5 top tips to inspire creative gin cocktails.
Every second Saturday in June is World Gin day when many gin fans celebrate and look forward to getting together to while away the hours reverently sipping the finest gins at sun-soaked festivals all over the world. Bliss! You won’t want to miss the chance to celebrate this favoured tipple and hang out with your extended gin friends & family this summer. Lets share our love of all things juniper across Sussex and beyond. Maybe you can’t make it to a gin festival this year? Perhaps you’d like to throw your own gin celebrations? We’re sharing our 5 top tips to help you put together the perfect gin cocktail menu & some of our favourite cocktail recipes.
Looking for Slake’s favourite summer cocktail recipes?
5 top tips for mixing up your gin cocktail menu.
- Variety is the spice of life.
- Get creative, but keep it simple.
- Garnish gracefully.
- You can never have enough ice!
- Don’t make a mocktail out of me!
1. Variety is the spice of life… Short or long? Dry or sweet?
It can be tough to create a cocktail menu with something for everyone without it becoming a page-turner! But if you follow some simple rules of thumb it will help keep all your bases covered and the drinks flowing.
“For every short drink on the menu, you should have at least one long drink.“
Most cocktails start life as a ‘short’ drink or serve. Whereby the spirits, syrups, bitters and fruit juices are mixed in the right proportions to make a concentrated and powerful drink you can sip, often with high alcohol content (15-40% Vol. typically). Some short serves can be made ‘long’, usually by topping with soda water or a mixer to make a longer, lower alcohol content (3-6% Vol. typically) drink, but some cocktails were specifically created as longer serves.
Especially in the summertime, it’s important to have some long drinks on the menu. This is no substitute for staying hydrated with water, especially when drinking in the sun, but these serves are always more popular in warmer weather. Something a little drier and more refreshing is also a good idea as a long drink. Less sugar is ideal, but a dash of bitters or a splash of vermouth or amaro is a good way to give a little dryness or bitter edge to a drink.
In terms of bold flavours that really bring the wow factor, it’s hard to beat a short serve to sip. Punchy and mouth-puckeringly delicious is worth shooting for year-round on any gin cocktail menu! Using good quality spirits is important here as they really are front and centre in a shorter drink, but flavour pairing and balance are absolutely key. How dry or sweet a drink is can usually be adjusted on the fly unless you’re batching cocktails, but depending on the audience you’re serving it’s usually best to aim for most of your menu to be balanced (roughly equal proportions of sweet and sour), with some sweeter serves and a few drier serves.
“Aim for 50% balanced, 25% sweet and 15% dry serves on your menu.“
In terms of flavour pairings, there are so many classic combinations to try and take inspiration from and, equally, so many more to discover or tweak to your liking that we wouldn’t want to spoil your fun. That said, there are really two schools of thought on this.
In western cuisine, the tendency is to pair ingredients that share similar aroma profiles, or specifically, contain some of the same volatile essential oils. For example, tomato & basil or rosemary & juniper. In practice, this means to follow your nose! If you think something smells like it might pair well, give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain as when you strike a harmonious chord together the result can feed your very soul.
Eastern cuisine takes a different approach centred around balancing five flavour groups, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savoury). The essence is that when all 5 flavour groups are in balance the resulting flavour is much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s clear to see the relationship here to seeking balance when making great cocktails, although salty and savoury serves may not sound immediately appealing, keep an open mind! There are many successful examples, including classics like the dirty Martini. Click here to find out more about the Martini.
“…follow your nose! If you think something smells like it might pair well, give it a try.“
You can look laterally for different ingredients if you can’t get hold of something or just want to showcase what’s in season. For example, instead of using citrus juice (citric acid) for sourness, you could use crab apple (malic acid). You just have to bear in mind that it can throw the balance of a recipe off as some ingredients are more potent than others. You can even find single ingredients that can fulfill multiple parts of the flavour groups. For example, semi-sweet Vermouth that is both sweet and bitter.
As you become more comfortable with mixing drinks and start to see past varieties and brand names it becomes clearer that many cocktail recipes, despite their myriad and often delightfully inventive names, ultimately share the same DNA. For example, lemon and lime juice can be interchanged and re-balanced accordingly, sometimes completely changing the drink, sometimes not. Gin can be swapped for whisky and vice versa. As you dive deeper into the curiosities of the cocktail cabinet the possibilities are literally endless! But that’s what keeps it interesting.
“As you come to see the common ground between a Negroni and a Boulevardier and the balancing act between sour citrus juices, spirituous bitter herbs and sweet syrups, you’ll soon find you’re becoming adept at walking that tightrope and even making your own leaps into the unknown. Enabling you to make tasty libations out of almost whatever you have left in your cupboards! A most useful skill in these, and quite frankly, at all times.“
2. Get creative, but keep it simple.
When it’s time to get creative, browsing recipes is a good starting point and looking at the classics and the proportions they use means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but part of the joy of discovery is to twist and change things to make them your own and learning to please your palette.
