I have just returned from my annual Christmas and New Year escape. You see unlike many people I don’t particularly enjoy the ‘festive’ season so I normally grab a group of like-minded individuals and head for the hills. As well as being a keen imbiber I also enjoy mountain biking, so a trip to deepest darkest Wales for a week of playing in the mud and snow up the side of a mountain always cheers me up, while others sit watching TV re-runs and eating Turkey.
This year was no exception, but where as I usually accept a week of drinking beer in place of Manhattans, this year I decided no compromise would be allowed. Here’s my simple philosophy… ‘there is no excuse not to drink cocktails’. No matter where you are or what you are doing, cocktails enhance the occasion, so why compromise?
So with that in mind I set about planning which bottles should go to Wales, with the obvious dilemma of taking enough variety for 8 days drinking, whilst still being able to fit everything else into the car! I would have loved to have been able to take the entire 'drinking room' collection with me, but practicality forced me to dig deep and cull my packing to no more than a couple of boxes, covering spirits, syrups, bitters, tools and fruit. A real challenge!
I also decided that I should provide a cocktail list for my fellow mountain bikers, offering a broad range of drinks to suit their varied tastes. This made life both easier and harder; at least I could narrow down the list of ingredients to cover a small selection of drinks… but it also meant I had to bring enough ingredients to cover the whole range of drinks, not just the drinks I like best… so much for a bottle of rum, a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of Antica Formula vermouth!
So here is my advice to anyone, who like me, feels that cocktails are an essential part of day-to-day life even when away from home, not an optional extra when you get the chance:
1. Know what your audience wants – In this case there were just 4 of us travelling and I know that one likes sharp drinks, one is more a fan of fruity long drinks and one will probably follow my lead and head for a Manhattan or Sazerac.
2. Be willing to make a few compromises – Yes it would be great to take 3 gins, 4 bourbons, 2 ryes, 3 tequilas etc. but the reality is you can’t take everything so with a little planning you can build a good drinks list around 1 each of bourbon, rum, cachaca, gin, vodka, tequila and cognac.
3. Decant what you can – There is no point taking a 1 Ltr bottle of Antica with you if the only drink calling for sweet vermouth is a Manhattan. I used small 250ml bottles for Chartreuse, Benedictine, Noilly Prat, Antica as well as for gommes and syrups.
4. Be careful what fruits you include – if you are going somewhere remote or can’t easily get to a supermarket then it’s easiest is to base your drinks around citrus as they keep fairly well and give you plenty of options.
Have a plan for ice – our self-catering didn’t have a freezer, but we know the local pub really well so got them to agree to let us use theirs. A fishing tackle box is a great way of making large chunks of ice in a fairly small freezer or buying in ice from a supermarket works.
6. Bring your own bartools – I am lucky enough to have a Sagatiba roll up bar kit that I have padded out with a few extra tools, but the main point is to take everything you need with you so that you spend as little time improvising as possible.
So with all that in mind I managed to come up with a list of 13 drinks using just 7 base spirits and a handful of liqueurs and syrups. Nothing ground breaking, but by sticking to a few classics with a few interesting twists we all drank what we wanted whenever we wanted it.
Here’s the drinks list from our trip to the trails in Brechfa Forest, deepest, darkest Wales:
ROCK GARDEN COCKTAILS
Served in a rocks glass, either over ice or simply straight up, these are short and sharp; hitting them too hard might leave you feeling all shook up!
Hawaiian Sour - Golden rum shaken hard with a little pineapple and maraschino liqueur. This is the perfect refresher after a long day on the trails.
Caipirinha - This classic Brasilian drink is a simple balance between lime sugar and cachaca, shaken up just like you were on that final descent!
Old Fashioned - Bourbon stirred slowly with sugar and bitters, served with a twist of lemon, For slow sipping by the fire at the end of a hard day riding.
Sazerac - A classic bourbon and bitters drink served straight up in an absinthe rinsed glass. Perfect to numb the pain from biking injuries!
Tommy’s Margarita - The classic updated with agave nectar, this one will get you back on your feet after a long day in the saddle!
VERTICAL CLIMB COCKTAILS
Served in a chilled cocktail glass these sophisticated drinks are a decadent reward for all those hard climbs and bone shaking descents.
Martini -The classic gin martini, wet with a twist – you’ve already been shaken on the trails so this drink is simply stirred lovingly before hitting the glass.
Manhattan -Bourbon or rye, stirred with orange bitters and sweet vermouth; for when you wish you‘d booked Christmas in New York instead of Wales!
Cachaca Daiquiri - A twist on the traditional, made with Sagatiba Velha, lime and sugar. Served short and sharp like a climb that leaves you refreshed, not broken!
Aviation -Gin and lemon juice balanced out with maraschino liqueur – sometimes this is the safest way of catching air…
LONG DESCENT COCKTAILS
All of these are served long, over ice and are designed to refresh you after a full day on the trails
Dark and Stormy -Dark rum, lime and ginger beer topped with a splash of bitters. A great refresher and legend has it was named for the weather in Wales…
Kiwi and Honey Collins -A mix of kiwi and honey vodkas, shaken with lemon and hibiscus syrup, topped with soda. Perfect for daydreaming about that mountain biking trip to New Zealand
Port Cobbler - A long refreshing drink with the fruitiness of port balanced against the sweet citrus of fresh orange - the perfect port to drop anchor in!
Sloe Gin Fizz -Sloe Gin meets lemon, sugar and egg white, served long and topped with soda - this is the perfect drink to slow down with after a day of hitting the descents at full speed.
I can safely say mountain biking has never been such a civilised affair!