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Cocktail hour: A beginner's guide to aperitifs

Thea Euryphaessa suggests you get the evening off with a livener

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Cocktail hour: A beginner's guide to aperitifs

'Let me prepare it for you, if I may...
Strong...but sip it slowly...and drink it sitting down.'
TS Eliot, The Cocktail Party

APERITIFS. Admittedly, it's not a ritual I engage in as often as I'd like. Which is a shame as an appropriate pre-dinner cocktail can whet the appetite and stimulate the taste buds, before your meal. Of course, you can play it safe and start with champagne; but as friends with whom I've dined out have come to appreciate, a well made, balanced aperitif can provide a delicious entree to the evening.

The problem I most often hear however, is where to start. Friends say if I wasn't there, they wouldn't bother with cocktails, which means I'm often left in charge of ordering everyone's drinks. With this in mind I began thinking of a shortlist of aperitifs anyone could order with confidence. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and the final choice will ultimately boil down to personal taste. I welcome reader's favourites, suggestions and recipes.

In many cases, gin provides a good place to start. The classic Tom Collins, Martinez and Negroni all provide excellent aperitifs and are drinks all bartenders should be familiar with.

Cocktail aficionados may disagree with my choice of Negroni as an aperitif. With gin, Campari, sweet vermouth and orange zest to garnish, it certainly packs a mouth-puckering punch, but if made with respect, provides an elegant pre-dinner drink. Men, in particular, will appreciate Negroni as it's served on the rocks in an old fashioned glass. But be

warned – I introduced this drink to my partner at the end of a raucous night in Mojo's and he swears he can still taste it now, such was it seared onto his sensory psyche.

If you're of the gin & tonic persuasion, you could venture into cocktail territory by ordering a Tom Collins. Gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar syrup, topped with soda water make for this elegant, palate pursing alternative. Of course, G & T purists will question why one should go meddling with a classic drink. And who am I to argue? Still, I consider this variation worthy of the occasional drinking diversion. Corridor make this drink to perfection. Go on, give it a try – set yourself free.

The Martinez is the aperitif to try if, like me, gin isn't quite your libation. Whenever I'm not sure of a particular spirit, I sneak up on it by means of a cocktail. /p>

It's not that I don't like gin; it's just that I'm still in the process of educating my palate. I went through the same rigmarole with olives, but got there in the end. But back to the Martinez, which is widely considered the original Martini. This cocktail still allows the gin to shine through, but shouldn't overwhelm you. It's a complex, sophisticated beverage that you first encounter via a citrus nose before wading into crisp, woody, herbaceous notes. A thoroughly grown up affair and traditionally a blend of gin, lashings of sweet vermouth, orange bitters and lemon twist to garnish. Gin Martini connoisseurs may be unsure of such a 'wet' offering, but it makes for an interesting variation.

If all else fails, just remember an aperitif shouldn't be too sweet otherwise it'll dull the appetite. You don't want to saturate the palate before you sit down to your first course.

Next time, digestifs.

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DigFebruary 17th 2009.

Her name isn't Old Ma Moleum! Her name is Lynne O'Leum and we are now a happy couple. We now have a son named Matt and even tho she had an affair with a Turkish Rugby player we are planning on getting married. Got to go. Got a table booked at the new restaurant called '8'. We're having Lamb in 8.

DigFebruary 17th 2009.

Is somebody impersonating our Professor or has your spelling become lazy boss? Cocktales? Souveignirs? Maybe you're sipping a few cocktails before ranting. If you are mine's a Cosmopolitan and I'm on my way.

Angry of AigburthFebruary 17th 2009.

"Alcohol is the New Tobacco" according to the Scottish Government. What did I tell you would happen once we allowed them to ban smoking in pubs?www.liverpoolconfidential.co.uk/index.asp…

Dips O'ManiacFebruary 17th 2009.

Aye, nowt decent in that Liverpool One shopping precinct for a start!

Professor Cyril LordFebruary 17th 2009.

That's Right Dig, I remember seeing you working in the carpet shop just opposite and seeing all those rough gentlemen coming in to see you to get their under-felt. Didn't it nearly get closed down after the Christmas party? You quit because they wouldn't let you jump on the shag-pile. Then the new lad Matthew joined them. After the fuss you made they were happy to Welcome Matt. I am sure you had more hair in those days or was it a rug? In this early career when you first took up carpets, did you spend a night on the tiles? What was worse the VAT or the Carpet Tacks? There seemed to be more staff than carpets at one point, how many got laid while you were there? Where did you parquet your car? How is the old lady that used to do the lino, Old Ma Moleum? Tell me do you celebrate the laminate or see it as doom for the loom? Sorry to ask so many questions about the carpet shop, i was on a roll.

DigFebruary 17th 2009.

Sue Veneer tells me you used to be a Saturday boy in her brass and China shop on Penny Lane. She says you used to enjoy polishing her knockers.

DigFebruary 17th 2009.

So you're not looking down your nose at me any longer Geoff? Sorry, I mean Lord Street. I'm honoured.

Penny LaneFebruary 17th 2009.


Prafesir ChukkelbuttyFebruary 17th 2009.

Pig, yoo are rite sorry about tha appling tieping erras, my it is my new predicdiv texd it is firkin shine. And to think i used to go owt with Sue Veneer. But don't listen to any ov her tales

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