Cocktail menus can be intimidating. While it’s a fantastic feeling to open your cupboard and dream of your next creation, it can be very heavy on the bank account. Chasing down every specialist ingredient online or at your wine merchant can be an exhausting and expensive process, and who knows when you might next use that rare and pricey ingredient?
Gin being the perfect base for a whole host of classic cocktails, it’s fair to say that we’re fans of good mixology. A good cocktail both elevates its basic ingredients, and is more than the sum of its parts. It should be a marriage of grown-up flavours, but should also hide its strength well. A well made and mixed cocktail should be a miniature symphony, giving you all the elements in a combination that changes on your palate.
The ingredients below are by no means an exhaustive list, and are not meant to cover all bases. Rather, this is an excellent basic tool kit, giving all (or almost all) you need to make a whole host of gin cocktails, and useful ingredients for any cocktail of your choosing. There are also alternatives for the below ingredients if the flavour profiles just aren’t to your tastes. From this basic frame, let your imagination run wild!
Essential Cocktail Ingredients to Keep in Your Cupboard
No. 1 - Hidden Curiosities Original Gin
As is common knowledge, many classic cocktails are based on gin. Hidden Curiosities classic has strident notes of peppercorn and green cardamom, but is smooth and light enough to play well with other strong flavours as the base of your drink. It’s the best possible start to your cocktail cabinet. Of course, it also makes a great gin and tonic…
No. 2 - Campari
No. 3 - Dry Vermouth
Vermouth is essentially aromatised wine, sweetened and fortified, blended with herbal flavours to make an utterly delicious drink. Again, most of these hail from Italy, and are essential components for countless cocktails. Most famously, you’ll need a dry vermouth for a Martini, and a sweet or red vermouth for a Negroni, but really there are so many great drinks that call for a decent vermouth that there is absolutely no reason not to have some. It even makes a great drink all on its own with some ice - if you’d never sipped a chilled vermouth on a hot day, you owe it to yourself to do so.
For a dry vermouth, we tend to like Noilly Prat for its almost salty and sherry-like qualities, or if you prefer something different, the Belsazar Riesling vermouth is a gorgeous option. And of course, there is nothing wrong with the classic Martini version. Think of a dry vermouth as having an elegant French flair.
No. 4 - Sweet Vermouth
The third ingredient in your Negroni, a sweet vermouth is very versatile, and probably the best sort to sip straight with some ice. Another key cocktail component, you’ll sometimes find this mixed with darker liquors such as in a Manhattan or a Rob Roy; its sweet and spicy flavours stand up well.
With something of an Italian decadence, there is nothing wrong with the classic Martini vermouth here. We also love the Asterley Bros English Estate Vermouth with its complex flavours and unusual herbal notes. If you want your vermouth rich and full of flavour, we highly recommend getting a bottle of Cocchi Torino, which really adds depth to a Negroni.
No. 5 - Creme de Cassis
This beautifully deep and tart liqueur is made from macerated blackcurrants, and has layers of sweet, tangy tannins that add an incredible flavour to cocktails. If you’ve ever tasted it neat, you’ll know that it’s very sweet, and this along with its distinct flavour means we advise using it sparingly, but when it appears it is the undoubted star ingredient. Try it in a Bramble, or the classic Kir Royale for an entry point into the liqueur’s charms.
No. 6 - Triple Sec
No. 7 - Fernet
Other Things to Keep at Hand
Apart from the headline ingredients, there are a few other things that are worth keeping to hand when making cocktails.
Lemons and limes are absolutely essential, not just to cooking, but also when mixing drinks. From juicing, to grating the zest, to garnishing at the end, there is almost nothing a simple piece of citrus can’t do. Even if you’re staying off the alcohol, a hit of citrus enlivens even the most workaday soft drink.
It sounds obvious, but some cocktails are utterly dependent on ice. Whether it’s to bring your shaker down to sub-zero temperatures, or to gently dilute something strong, you need ice. if you don’t have an icemaker on your fridge, keep a tray full in your freezer, or buy a bag of ready-made ice cubes from a shop. Some drinks simply aren’t worth making if they’re not cold.
Also known as Gomme, this simple syrup of sugar and water is an essential ingredient in something like a Gin Basil Smash, as well as being a core ingredient for other cocktails, such as in a Mojito or a Margarita. Perhaps not the most exotic ingredient, but adding sweetness is often exactly what the flavour profile needs. Monin syrup is a good readymade option, or if you have the time, it’s very easy to make and bottle your own.
Not exactly essential for cocktails per se, but it’s worth keeping in some mixers for your liquor. Whether that be a good tonic for a G&T, some intensely carbonated soda water for a highball, or even some cola, keeping an array of soft drinks around makes for happy guests. We also recommend having a soft drink now and then, even if you’re planning on having a few; drinking in moderation is something you learn by bitter experience!
One for the adventurous, perhaps, but if you’ve never tried a drink made with egg white, we highly recommend it. A Gin Sour with a velvety whipped head of egg white has to be tasted to be believed, and there are many other cocktails that benefit from this decadent treatment. We admit it can sound like a strange concept, but it’s a classic for a reason, and it’s well worth putting aside any ickiness you may feel about raw eggs.
If a raw egg is a bridge too far, or if indeed you follow a vegan diet, you may want to try aquafaba. This viscous, magic liquid is the water that beans have been cooked in, usually chickpeas. Its chemical properties make it react like egg whites when whipped, and its neutral flavour is perfect for the purpose. It’s the secret weapon of many respected chefs and bartenders.
There are many other things we like to keep in our cupboards, but this little selection will guarantee you’re equipped to make a handful of classic cocktails, impressing your guests and your tastebuds alike. Try some of the recipes on our Curious Cocktails page as a starting point, or maybe try a classic Martini or Negroni to get an idea of the flavours as they should be? After that, start experimenting and find some combinations that you like, and feel refreshed in any number of new ways.