Beer and wine are fine, but add a cocktail to any occasion and you’ve got yourself a real party. Like the summer sun, a cocktail invites you to stop, sit and savor things for a little longer than usual. I think of Mad Men and how the ritual of drinks before a dinner party introduced a conversation and set the tone for the meal. Minus the misogyny, it is an elegant way to get things started.
I know that when I mix up a cocktail for my Shabbat meals, the extra touch is something that guests notice. Served before the meal, it’s a good way to gather and get the conversation going while the guests arrive. At the end of the meal, it keeps my friends and me chatting and enjoying our time together for a little longer. Either way, guests are always impressed by the extra effort. What they don’t know is that it isn’t really all that hard.
The simple ratio for creating a balanced cocktail is two parts booze to one part sour and one part sweet (2:1:1). Usually the sour is lemon or lime juice, and the sweet is simple syrup or grenadine. By using this ratio to keep ingredients in harmony with one another, you can build and layer flavors that all work together. The tools for mixing cocktails often include things like a cocktail shaker, a jigger and a muddler. Recipes for cocktails can often look like a lot of work because they include hard-to-find ingredients and fancy barware. I stay away from those tricky recipes when I’m already cooking a full Shabbat dinner for eight.
Instead, I make sure that serving up a cocktail doesn’t become an added source of stress by modifying recipes in two simple ways. First, I make sure that an ordinary one-and-a-half-ounce shot glass is the only “tool” that I need to mix the cocktail. It keeps the ratios clear. Plus, chances are I can find one no matter what kitchen I’m cooking in. Second, I adapt recipes so that there are elements I can prepare in advance. Then all I need to do when the guests arrive is add the club soda or stir in ice.
If I’m feeling ambitious, I might even have a more than one options prepared to give guests some choice when they arrive without adding significant stress. My top three recipes are a Strawberry-Lime Mojito, a White Wine Spray and BourbonAde. I developed these recipes with a standard grocery shop and basic kitchen tools in mind. To get everything you need to mix these, you don’t need to go any further than your local grocery.
Whether you want to add a special touch to your next Shabbat meal or just want to indulge yourself a little, mix yourself a simple cocktail and let the time slow down.