The at-home happy hour: Perfect ‘quarantini’ cocktails with minimal ingredients

It’s at-home happy hour! Try these perfect ‘quarantini’ cocktails, mixed by drinks expert Richard Godwin.

It didn’t take long for cocktail hour to establish itself alongside the Clap For Carers as an essential part of lockdown. a ‘quarantini’ creates a useful divide between the part of the day where you try to work and the bit where you fail to relax. thankfully, cocktails have a happy effort-to-satisfaction ratio – it needs a bit of effort to make a martini, but not nearly as much as, say, baking bread. And, happily, gin is much easier to track down than yeast. You don’t need fancy booze or equipment either. Any bottle of strong liquor will do as long as you have a freezer, a few basic kitchen supplies and a willingness to experiment.

Here are my pointers to help you on your merry way…

MAKE FAR MORE ICE THAN YOU THINK YOU’LL NEED

The most important cocktail ingredient is not alcohol, it’s ice. It’s surprising how many households – and even pubs – are in denial of this fact. Two ice cubes in a glass of room-temperature liquid will melt within a minute or so, resulting in a warm, watery, wimpy G&T. But a G&T made in a glass full to the brim of ice will cool immediately and stay cool. This is an easy win, since ice is basically free. You don’t even need ice trays: just fill up as many plastic containers as you can spare with fresh water and freeze it in large blocks. Once it has frozen, a quick run under the tap will crack the ice so you can easily hack it into manageable pieces with a short sharp knife and store in the freezer for later. The larger the lump, the slower it will melt and the prettier it will look.

APEROL: BEYOND THE SPRITZ

No cocktail has taken off quite as much as the aperol spritz. But that bottle of aperol has other uses too. You can add a dash of it to any sour, for example. It gets along extremely well with grapefruit juice. You can make a version of Pimm’s cup with it, too: fill a jug with ice, fresh cucumber, lemon, mint and peach, add aperol, tonic water and bitters. Or shake it up with strawberries and mint for a luscious fruity apéritif. The rose-water is optional but does lend a touch of Middle Eastern intrigue.

Aperol smash

cocktails with minimal ingredients
Strawberries and mint make the aperol smash a fruity aperitif. Image: Ellis Parrinder. Styling: Lou Kenney

two or three strawberries
fresh mint
30ml Aperol
30ml light rum (gin or vodka will work fine too)
dash rose-water (optional)

1. Muddle the strawberries and mint leaves at the bottom of a shaker. Once pulverised, add the booze and rose-water if wished, plus plenty of ice then shake well.

2. Strain into a tall glass filled with fresh ice and garnish with more mint and strawberry.

PREPARE SOME SUGAR SYRUP  

Almost all cocktails have an element of sweetness (even the drier ones) and sugar is the most common way to add this. It’s easier to use in drinks if it’s already diluted, so make a syrup. Pour one cup of water into a saucepan, then add two cups of sugar to that – I prefer golden caster sugar. Heat and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool. Decant the syrup into a jar or bottle and it will keep in the fridge for at least a month.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT EQUIPMENT

A cocktail shaker is useful – but shaking your cocktail in a large jar and straining it with a sieve or tea strainer will do the job. It’s good to use a tea strainer in any case as it catches the fine shards of ice that break off when shaken.

NOW MASTER THE SOUR

There are thousands of cocktails in existence but about half of them are variations on the sour. So if you can make that you can make half the cocktails in existence.

What’s a sour? It’s alcohol + sourness + sweetness + a little dilution, which usually comes from the act of shaking the cocktail with ice. There is the whiskey sour, obviously – the clue is in the name. But the margarita is also a type of sour, as is the daiquiri.

You can make sours with any base spirit you like, including gin. The art is to get your ratios right so that your cocktail is nicely tart, not too sweet, has a kick but isn’t too thumpingly alcoholic.

I find a 10:3:2 ratio of spirit to citrus to sugar syrup works best – with a good long shake to add extra dilution. You might think of that as a double shot of spirit, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a dessert spoon of sugar syrup. Seeing as gin is our national spirit, and most people have a bottle knocking around, it’s not a bad place to start…

Gin sour

50ml gin
15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup

1. Measure everything out and put it in your shaker. Fill the shaker halfway with ice. Shake hard for about ten seconds until your fingers go a bit numb, then taste! If it’s too alcoholic, shake some more. If it’s too tart, try a bit more sugar. If it’s not tart enough, more lemon. If it’s just right, strain through a tea strainer into a frozen cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon zest twist: use a vegetable peeler to slice off a length of lemon peel and twist it to express the oils.

