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Cookbook Review: Wild Drinks & Cocktails

My father once told me there are just two types of cocktail. For all the fizzes and slings, martinis and daiquiris in the world, there are actually just two different types.

I was eighteen, dressed in black velvet, and we were drinking dry Manhattans in the lounge of Frederick’s in Islington. We picked Manhattans because I liked bourbon and Dad liked “classic cocktails”. It was there, on his fiftieth birthday, that he told me something that I now understand to be wrong. He looked me in the eye, his second-born, a gothic vision licking garlic butter from her fingertips, and said: “Alice, there are only two types of cocktail: the timeless classics and the utter bollocks that people only drink on holiday.”

Oh, Dad.

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There are two types of cocktail: there’s the cocktails I’ll drink, and then there’s the cocktails I’ll drink again. I still think about the violet martini I had with Nisha in a sticky cocktail bar in Camden, when Camden was a place that was worth the hike on the Northern line. There was the lychee-rose bubble bath martini that was as much showmanship as it was mixology, served complete with a miniature rubber duck from Lounge Boheme in Shoreditch.

Flicking through Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han, I was a little overwhelmed. My history of cocktail-making is pretty shady (the last earnest attempt resulted in the invention of the WKD Martini – bleak shit). Anyway, it’s a stunning book with a soft matte cover, filled with glossy photos that showcase a variety of gorgeous, colourful concoctions served in A+ glassware. The introduction is beautifully written (“I gathered the creamy white blossoms in the company of bees”) and this delicate use of language runs throughout the recipes.

I did have some questions to begin with: what actually is a rosehip? isn’t a switchel a stick for smacking naughty bottoms? why do we need a medical disclaimer in a cocktail book?

Firstly, I think it’s worth dissecting the word ‘wild’: on the surface, this means ‘foraged’, as though we often find ourselves scratching our heads over what to do with brimming baskets filled with the ripest of peaches, persimmons, cranberries and pine nuts pilfered from our surroundings. In reality, the author is quick and regular with her reminders that farmers market alternatives are fine, which I presume is unspoken permission to apply the methods and techniques of Wild Drinks and Cocktails to the Tesco Basics range as well, so the sceptical reader shouldn’t feel put off by the foraging framework of the book.

At the end of the day, a rosehip by any other name, right?

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I decided to make simple syrup just because it seems to be the kind of thing a gal might be grateful to have lying around the flat one of these days and, as I had some Oakland lavender waiting to be put to good use, a fragrant lavender variant. The lavender syrup was a hit shaken with Hendricks, vermouth and rose water for a floral spin on a gin martini.

Raspberry Shrub happens to be the name of the most delightful cocktail to ever bless my liver, the Raspberry Shrub of Duck Soup on Frith Street in Soho. It’s a tart little tincture of raspberry vinegar, vodka, lemon and thyme, and as soon as it touched my lips I knew the real nitty gritty of recreating the cocktail would lie in the quality of that vinegar. It seemed impossible – where the fuck does one buy raspberry vinegar that doesn’t taste like pickly salad dressing? The raspberry shrub recipe seemed a sensible scientific experiment and yielded very positive results. I love to shake a shot of it with an equal measure of good quality olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper for a mean little salad dressing.

Next I boiled a pot of cranberries in filtered tap water, which steamed the winter-chilled kitchen windows with alacrity, to mash and sieve to create a velveteen mors sweetened with honey. It’s tarter than your average high street cranberry juice drink, and makes the silkiest of mixers to lengthen a Cosmopolitan.

Finally – bourbon spiked with the last of the summer peaches* and a handful of toasted pecans. I think this will be delicious mixed into a Deep Southern Old Fashioned or lengthened with a little lemonade to create a seasonal twist on the Lynchburg Lemonade, but at the time of writing the pecans are still infusing.

*(hot house Spanish peaches actually – as I said, go fast and loose with the term ‘wild’ and you’ll be fine).

The delightful thing is that these five concoctions – lavender and simple syrups, cranberry mors, raspberry shrub and peach-pecan bourbon – were all whipped up in less than an hour, with minimal fuss and at little expense.

The key to using Wild Drinks and Cocktails is to treat it like a reference book and, like all cookbooks, to deviate from the recipes depending on what you have to hand. I’m unlikely to come across a bunch of sumac berries in Leytonstone, so the delectable Sumac-ade of page 35 will probably remain unmade, but recipes for rose water, natural fruit squashes, homemade grenadine (it’s made from pomegranates! Who knew!), infused vodkas, gins and rums are all deceptively cheap and simple to produce.

As with all cookbook reviews, I spent a lot of time with this book, reading through each recipe, compiling lists of ingredients and equipment, and I have fallen very much in love with it. I love cocktails – the history, the glamour, the booze – and this book has already upped my game.

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Raspberry Shrub

RASPBERRY SHRUBS OFTEN POP UP IN NINETEENTH- AND EARLY TWENTIETH century American housekeeping manuals, and those early recipes inspired the version you see here. And the result is a winner: it’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor. Of course, there’s still plenty of room for experimentation, so you could easily substitute another berry, or try out a different kind of vinegar: a mix of red wine vinegar and Champagne vinegar is my preferred choice for raspberries, but all-red or all-Champagne works, too.

2 cups (250 g) raspberries
1 cup (235 ml) Champagne vinegar
1 cup (235 ml) red wine vinegar
2 cups (400 g) sugar

Place the raspberries in a bowl and lightly crush them using a potato masher or a fork. Transfer the raspberries and their juices to a sterilized quart (1 L) jar. Pour the Champagne vinegar and red wine vinegar into the jar, making sure the raspberries are completely submerged.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth. Cover the jar with a nonreactive lid (see page 89). Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 1 week, shaking it daily and ensuring that the raspberries stay submerged. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer; discard the solids. Combine the vinegar and sugar in a sterilized container with a nonreactive lid. Refrigerate for 1 week more, shaking the jar daily to help dissolve the sugar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.

YIELD: ABOUT 2 CUPS (470 ML)

Recipe and image extracted from Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han, published by Fair Winds Press (£14.99)

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