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Raise Your Glasses!

A round of drinks at the pub


In Britain we are now lucky to have an ever-increasing range of beer to choose from, from the very light, such as the Golden Ales (Exmoor Gold) through Old Ales, which are usually matured in bottles (such as Theakeston’s Old Peculiar) and Scottish Ales, which are darker and richer than most of their English counterparts, to the profoundly dark stouts and porters, the most famous of which is obviously Dublin’s Guinness.

The brewing of beer in this country goes back as far as we have records. In medieval times, brewing was almost exclusively a female occupation, and most homes would produce its own ‘small beer’, which was considered nourishing (like liquid bread) and much safer to drink than most of the water. Many of these female ‘brewsters’ became the first publicans, selling beer from their homes. All beer is made from sprouted barley – the grains of barley are first soaked in water and allowed to germinate (you can see how the whole process was first discovered!).

When germination is complete the grains are heated and this affects the type of malt produced – high heat produces dark roasted malts, lighter heats lighter coloured malts – and this gives the beer its colour, body, and flavour. Once the malt has been roasted, it is crushed into a powder and mixed with hot water, and this is left in a vessel called a mash tun (hence the coat of arms and the pub name) for several hours before being boiled with hops. These add a bitter flavour and aroma to beer, and also act as a preservative. After boiling, the liquid is filtered and cooled, and yeast is added. Brewers go to great lengths to preserve their own specific yeasts because it gives a unique flavour to their beer. Usually they take a little bit of each batch of yeast and grow it somewhere secure (Guinness lock there keep yeast in a safe) ready for the next batch of beer – which means some beers are made using yeasts that go back centuries.

Perry and Cider
After some decades in the doldrums, English cider and perry are starting to find favour again, with new orchards beginning to be planted, and many traditional growers beginning to see at upturn in demand. If you are a cider newbie, try Somerset scrumpy for a real traditional cloudy cider. Ciders made in the West Country are made with true cider-apples and pears, and so tend to be sharper in flavour. Cider made in Wales and Kent, such as Biddenden’s ciders, is usually made with dessert apples and pears and so tend to be clearer and more wine-like.

Made from fermented grapes, the type and character of wine is influenced by the type of grape, where the grapes are grown, the weather, as well as the type of yeast and what is done to it. We Brits consume the most wine per head of anywhere in the world, and yet only 0.2% of the total amount of wine consumed in this country is actually produced here, and while we may wish for an indigenous wine producing culture, at least we are lucky enough to be able to able to choose wine from right around the world – after all, in France, French wine is more or less all you get! If you are wanting a specific wine to pair with food, check out www.matchingfoodandwine.com, while if you are just quaffing, most pubs now stock a good selection of wine – and if you think the wine is yesterday’s from the way it tastes, don’t hesitate to ask for a glass from a newly opened bottle!

Cocktails date from the Edwardian era, at the turn of the last century, which is when most of the classic cocktails were first invented, and consequently many have a wonderful history.

Gin and Tonic
After stating out as a 17th century Dutch medicinal drink (the juniper was added as a tonic for the kidneys), sweet gin became so cheap and widespread that addiction became the norm in some of the poorest areas of London in the 18th century, hence the nickname ‘mother’s ruin’. A century later, gin was relaunched as a dry spirit and returned to respectability, becoming a popular Colonial drink and essential element of cocktail hour. At the same time, British colonials in the Far East and Africa were being badly affected by malaria. Eventually medics found out that quinine, an ingredient in tonic water, was useful for getting rid of the disease. However, they had problems getting the British to drink the strange-tasting tonic until it was mixed with the newly arrived dry gin… a slice of lime (not lemon at first) was added, and the rest is history.

Pour gin into a highball glass over ice cubes and top with tonic water. Stir and serve.
Black Velvet
The Black Velvet, also known as the Bismarck or the Velvet Hammer, is made from Guinness and champagne. The Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, lays claim to having first invented it. A Black Velvet is made by filling a tall champagne flute halfway with chilled Guinness and floating the champagne on top. The differing densities of the liquids cause them to remain largely in separate layers. Cider or perry is sometimes used in place of the more expensive champagne, which is known as “Poor Man’s Black Velvet”. If cider or perry is used, the Guinness is floated on the top.

1 part Champagne
1 part Guinness

Pour Guinness into a glass, then gently pour over the champagne.

Vodka Martini
The very essence of cocktail hour, many legendary historical and fictional figures have favoured it, including Churchill, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Cary Grant, W Somerset Maugham, and, of course, the fictional James Bond. The classic martini was stirred – as W. Somerset Maugham declared, “martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other,” although James Bond, and his creator, Ian Fleming, always ordered his “shaken, not stirred”.

3 parts Vodka
½ part Martini Bianca (dry)
1 green olive or slice of lemon
4 ice cubes

Put the ice cubes into a mixing glass.
Pour the vermouth and vodka over the ice and stir vigorously, without splashing.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Drop in the olive and serve.

Singapore Sling
Many connoisseurs consider the wonderful Singapore Sling as the best cocktail in the world. It was created by Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Raffles was infamous as the hang out of the rich, fashionable and racy (and mainly British colonial) crowd at the turn of the last century. The original drink uses an eau de vie, kirshwasser, instead of cherry brandy – it is much drier than a cherry brandy although not as dry as maraschino liqueur.

2 parts gin
1 part cherry brandy
Soda water
juice of half a lemon
1 lime slice
dash of sugar syrup
5 ice cubes

Shake all the ingredients (except the soda water) with cracked ice. Strain and pour into a tumbler. Top up with soda water.

Old-fashioned lemonade
The essence of every Boy’s Own adventure, Enid Blyton Famous Five stories, and Swallows and Amazons, proper old-fashioned lemonade is summer in a glass.

6 lemons
200g white sugar
4 litres cold water, with extra if necessary for taste

Juice the lemons.
In a large container combine everything together, and stir well.
Adjust water to taste.
Chill and serve over ice.

© Claire Burdett. Please only reproduce this article with permission, in its entirety and with a hyperlink to www.claireburdett.com. Thank you.

First published in Citylife magazine, 2008.


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