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Ellie's drinks shelf

Hi Ellie!

I am by no means a bartender, although I spent most of my 20s behind a bar, I had no quest to be the creative. My only talent was that I could work fast and if I didn’t know a cocktail recipe a colleague would yell the ingredients and what it was supposed to taste, like I would be able to figure out pretty quickly the balance of everything.

I think the drinks world can feel a little intimidating. It can feel in accessible because of the technicality of making the product or mixing a drink – like cooking, there are recipes to these things, unlike food, most of the ingredients are not readily available at your supermarket and whip-up-able on a Saturday afternoon. The drinks world can feel like a private party with secret words and handshakes.

But, most people I know in the drink’s worlds are hugely creative, pretty nerdy, and really just want you to enjoy, revel in, take pleasure in, what they make. Just like food, drinks are personal.

Therefore, I like to approach booze like ingredients, something to play around with, to experiment with. This also means that I think booze - and the conversation around booze - is, and can be, a site for identity. Brewing, distilling, fermenting to make drinks were part of a harvest and farming cycle, often to use up leftover produce, and became part of rituals and celebrations. But maybe this is another discussion – or to be furthered at a later stage!

Drinks are part of our social fabric, and your booze cabinet is yours. It is an integral part of your (living room) society, now more than ever! So, I think now is a nice time to think about what all those bottles mean to you, develop your own rituals and celebrations.

I’m enjoying doing my Instagram booze reviews because I have to stop and think about the flavour and I am surprised with what my conclusions are, drinks I thought were horrible, on reflection have merit and I actually might even enjoy!

So, if we think about drinks as ingredients with flavour, I guess the first thing to do is to think about what flavours you like, what drinks you like and why?

Taste thoughts, what I think about is: how does the drink pass over my tongue, where does the sweetness hit (at the beginning of the sip, later?), is it acidic, perfumed, what is the texture?

Structure: I usually think about building a drink as four parts, with a dash of something to give it a bit of jazz – and bitters is perfect for this, but so is a lot of things, including pepper or ginger. I also like to sometimes put a smoky whisky in at the end, to give a bit of depth to a drink, if I want something heartier.

The experiment: Take four things you like, and a one you’re not sure about. Line them up, taste, smell – write notes! By notes I mean “hmmm yummy!” and “ooo a bit bittery, like a lemon peel at the end”, so real technical ;) but things that mean very specific things to you.

Your favourite flavour (e.g a gin) should be the predominant booze, e.g 30% or even 50%.
Discard one of the bottles entirely. And don’t be afraid to switch one bottle out for another, after you’ve tasted.

And really trust your own palate.

Then shake it with ice. Or stir it with ice. Try both, find your favourite.
For glam, put your glasses in the freeze.

The great things about your gins, is that you have a selection of very different types, so just tasting through them will give you an idea of what profiles they have and what flavours you’d like to bring out – or subdued. And, when you come up with a recipe you like, you can substitute the different gins and see how it all changes.

I find this part super fun.

And there are basics that you can be inspired by, these are three that I kind of mirror what I have in the booze cabinet on.
Negroni: 1part dry botanicals (gin), 1 part bitter (Campari), 1 part sweet (vermouth rosso)
Gin Fizz: Mostly dry botanicals (gin), topped up with sparkling (water, but why not just go with bubbles!) and a squeeze of acidity (lemon)
Manhattan: 2 parts sweet/oak/caramel (Kentucky bourbon), 1 part fragrant sweet (French vermouth) 1 part sweet (sweet Italian vermouth)

But first
, pour yourself a wee tipple of the amazing Japanese plum wine, one ice cube.

These are just my thoughts, and the way I approach my slightly ridiculous booze cabinet that seems to have the gambit from whisky to herbaceous French mountain liquors and every flavour profile in between! By no means a professional, just titted about in the food and drinks world for 20years, serving, and now writing about it.


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