“Playing with dilution and sourness are among our favourite ways to experiment with cocktails and can really change the feel of the drink.“
Don’t be afraid to play with dryness or balance between sweet and sour/bitter or long and short serves. You can create a series of drinks from a small set of ingredients in this way. Playing with dilution and sourness are among our favourite ways to experiment with cocktails and can really change the feel of the drink.
“…add gradually so you don’t overshoot and taste as you go along.”
Excluding ice and soda, avoid using more than 4 or 5 ingredients in one drink. Remember less is more, you can’t take out sugar or flavouring easily if you add too much without ruining the drink. It’s better to add gradually so you don’t overshoot and taste as you go along. A good tip for hygienically tasting as you go, especially if you’re planning on sharing with others, is to dip a clean straw into the drink and pop your thumb or finger over the top. This lets you draw out a little taster you can sip from the bottom of the straw, but don’t take your thumb off until it’s in your mouth or it’s not a good look! Remember too that you can avoid plastic and buy stainless steel straws that are perfect for this purpose and can be washed and reused.
Store fruit whole and use freshly squeezed juices whenever possible. It’s easier to store fruit in nature’s wrappers than as juice and many of the preservatives added to commercial juices can become quite apparent especially in shorter serves.
“The way a drink feels in the mouth is often as important as how it tastes.“
Make egg-celent drinks! Mouthfeel is to drink what texture is to food. The way a drink feels in the mouth is often as important as how it tastes. You can use eggs to bring various textures and flavours to cocktails. Using egg white in cocktails is called a ‘silver’ and creates beautifully fluffy foam and a imparts a silken texture to the drink, but little flavour. Great in a gin sour or white lady. Using egg yolk is called a ‘gold/golden’ and brings creaminess and richness with a subtle ‘noggy’ flavour. Great in a Golden Fizz or Golden Bronx. Using the whole egg is called a ‘royal’ and we can see why as it brings the characteristics of both to make a most luxurious drink indeed. Please note, it’s important to use and handle eggs, particularly when raw, safely in food & drink to avoid nasties like salmonella, but using quality eggs with good animal husbandry is a good start. If you’re after other ingredients to bring some foam or texture to your drinks you can try honey or lecithin, typically from soy, which can also be vegan certified.
3. Garnish gracefully, less really is more.
How to garnish gracefully. It might be a little controversial, but garnishes are not there for flavour per se. Although of course there are some good exceptions that prove the rule! For example, a lemon twist can express its essential oils over the surface of a dry martini and is definitely noticeable in terms of flavour and aroma. However, ingredients that are infused, macerated or muddled in the drink are really more part of the recipe than a garnish. Arguably a good garnish should increase the visual appeal of the drink and perhaps adds a sensory element in terms of aroma, but really shouldn’t get in your way, quite literally sometimes, of enjoying the drink.
“Often using the rind of the fruit you’ve juiced for the cocktail is a good and low waste option.“
Sometimes you use a garnish to draw attention to a particular flavour within the drink. Often using the rind of the fruit you’ve juiced for the cocktail is a good and low waste option. In reality, there are few hard and fast rules in this department and garnishes represent the perfect opportunity for bartenders to display their precision, creativity and flair. Ultimately, you imbibe the drink first with your eyes, so you must learn to garnish with grace.
4. Never underestimate an iceberg.
Don’t let your drinks sink without aplomb. The quality and quantity of ice matters. Whether crushed, cubed or shaved all have a specific purpose in the realm of cocktails. But if you’re going to take away one single piece of advICE from this… When it comes to cocktails you can never have too much ice!
We all love the refreshment only an ice-cold beverage can provide, but an insipid diluted cocktail is a travesty of the highest order. So, why do so many people think adding less ice will mean less dilution? This is just not how it works, because… Science! Trust me, if you want that perfect chill without dilution use as much ice as you can. It will chill faster and stay colder for longer whilst minimizing the dilution of the drink.
5. Don’t make a mocktail out of me!
I know for the past-paragraphs we’ve been espousing the wonders of booze, but if you put aside the intoxication, really you can just think of alcohol as a really good flavour carrier. Ethanol is a wonderful little molecule that is at once both oil-like and water-like which means it’s superb at extracting essential oils and flavours and making tasty beverages. But enjoying quality cocktails together with friends and family should always be about discovering flavours and celebrating life together, so why should it be limited to those that can drink alcohol? Great flavours for all!
“With a little creativity, it’s easy to make no, low and alcohol-free version of many cocktails.“
With a little creativity, it’s easy to make no, low and alcohol-free version of many cocktails. The exact same principles apply. So, it’s easy to cater for everyone. Our top tip here though is to get hold of some concentrated bitters like the Fee Brothers range as these are great to make tasty, grown-up low alcohol serves (0.5-1% Vol. typically) just by adding a few dashes of bitters to fruit juice, sugar syrup and soda water.
