Though, in the heady haze of his purple prose, it’s difficult to focus on the “lively liquid masterpieces” in his “regiment of 267 assorted potations” from “greater and lesser ports of Orient and Occident, and the South Seas”. A little Baker goes a long way. And then there’s the problem of sourcing his ingredients, like the kava root for a Samoan cocktail that should be chewed by “the loveliest tribal virgin when your yacht sails into her lagoon”.
Unfortunately, keeping it simple is not the way of contemporary mixologists either. For example, the London Cocktail Club proposes this recipe for a breakfast-time Bacon and Egg Coupet: dry-fry rashers of bacon, remove liquid, add Jack Daniels, simmer for 2 minutes, infuse for 2 hours, freeze infusion, scrape off fat, add egg white, sugar and lemon juice, and serve with a slice of crisp bacon. We have Ferran Adrià and his experimental El Bulli laboratory/restaurant to thank for this trend. Time, gentlemen, pulease!
Happily, wine cocktails (popular before Prohibition-inspired, high-octane American concoctions conquered the world) and cocktails using aromatised wine-based aperitifs (like Vermouth, Americano 505, Ambassadeur, St-Raphaël, Byrrh or Dubonnet) offer the thirsty drinker simpler pleasures, like the Martini. Indeed, aromatised wine-based aperitifs are often enjoyed simply on the rocks with just a zest of citrus fruit or an olive.
H. L. Mencken called the Martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet”. Noel Coward liked his dry and uncomplicated – he suggested filling a glass with gin then “waving it in the general direction of Italy”. Of course, he should have waved it in the general direction of France, as French Vermouth is drier and lighter than the sweeter, darker Italian version.
Many cocktails using wine or aromatised wine-based aperitifs employ just three ingredients: the base, a modifying ingredient, and a special flavour/colour agent. The base is still or sparkling wine, or the aromatised wine-based aperitif. Common modifying ingredients include spirits (gin, vodka, rum, brandy), aniseed-flavoured pastis (Pernod, Ricard), bitters (Angostura, Campari, Mandarin), and fruit juices. Special flavours and colouring agents include liqueurs (like Grand Marnier, Chartreuse, Cointreau) and syrups (like Grenadine). Ice and soda water cool and lengthen the drink.
Inventing wine-based cocktails around these three categories (base, modifying ingredient, and special flavours/colours) is as easy as creating new characters in one of those children’s books where the pages divide people horizontally into head, torso and legs. Of course, some combinations will be sexier than others! Alternatively, try the Mixilator (the random cocktail generator from the Internet cocktail database: www.cocktaildb.com).
Meanwhile, Baker shares this uncharacteristically simple recipe for a Parisian Cocktail: take 1 jigger of Byrrh, add the strained juice of 1 lime. Shake with lots of cracked ice briskly and serve with no further trimmings. If that tempts you into buying a bottle of the underappreciated Byrrh, here’s a recipe for Byrrh Fizz: mix 2/3 Byrrh with 1/3 orange juice, add a soup spoon of sherry brandy, top up with soda water.