It’s finally time. After long months walking in the park and pounding coffees in the street you can have a small number of pals over as long as they stay in the garden. Will you have a few drinks when then come by? For the first time in months? Just a couple…? Yes, you absolutely will. Here are some of the best things to serve while you to remember how to have a conversation with more than two people. There are a few cocktails among the bottles and cans but they’re kept pretty straightforward to make sure you’ve got plenty of time for overdue chat.
A laidback relation of the julep and the cobbler, the smash is one of the original cocktails, traceable to the mid-19th century. It’s an excellent garden drink because it doesn’t require you to be especially precise and is pretty dependably good. Just throw all the components in a large shaker with a couple of handfuls of ice and whip them about until your arms get tired. It’s a good idea to squeeze your lemons before your up-to-five-friends come over to minimise faff. You can probably get away with mixing two at a time but three would be a push.
Ingredients (makes 1):
6-10 Fresh mint leaves (depending on the size)
50ml Bourbon or gin
25ml Lemon juice
15ml 1:1 sugar syrup
Once the shaker is frosty your mint should be nicely smashed. Strain the contents into a tumbler full of ice and serve un-garnished. If you’re using Bourbon it should be something assertive with a little rye to give it backbone – Woodford Reserve fits the bill nicely and always performs well in this sort of serve (70cl, 43.2% - £23; Sainsbury’s). If you’re going the gin route it’s important to pick a bottle that’s a little bolder than your average to handle the mint and the dilution. No.3 London Dry from Berry Bros. and Rudd (70cl, 46% - £36; Waitrose) is an excellent all-rounder that belongs in any home bar. Loads of citrus, balanced by some earthy spice and nice, spruce-y juniper – a real benchmark.
Vermut Blanco and Tonic
Historically, la hora del vermut – literally the hour of vermouth – was as much a part of the culture in Barcelona as aperitivo is in Italy. Roaring back into fashion after a few years un-deserved obscurity, Spanish vermouth is gaining recognition as an eye opener, a condiment, and a general aid to conversation. Though the traditional serve calls for just a few cubes of ice there’s a lot of fun to be had with a white vermut and tonic – which is delicious low enough ABV for an extended session. El Bandarra Blanco (1L, 15% - £20; Amazon) is just slightly bitter with soft spice, candied peel, and some vanilla to round things out. Throw 50ml in a tumbler or highball stacked high with ice, pour over a light tonic water, and garnish with a wedge of orange. If you have rosemary growing in your garden (or if you can nick some from someone else’s) then a sprig of that won’t go amiss either.
Light, slightly spritzy Vinho Verde is the ultimate picnic wine. At 10-11% with lots of fruit and good acidity it’s the sort of thing you crack open and then immediately want a third bottle of. The style originated in northern Portugal and while it’s not the country’s best-known contribution to boozing it’s much better suited to the garden than vintage Port. As the name ‘green wine’ would suggest these are bottled young and fresh, literally fizzing with life. Chin Chin from Quinta do Ermizo (75cl, 11% - £12; Shop Cuvee) is imported to the UK by the good people at Noble Rot who do excellent trade in food, wine, and magazines. Expect yellow plums, green apples, and a little rockpool minerality. It’s become something of a cult wine since it landed in 2018 and very much deserves the hype.
Absolutely bone-dry, freezing cold Fino Sherry is one of the best things you can drink in the sun. A textbook example of the style is Tio Pepe en Rama (37.5cl, 15% - £9.45; The Whisky Exchange), which comes unfiltered and about as close as you can get to drinking it at the source in Jerez. It’s nutty and slightly oxidised, with a distinctive bakery smell, and something salty on the palate like preserved lemons. It also loves food and makes easy company for shellfish, anchovies, and almonds. Keep the bottle as cold as possible and serve in small wine glasses. The regular Tio Pepe is a little lighter bodied but likewise excellent and should be available at your local super market (75cl, 15% - £9; Sainsbury’s).
Tart and fruity sour beers sit a little lighter than your average can. They’re well suited to the spring weather and make a nice change to the usual parade of IPAs and lagers. The team at Brick Brewery in Peckham are absolutely masters of the sour beer and seem never to run out of interesting combinations and stylish can art. Particular highlights of their recent output have included a session-able raspberry and thyme number (33cl, 3.6% - £2.65; direct) and a nicely floral hibiscus tea and lychee expression (33cl, 4% - £2.72; direct). It’s easy to imagine beer with fruit as sweet or cloying but good sours like these are crisp, bright, and memorable. Very smart brewing.
Making cocktails ahead of time leaves you free for important pursuits like enjoying the company of someone you don’t live with full-time. Drinks with citrus in the mix won’t shine so well when pre-batched but spirit-centric recipes are a good bet. There are some nice bottled Negronis on the market but by making your own you can take full advantage of the formula’s scope for experimentation. The below uses Aperol and Tequila in place of the traditional gin – but feel free to riff with whatever you have available. It’s the flexibility of the spirit/bitter/vermouth spec that makes the Negroni such a great cocktail. Just be sure to make a tester so you can tweak your proportions before you mix a whole batch.
Ingredients (makes 1 75cl bottle)
250ml VIVR Blanco Tequila (£34.95; Amazon)
200ml Sweet Vermouth
100ml Water (bottled is nice but tap is fine)
Portion out each ingredient in a measuring jug and pour into a clean bottle, something with a swing top or a re-purposed wine bottle will do nicely. Chill down in the fridge for at least a few hours but ideally from the night before. When the people you’ve been missing arrive all you need to do is sort some tumblers, ice, and a few wedges of grapefruit. So you’ll be free to pour, drink, and catch up.