What are you waiting for?
We hope you’ve enjoyed this dive into the world of gin cocktails and getting creative on the journey to your perfect gin cocktail menu! If you need some more inspiration, check out our recipes below.
Slake’s four favourite summer gin cocktails
Many of our Slake friends and family will have tasted these cocktails at festivals like Sussex Gin Festival, Floral Fringe Fair or Sussex Gin & Fizz Festival before and can vouch for their tastiness, but they’re all easy to make and enjoy at home too. Whilst these recipes are made using our gin, apparently, other gins are also available… These recipes will also work with most London Dry style gins, but if you want to really treat yourself to something special, in our humble opinion, you can’t get much better than Slake Spirits‘ Sussex Dry Gin for quality cocktails!
Sussex Dry Gin – 3-star Great Taste Award & Golden Fork Winner 2021
Slake’s take on the British classic, London dry gin style. A juniper & citrus forward Sussex dry gin, but without a citrus fruit in sight!
Slake Gin Fitz
Sussex Gin & Sussex Sparkling Wine? What’s not to love! This floral and fruity combination has to be one of our most popular summer serves across the board.
- 25 ml Slake Sussex Dry Gin
- 2 tsp Monin Rose Syrup (or make your own rose syrup!)
- 1 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice
- 100 ml Fitz Sparkling Wine (or quality Prosecco)
- Dried rose bud or hibiscus
Time needed: 4 minutes.
To make a Slake Gin Fitz:
- Add gin, syrup and lemon juice to a shaker with plenty of ice.
- Shake and fine strain into a chilled glass.
- Top with chilled sparkling wine.
- Stir gently and garnish with dried rosebud to serve.
The Slake Gin Fitz is a variation of a gin sling, using a floral Rose syrup and lemon juice mixed with the gin, before topping with fizz, or in this case Fitz! Fitz is a Sussex Sparkling Wine produced just down the road from us in Worthing by Gareth and his team. They have a rebellious streak and while much of the sparkling wine made in Sussex uses the traditional method, like Champagne, they instead use the Charmat method, to carbonate their wine by secondary fermentation in stainless steel pressure tanks rather than in the bottle.
Compared to traditional method wines they produce a slightly more approachable and less dry fizz, with more in common perhaps with a quality Prosecco. It’s delicious on its own and absolutely spot-on for cocktails! Why not try changing up the syrup or the citrus juice to amplify other flavours in the gin or wine or giving a different seasonal twist?
Another perfect marriage between Sussex producers, this refreshing and uplifting gin cocktail showcases the sweet floral and green character of Elderflower balanced perfectly with a nip of lemon juice and a dash of the wonderful Albourne 40 semi-dry Vermouth from Albourne Estate. This long drink is perfect to enjoy on sunny days in Sussex by the Sea.
- 20ml Slake Sussex Dry Gin
- 20ml Albourne 40 Vermouth
- 20ml Elderflower Cordial
- 5ml Fresh Lemon Juice
Time needed: 3 minutes.
To make a Sussex Spritz:
- Build in the glass over plenty of ice.
- Stir & top with soda to taste.
- Garnish with a twist of lemon.
This cheeky sipper was said to be a favourite of sailors! It will certainly ward off any scurvy with a decent dose of lime juice to liven the palette and can easily be topped with soda to create a refreshing long drink.
- 50 ml Slake Sussex Dry Gin
- 25 ml Rose’s Lime Cordial
- 1 tsp Fresh Lime Juice
- 100 ml Soda Water (optional)
- Lime peel or slice
Time needed: 3 minutes.
To make a Gimlet:
- Add gin, lime cordial and lime juice to a shaker with plenty of ice.
- Shake and fine strain into a chilled glass.
- Top with chilled soda water (optional).
- Stir gently and garnish with a slip of lime peel to serve.
As the name suggests, this is one cocktail you must try! For us, it really is the perfect expression of terroir too. Combining local gin with local honey, every Bee’s Knees is a just little bit different from place to place and throughout the seasons. You can adjust the ratio of lemon juice and honey accordingly to your taste.
- 50 ml Slake Sussex Dry Gin
- 25 ml Southdowns Honey (or use your own pure unfiltered local honey)
- 25 ml Fresh Lemon Juice
- Lemon peel or slice
Time needed: 7 minutes.
To make a Bee’s Knees:
- Add gin and honey to a shaker and stir until the honey is dissolved.
- Add lemon juice and plenty of ice.
- Shake vigourously and fine strain into a chilled glass.
- Garnish with a slip of lemon peel to serve.
What are your favourite summer cocktails?
Got a recipe you just have to share? Let us know in the comments below!