Mix it up: The basics every cocktail aficionado needs to own

Philip Salter
Follow Philip
Five classic cocktails with just five and half bottles of booze

After the Second World War, London’s population fell off a cliff, plummeting from 8m to 6.6m. But like a phoenix from the flames, our numbers have multiplied in the last 25 years. The downside to this is that space is at a premium: alas and alack, where oh where are we going to store all the kit required to shake a decent cocktail?

Cry me a river, right? But fear not: you might – just might, mind – not have to send the children to boarding school to clear enough space. Here’s the minimalist’s guide for city-dwelling cocktail aficionados.


You’ll need a cocktail shaker and a way of measuring small quantities of liquid. Go with a Boston Shaker (used by 99 per cent of bartenders), and a 25ml and 50ml jigger. A bar spoon, tea strainer and Hawthorne Strainer will be useful at some point, but you can improvise with a normal spoon and sieve until then.


You’ll need more ice than you think. Every time you shake a cocktail the ice gets thrown away. It’s like teabags – you could use it twice, but you really shouldn’t. A decent size bag of ice can be bought for next-to-nothing, or you can just make your own.


Some cocktails need fresh ingredients, but few require you to track down exotic wares – a bag of lemons, limes and oranges will go a long way.


Having a few martini, rocks and Collins glasses will make all the difference. Despite the craze for serving “prohibition” cocktails out of teacups, the truth is they look and taste a lot better from a glass. Also, a short drink in a long glass looks silly. A Martini in anything other than a martini glass is just a shot of cold gin; all the dignity of the drink is lost.


There are an astonishing number of spirits out there, but you need to keep your focus. The starting point is a bottle of gin and dry vermouth to make your perfect Martini. Experiment with it dry and wet – which refers to the amount of vermouth – so you know how you like it. Second, buy some Campari and sweet vermouth so you can mix that with your gin and learn how to make the resurgent Negroni.
Third, you should buy a bottle of bourbon and some Angostura bitters to make an Old Fashioned. With some fresh mint and a lot of crushed ice you’ll be able to make a Mint Julep, which is a deliciously refreshing cocktail (think of it as a Mojito for people with taste). Then add some Maraschino cherries with your bourbon and stretch your cocktail-making skills to a Whiskey Sour and Manhattan.
That’s five classic cocktails with just five and half bottles of booze and equipment you can easily pack into a cupboard.

Related articles