Turns out we are morphing into a nation of teetotallers; our drinking rates at an all time low. As someone who doesn't drink much I am part of this category, but I would like to advise an amendment. Sure, the quantity of consumption may have dropped but I feel like the quality has gone through the roof; when we drink, we are making it count. Our consumption is considered, from how it is served at the bar to how it is matched to our food, and the cocktails and aperitifs we are pouring at home with the spate of artisanal spirits at our disposal. There has never been a more fun time to delve into cocktail hour.
For a few of the drinks suggested below I have mentioned sugar syrup. You can purchase this or make one easily yourself at home by using a 1:1 ratio (one cup sugar to one cup water). Add both to a saucepan and cook only long enough to dissolve the sugar – you're not making caramel so don't let it take on any colour. Cool completely before using.
Aperol, champagne and rosemary spritz
I know Aperol divides people but I love its aromatic bitterness, intensified here with rosemary, and to be honest it just looks so freaking festive. Served over some pretentious over-sized ice cubes, this is hot summer nights in a glass.
For the ice cubes, I used large whisky-style ice moulds. I cut slices of blood orange and edible flowers and popped them in before freezing for a pretty touch, but they don't add any flavour so if you can't be bothered, normal ice cubes will give you the same outcome. For a lower alcohol alternative, add a splash of soda water and/or skip the champagne altogether.
50ml Aperol per serve
Champagne or prosecco (about 75ml per serve)
1 small sprig of rosemary per glass
1-2 slices blood orange per glass
1. Place a large ice cube or ice cubes in a highball glass (or tall glass wide enough to fit a giant ice cube, if using).
2. Pour in 50ml of Aperol then top with blood orange slices.
3. Pour over champagne or prosecco, finish with a rosemary sprig and serve.
Cucumber rose gin spritz with black cardamom. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Cucumber rose gin spritz
I hate to sound like one of those obnoxious 'home from holiday' types who waxes lyrical about the best pasta they had in Italy, yada yada ... but I was served a gin much like this in New Caledonia and it has stuck with me. If you can't get your hands on black cardamom skip it all together – it has a smoky resin-like flavour that is completely different to green cardamom, so don't try to replace it. The cucumber and rose is still beautiful on its own. If you don't have the energy to crush the cardamom to a fine powder, simply strain the sugar syrup to catch any larger pieces of the spice.
2 black cardamom pods, bruised, seeds removed and crushed to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle
4 tbsp sugar syrup
botanical gin of your choice
cucumber ribbons (about 2 per serve)
dried rose petals
1. Combine the sugar syrup and black cardamom in a bowl. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to infuse. When ready to use, strain into a clean bowl to catch any coarse cardamom.
2. Arrange the ribbons of cucumber around the inside of your serving glasses.
3. Spoon one tablespoon of the sugar syrup into each glass and add a 30ml nip of gin. Top with soda and crushed ice.
4. Sprinkle over dried rose petals, about 3 or so per glass, and serve.
Lime-fresh: a new twist on gin fizz. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Lime, lychee and finger lime gin fizz
The sweet of the lychees and the tartness of the lime make fabulous bedfellows for an aromatic gin. Add all the ice and all the mint and this is extremely refreshing.
1 cup pitted lychees (strained from juice, if using tinned)
½ tbsp sugar syrup per serve (2 tbsp total)
cheeks from 4 limes
30ml gin per serve (120ml total)
mint leaves, picked
½ tsp finger lime pearls per serve
1. Add ¼ cup lychees and half a tablespoon of sugar syrup to the base of each serving glass. Add 30ml gin to each. Give a lime cheek a good squeeze to release the juice then pop into each glass.
2. Add another whole lime cheek and a few mint leaves. Add ice then top with soda. Spoon over the finger lime pearls and serve.
Passionfruit ginger and kaffir lime kombucha
Kombucha, while meant to be for gut health, is also a spectacular addition to the drinks trolley. With its slight sweetness and tart sourness it's the perfect standalone base for a mocktail or mix-in for stronger versions.
1 tbsp sugar syrup (or more to taste, depending on tartness of passionfruit)
4 passionfruit, hulled
½ tsp freshly grated ginger
4 kaffir lime leaves (plus extra to serve), lightly crushed until fragrant
1 litre ginger flavoured kombucha
kaffir lime leaves
Combine the sugar syrup, passionfruit pulp, ginger and crushed kaffir lime leaves in a bowl. Cover and set aside for at least 2 hours for the kaffir lime flavour to infuse. If you have time, cover and place in the fridge overnight.
Give the pulp a good stir then remove the kaffir lime leaves (optional). Spoon the pulp into the base of four glasses. Top with ice then pour over the kombucha. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and another kaffir lime leaf, then serve.
Peach Melba spider
Peach Melba is a guilty pleasure for me.I love the taste, the glorious naffness, and that my loves peaches, raspberries and ice-cream can co-exist in perfect harmony. Here I've turned the dessert to the glass and added in a generous heft of tart freeze-dried raspberries to temper the sweetness – and she is all the better for it.
Use a grapefruit flavoured carbonated drink if you want to keep it alcohol-free; and if you want to up the ante, omit the moscato and spike the soft drink with gin instead.
It's important to use an ice-cream with some dairy here or the fizzy foaming of your childhood memories will fail to erupt. A gelato is great – you get the creamy effect but it's not as cloying as a full cream ice-cream.
2 ripe white peaches, pitted (peeled, optional)
moscato or grapefruit-flavoured soft drink or mineral water (I used Tiro brand sparkling pink grapefruit drink)
4 scoops raspberry gelato
freeze-dried raspberries*, to serve
Roughly chop half the peach halves, divide between four serving glasses, and give the fruit a quick muddle.
Slice the remaining peach halves and place on top of the peach pulp.
Add a generous scoop of raspberry gelato to each glass, then carefully pour over the moscato or soft drink – it will bubble considerably. Quickly sprinkle over some freeze-dried raspberries and serve.
*Tip: If using fresh raspberries add ¼ teaspoon of lemon zest per glass to break up the sweetness.