Is making cocktails with premium spirits sacrilegious?

Philip Salter
Follow Philip

City A.M.’s cocktail expert Twitter: @Philip_Salter

MANY things go into making delicious cocktails, but first and foremost you need decent booze. Even the best barmen in the world – from Colin Field of Paris’s Ritz, to Hidetsugu Ueno of Tokyo’s Bar High Five – couldn’t fix you a decent drink with broke ingredients. Rubbish in, rubbish out (plus a decent chance of a head-splitting hangover).

Thankfully, the cocktail industry now worships quality, with premium increasingly coming as standard. But this presents its own dilemma for those making drinks at home: some spirits are a little too good to be mixed. Many mixologists would disagree, but there is something vaguely sacrilegious about mixing an XO cognac with anything at all. This applies equally to the top tequilas and resplendent rums. A rum that comes close to crossing this profane-sacred boundary is La Hechicera, a Columbian super-premium rum. It is blended in the solera method for between 12 and 21 years in American white oak casks; the solera method being a process in which alcohol is aged by blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of various ages (most famously used in sherry production). La Hechicera isn’t the only rum made in this way – other notable solera rums include Zacapa Centenario from Guatemala and Santa Teresa 1796 from Venezuela.

If you pick up a bottle of any of these rums – or anything that you plan to put in a cocktail for that matter – first have a sip (definitely not a shot) in a rocks glass. Beyond paying homage to the liquor, this helps you understand how it will express itself in the cocktail and makes it easier to pick out the flavours. Then, it is time for the mixing ceremony.

Pedro Ximenez is another spirit made through the solera method, and one that should also be tasted on its own. To those unfamiliar with its syrupy charms, Pedro Ximenez is a Spanish desert sherry that is the perfect indulgent digestif after gorging on tapas.

La Hechicera and Pedro Ximenez blend well in the Bogota Blues – a Manhattan-style cocktail served at the Skylon bar on the South Bank. Even when the sun isn’t shining, sipping on a solera-inspired cocktail can lift your spirits.

■ 50ml La Hechicera
■ 20ml Pedro Ximenez
■ A few drops of chocolate bitters
■ Orange slice

● Shake all ingredients over ice and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
● Snap a strip of orange zest over the surface to release the essential oils, and use as garnish on the glass.