Women are getting more into drinking spirits, and we spend a lot of time finding the spirits we like, yet we’re often still unsure how to serve them properly. Clearly, there are several ways you can use most spirits and people have different preferences. I have listed some basic rules you should consider when making a drink. I’ve also previously written about the importance of glassware. I recommend you check that as well.
Whisky is best served neat, sometimes with a drop of water to bring out the flavours. I recommend you try it neat first and then decide whether it needs a little water, rather than assuming it is always best to add water. Keep whisky at room temperature as cold suppresses the flavour notes. That is also the reason we do not use ice with whisky! Ice will both make your drink too cold and as it melts it will keep diluting the whisky more and more. That way your drink will not stay consistent but will change from ice-cold to watery – both ways can ruin the flavours. It takes years to make whisky, let’s give it the appreciation it deserves.
If you must mix it with something, I recommend whisky soda rather than Coke so you don’t completely disguise the taste of the whisky. This way you will also avoid extra calories. If you want to use whisky in cocktails, try a Whisky Sour or a Manhattan, as nothing can beat these classic cocktails!
Many of the new craft gins are designed to be served on their own, yet few of us are actually drinking them without mixers. If you want to try it, I recommend using ice with a slice – choose the garnish you would use for a gin and tonic or one to complement the botanicals of the gin you are using.
People often think they do not like gin, but it is more likely that they don’t like tonic rather than the actual gin itself. For gin and tonic, it is good to make sure you know your tonics, as it constitutes around two-thirds of the drink and will therefore contribute a lot to the final taste. There are tonics that might have more calories than others but are made with all-natural ingredients. Keep this in mind, especially when choosing slimline or light tonic waters as the zero-calorie options will compromise the taste. If you are not a massive fan of basic tonic water, there are range of flavoured tonics such as Mediterranean or elderflower. Even bitter lemon is lovely with most gins.
Always use plenty of ice as the more you use, the longer the serve stays colder without diluting the drink. Also, this way the balance between gin and tonic will be just right – I’ve been to bars where they still serve you G&T with just a few ice cubes and add way too much tonic. If it’s a single serve (25ml in England) the only thing you really taste is the tonic water.
Each gin brand promotes its ideal serve, but if you can’t get your hands on dried elderflower or kafir leaves don’t worry, as it really doesn’t have to be so complicated. There’s nothing wrong with a lime wedge or a lemon wheel, but if you want to try something a bit different, use orange or grapefruit peel, for example. Orange complements spicy gins, grapefruit with something fruitier, or why not try raspberries and black pepper to give a boost to the classic gins such as Martin Millers or Sipsmith.
White and light rums are rarely served neat as these are unaged or only aged for a very short time and therefore can taste too sharp on their own. These rums are great with mixers such as fresh lime and Coke (Cuba Libre) or ginger beer. I recommend using fresh lime with all the mixers as it goes so well with rum. Always serve mixed drinks with plenty of ice to avoid diluting it. Light rums are also used for Mojitos, Daiquiris and other cocktails.
Golden and Oro rums are aged but still fairly light, therefore they are mainly used for mixed drinks, but that’s not to say you can’t sip a good quality golden rum. Golden rums can also be spicier with vanilla and caramel flavourings and are therefore great in hot drinks.
Dark rums have been aged for several years and are therefore richer in flavour. These are perfect served neat at room temperature. A brandy snifter works well as you can warm the glass in your hands.
Vodka is best served ice-cold if drunk as a shot, ideally straight from the freezer, but from the fridge is also acceptable. Some shot glasses used for vodka are tall, in which case, they should not be filled to the brim but halfway. Vodka is strong and affects everyone in different ways, therefore I recommend taking it easy when drinking shots. The tradition in my family is to drink vodka shots during dinner parties. You never drink alone and should pour for everyone at the table. It is rare for anyone to decline.
Vodka is also a great base for cocktails and mixed drinks. You can mix it with juices, tonic water, ginger beer, Coke or even with soda. My personal favourite is Skinny Bitch – vodka with fresh lime and soda water. It has only around 72 calories depending on how much vodka you use. As with all mixed drinks, don’t be shy with the ice.
Contrary to what many believe, it is better to sip tequila than down it all at once. Reposado and Anejo are great for sipping for their smooth taste. Make sure you always buy 100% blue agave. Personally, I use Blanco only for cocktails as it has aged only to a maximum of two months so can be harsh on the palate. If you want to do shots, the same applies for those. Most bars will push you towards that horrid throat-burning cheap stuff, but it’s better to ask for quality brands. Incorrectly, salt and lemon or lime is often used to cover the taste of tequila to mask the crap they sell in some bars. Some places do it properly and offer Sangrita, spicy pineapple or tomato juice to clean the palate after drinking tequila.
The list of tequila-based cocktails is endless. Try variations of Margaritas and Palomas – adding some spice always tastes great with tequilas! Tequila also works well in a fruity punch.
50ml tomato juice
30ml lime juice
30ml orange juice
3 splashes of tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper
Mix with ice in a cocktail shaker and pour into shot glasses. Sip alongside a good tequila.
Different variations can be made by adding grapefruit juice, horseradish or different hot sauces. To make the pineapple version, just replace the tomato juice with pineapple juice. If possible, use fresh juices.
It is recommended to keep grappa chilled but never in the freezer. On a hot day it will be a refreshing drink on its own, or mix it with tonic, fresh lemon and plenty of ice to create an alternative G&T. Many like grappa only as an after-dinner drink or served with food, but I recommend trying it in cocktails. Check the recipe section for some ideas. On a cold winter evening it is ideal to keep grappa at room temperature and sip it on its own to warm up from inside.
Don’t forget there are several types of grappa to choose from. The classic is a combination of many grape varieties, but there are great single-variety grappas, which all have their individual characteristics. As grappa still remains unregulated, there are many mass-produced grappas out there, so it is better to stick with well-known brands that are using artisanal production methods. I recommend Nonino, Bepi Tosolini and Berta.
People tend to avoid sherry as they don’t really know when or how to drink it. But in fact it is a very versatile drink and can be served any time of the day. It can be paired with foods or enjoyed on its own as a refreshing aperitif. Oloroso, for example, has a lot to give and should be appreciated with the same hype as a good single malt. Sherry is often considered as auntie’s or granny’s drink, but in Spain especially, younger women know how to appreciate it properly.
Ideally, sherry should be served in a special sherry glass or in a white wine glass, but keep the measure smaller when a bigger glass is used – I recommend somewhere between 60ml and 90ml. The temperature sherry is served at makes a huge difference to the flavours, although some types can be served both cool or at room temperature. In which case, you can decide according to the time of the year, e.g. a hot summer day or cold autumn evening.
I recommend serving Fino and Manzanilla cool or well chilled, around 6–9°C. If possible, keep an ice bucket handy to cool the bottle when needed. Cream sherries should also be served cool, somewhere between 9°C and 12°C, or serve it on the rocks with a slice of lemon. Amontillado and Oloroso should also be slightly chilled, 12–13°C, and Pedro Ximenez around 13–14°C.
For tips on pairing sherry with food and how to store it, see Getting lost in Spain’s sherry triangle article.