ADD SOME INTRIGUE

The gin sour is an excellent drink in its own right. But there is no need to leave it there. You can use lime instead of lemon (for a gimlet), you could use honey instead of sugar syrup (for a bee’s knees), you could lob in a few mint leaves (for a southside), or you could even top up with champagne (for a French 75). You can substitute the gin for any other spirit, too. A margarita, for example, is a sour with tequila in place of the gin, lime instead of the lemon and orange liqueur in place of the sugar.

One of my favourite twists is the green park, created by Erik Lorincz at the Savoy’s American Bar in London, which builds on the divine combination of lemon and basil.

Green park

green park
The green park builds on the divine combination of lemon and basil. Image: Ellis Parrinder. Styling: Lou Kenney

50ml gin
15ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
6 fresh basil leaves
15ml egg white (optional)

1. Freeze a cocktail glass before you begin. Add all the ingredients to your shaker and fill halfway with ice. Shake hard until your fingers go numb. Strain into a spare vessel through a tea strainer, empty the shaker, and shake again for a few seconds – this makes the egg white go frothy. Pour into the frozen coupe and garnish with an extra basil leaf.

BUY A BOTTLE OF ANGOSTURA BITTERS

If there is one single alcoholic ingredient I would recommend to a would-be cocktail maker, it is Angostura bitters. It is widely available in supermarkets for around £10, and one of those small bottles will last ages as you only need a dash at a time. Think of it as the salt and pepper of the cocktail cabinet. It adds a dash of deliciousness to pretty much anything. A gin sour with bitters is called a fitzgerald – and it’s heavenly in a G&T, too. It also allows you to make an old fashioned.

MASTER THE OLD FASHIONED

I mentioned that about half of all cocktails are variations on sours. Most of the others are variations on the favourite of Mad Men’s Don Draper – the old fashioned. It’s a combination of alcohol, sweetness, dilution and bitters. Traditionally, it’s based around rye whiskey but you can make it with any base spirit. Rum is wonderful. Scotch is good, too. Gin works fine and you can add extra depth by infusing it with tea if you fancy

Mother’s ruin

tea-infused gin
Tea-infused gin adds depth to the mother’s ruin. Image: Ellis Parrinder. Styling: Lou Kenney

50ml tea-infused gin
10ml sugar syrup
dash Angostura bitters

1. For the tea-infused gin, measure out the gin and leave a scant teaspoon of loose-leaf tea to infuse in it for five minutes or so – about the length of time it would take to brew tea. Earl grey is good for this but camomile, lapsang souchong and green tea also work. So experiment! You can infuse a whole bottle if you like.

2. To make the cocktail, take a large squat tumbler, stir in the sugar syrup and the gin, add a dash or two of bitters and copious ice. Continue to stir gently so that the ice melts to dilute the drink. Add a dash of cold water if it’s too strong (or you can even use milk). Garnish with a lemon zest twist.

SHERRY IS A GOOD SUBSTITUTE FOR GIN

For a delicious low-alcohol version of gin and tonic, use dry fino sherry. I bet you have a bottle knocking around the back of your cupboard.

Fino and tonic

fino and tonic
Fino and tonic, a low-alcohol twist on the classic G&T. Image: Ellis Parrinder. Styling: Lou Kenney

cucumber
50ml fino sherry
100ml-150ml tonic water
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1. Cut a ribbon of cucumber lengthways using a vegetable peeler. Curl this up around the inside of a tall glass and fill with ice. Pour in the sherry, tonic and add a lemon wedge and stir. A sprig of thyme or mint to serve wouldn’t go amiss, either.

NOW FOR THE MARTINI

The classic dry martini is really an ultra-refined version of the gin old fashioned, served up in a cocktail glass, with dry vermouth in place of the sugar and bitters. In summer, I like using coconut water in place of the vermouth for a more refreshing tropical twist. This version is named in honour of the singer Rihanna, as she is often seen sipping coconut water. It’s also nice with light rum.

Riri martini

riri martini
The Riri martini, named after the singer because of the coconut twist. Image: Ellis Parrinder. Styling: Lou Kenney

50ml gin or light rum
25ml coconut water (eg Vita Coco)

1. Firstly, freeze a cocktail glass. Stir the alcohol and coconut water over tons of ice until it’s extremely cold.

2. Once it is the temperature of the North Pole and the alcohol burn is undetectable, strain into your frozen glass. Garnish with a lemon zest twist – or you can use coconut, if you happen to have any.

Richard Godwin’s book The Spirits: A Guide to Modern Cocktailing is published by Square Peg, price £16.99