

Summer cocktails at Spicers Balfour Hotel

“When people are arriving, it’s all hugs and catching up, so the last thing you want is to have to get intricate with garnishes.”

Thirst-quenching fruity punches and cooling pre-batched cocktails are the party host’s best friend, particularly in summer. Being able to prepare drinks in advance means you’ll have time to work on the wow factor, then relax when everyone turns up.

Details like making bespoke sugar syrups, getting creative with trimmings and using interesting mixers all boost the finished result.

“Making sugar syrups gives you a point of difference and it’s simple to do,” Allie says (see method below).

“Experiment with adding different flavours – try adding in chamomile tea, or herbs from the garden. You can also make your own coconut or cinnamon-flavoured syrups.

“At Spicers Balfour we make a lovely peppercorn, black tea and Sichuan syrup that adds an interesting peppery flavour that matches really well with whisky.”

Cocktails at Spicers Balfour Hotel

When it comes to fruit garnishes, she suggests keeping it seasonal and balanced, perhaps choosing sweetly tart strawberries and pineapple, as she’s done in her Rudolf’s Nose Punch, below.

“If you’ve got time to chargrill some of the pineapple – that’s always fun to add into the drink when you serve it. Just batch up the vodka, juice and sugar syrup and have soda and ice ready on the side.”

It’s easy to transform drinks by adding a couple of drops of bitters to the mix. To inject an old-fashioned classic festive note, Allie suggests using a cocktail flavour booster called Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, which she’s used below in her Gingerman Punch and Feliz Navidad Sangria recipes.

“Just adding a couple of dashes will give you those Christmas cinnamon, star anise and spice flavours,” she says. “It’s hot at Christmas, so this gives you those spices, but you’ll be able to keep drinking.”

Christmas cocktails at Spicers Balfour Hotel

Choosing premium Australian-made mixers like the StrangeLove range used at Spicers Balfour adds another layer of complexity.  “There’s a smoky ginger ale (Dry Ginger Ale) and a lemonade (Fancy Lemonade) that are nice and dry and not too sweet. These are great to use to top up drinks – or even to use in a simple lemon, lime and bitters,” she says.

“You can also zhuzh it up with a spicy ginger beer to add a bit of heat.”

Like extra sparkle? Use Prosecco or an Australian fizz as in place of soda water. Allie is a fan of Alejandro Prosecco from the South Australian Riverland region, as it has a fuller-bodied palate, which she says works particularly well with Aperol in a traditional refreshing spritz.

Cocktail at Spicers Balfour Hotel

Even some classic cocktails can be prepped well in advance.

“Negronis are great to pre-batch,” Allie says. “It’s very simple. Just three alcohols – equal parts gin, Campari and vermouth – and mix.”

She also suggests pre-batching an Americano (equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth) for guests who prefer less alcohol and a slightly sweeter finish to a Negroni.

“Garnish with an orange slice and then top it up with soda and a dash of bitters,” Allie says. “Use Peyschaud’s Bitters. Or Fee Brothers’ orange bitters are nice too. Both are good to have around and have a long shelf life.”

Cocktail at Spicers Balfour Hotel

Designated drivers and those avoiding booze also need pampering. Allie says Seedlip, a traditionally distilled, zero-alcohol range from the UK is worth splashing out on.

“It acts almost like a gin – there are nice botanicals and complex flavours coming through. If you’ve batched up a mojito and you’re pouring it over ice you can use Seedlip as a replacement for guests who aren’t drinking,” she says.

“There are some times when you don’t want to be stuck drinking a glass of water!”

ALLIE BRENT’S ESSENTIAL HOME COCKTAIL KIT

  • Spirit measuring jigger If you’re pouring alcohol for cocktails without measuring the amounts, you’re risking more than a sore head. “Balance is so important for flavour,” Allie says. “Too much is definitely not better.”
  • Bar spoon Cocktail spoons aren’t costly, but the design means improved results. “This will help you to quickly stir down drinks as you’re making them,” Allie says. She recommends buying a long-handled spoon with a twist in its shaft because the curves help everything to blend, creating a more even mix.
  • Cocktail shaker You can use a fine strainer to stop shards of ice falling into your martini, for example, but when you’re making drinks for a group, Allie recommends buying a shaker with an inbuilt strainer. “It’s just easier when everything is in one place,” she says.

SIMPLE SUGAR SYRUP

Combine equal amounts of sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and heat for two minutes. Bottle mix and store in the fridge.

RUDOLPH’S NOSE PUNCH

250ml Ketel One Vodka

500ml Pineapple juice

120ml Basil and cinnamon sugar syrup

60ml Apple cider vinegar

Small handful of sliced pineapples and strawberries

Soda water

Garnish: 1 whole strawberry and a basil sprig per glass

Basil and Cinnamon Syrup:

120ml Water

120g Sugar

1 Large handful of Basil leaves, ripped. (about 10-15 leaves)

4 Cinnamon quills, snapped.

*Note: Leave the basil and cinnamon in the syrup while it cools to room temperature. Then strain into a bottle/container.

Method: Combine all ingredients in a large serving vessel with ice and stir together with a stirring spoon. Top up the punch with soda water to taste, then finish off the punch with a handful of sliced pineapple and strawberries, garnishing the drink with a whole strawberry and a basil sprig.

SPICY GINGERMAN PUNCH

250ml Spiced rum

250ml Apple juice

120ml Lime juice

8 Dashes of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

1 litre of spicy ginger beer

Soda water

Garnish: Whole star anise and dehydrated lime wheels

Method: Combine all ingredients in a large serving vessel with ice and stir together with a stirring spoon. Finish off the punch with a small handful of whole star anise and dehydrated lime wheels.

FELIZ NAVIDAD SANGRIA

480ml Shiraz

250ml Brandy

200ml Cinnamon, star anise and pepper spiced syrup

120ml Lemon juice

8 Dashes of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Soda water

Cinnamon, star anise and pepper spiced syrup:

200ml Water

200g Sugar

4 Cinnamon quills, snapped.

3 Whole Star Anise

1 Tablespoon of Whole Black Pepper

*Note: Leave all the ingredients in the syrup while it cools to room temperature. Then strain into a bottle/container.

Garnish: Handful of fresh cranberries, strawberries and whole star anise.

Method: Combine all ingredients in a large serving vessel with ice and stir together with a stirring spoon. Top up the punch with soda water to taste, then finish off with a handful of fresh fruit.

ROSE GARLAND COCKTAIL

30ml Hendricks Gin

15ml St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

15ml Lemon juice

10ml Sugar syrup

1 Bar spoon of rose water

Top up with Prosecco

Garnish: Dried rose petals

Method: Build the cocktail in a champagne glass and sprinkle dried rose petals on top to garnish.

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