Picture the scene. You’re hosting a dinner party. The guests start to arrive. At this point, instead of gesturing vaguely at a table of warm beer, panic-bought wine, and Shloer (why Shloer? Why is it always Shloer?) you instead proffer them a proper drink. A punchy, well-made cocktail. Your guests are delighted. The conversation flows effortlessly. Your status as a Truly Great Host is immediately and immutably asserted.
The American Bar at the Savoy is, at time of writing, the World’s Best Bar. It’s both an institution – the original benchmark in London for American-style ‘mixed drinks’ – and a pioneering hub of modern cocktail-making. As such, Maxim Schulte, Head Bartender at the American Bar, is a man who knows his onions (particularly when served in a Gibson martini), and the perfect person to expound upon the values of serving well-made cocktails.
“Why should your cocktails be great as a host? For me, that’s relatively easy to explain” says Schulte. “It is the same reason why your food should be good, your knives should be polished, and the music should suit. Everything we do when we host is to make someone feel as comfortable as in their own homes - or even go beyond that feeling. Being taken care of and letting yourself relax is the experience that we all want to have when we go to a nice restaurant or bar. This is an experience you can only have when everything works hand in hand, and you have a good atmosphere alongside delicious food and drinks. Everything we do, we should do with love and passion. Taking the step to invite people to your home means that you have thought about this and also want to make an impression. A good first impression comes before the food: your aperitif drink. This drink gets you into the mood for a meal. The better the drink is, the better your guests will start their evening.” You can’t say fairer than that.
So, what should you be serving? Or, rather, what drinks comfortably hit the centre of a Venn diagram in which the categories are ‘delicious’, ‘easy to make’ and ‘strong’? “Three drinks that are essential for me are: The Negroni, The Martini and a French 75”, says Schulte. “All of these are easy to be made at home, with ingredients from any supermarket. First of all, the ingredients need to be fresh and the ice needs to be good - that is the key to a good cocktail.”
Below are Maxim's recipes for hosting success:
Put all ingredients into a mixing glass and stir them for around 15 seconds over ice. Pour them into a rocks glass, over fresh ice, and twist a large orange peel into the glass. Cheers.
A drink with equal parts, easy to make and just pure class. The Negroni is the perfect Italian aperitif. The Vermouth and Campari help to open up the stomach and prepare it for food. Important here is the temperature, chill your glasses before and have large ice cubes.
Combine the ingredients with large ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and stir - not shake -until the ingredients until very cold and strain into a frozen martini glass.
You can add a lemon peel, or an olive - or a spring onion! Play around with it and think about your starter - this might make a difference on how you want to serve it. Above all, temperature is key with this drink, the colder the better.
Shake all ingredients (not champagne) in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Strain into champagne glass and top up with Champagne.
There’s no party without the bubbles, hence I included this classic example of a great champagne cocktail. It has juice and sugar in it but packs quite a punch. Sweet, sour and dry at the same time, it is just a fantastic start to the evening. Make sure to squeeze fresh lemons right before you make the drink, the result will be superb.
Maxim’s offers The Spoils some final, heartening, words of encouragement. “In the end, making drinks should be done like everything - with passion. So try the drinks, and make them over again.”
Main image credit: Luis Car via Getty Images