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When it comes to boozing in the sun, avoid anything too strong, too colourful or deceptively fruity and look to the past for inspiration
In Casino Royale, the novel in which Ian Fleming introduced James Bond to the world, the hero ruminates at length about the perfect outdoor cocktail, by which he means summer cocktail. Ill paraphrase wildly, adding injunctions of my own, since so much of Bonds alcohol preference is related to his masculinity. Worrying about the size of your dick while youre deciding on cocktails is the surest way to end up drunk.
So, its summer: nothing too strong because youll be dehydrated; nothing too wussy or fruity because they go down too easily; nothing too boring because this will likely be your main taste experience of the evening; nothing too unnatural in colour, because these are always too sweet; and no Pimms, for reasons. Bond settles on an Americano: Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda. In that bitters market, I would prefer a Campari and soda: cleaner and fresher without vermouth, and with zero chance that someone will accidentally fetch you a cup of coffee. Let me quickly take down Pimms: the problem is not merely that it doesnt taste like alcohol. It tastes so unlike alcohol that it edges towards the most childish zone of the soft drinks arena, and if you are happy to drink cream soda with bits in all evening, why not do that? Proving, perhaps, that a lot of drunkenness depends on taste, you dont even feel drunk while youre drinking it. The first you get to hear about its alcohol content is when you fall over.
Sangria is fine to make, but never drink a strangers as you never know what youll be getting. My Mr makes it with two bottles of red wine, one of ros, a glass of brandy, two litres of Fanta and frozen berries, producing a solid session drink that I would never argue with. My excellent friend, meanwhile, makes it with all those things, except instead of Fanta, honey. Not two litres of honey, two spoons. This is the opposite of a session drink; its more like spiking yourself. Yet it tastes exactly like regular sangria, so its like spiking yourself invisibly.
At the Diageo summer party in Westminster last week as a globalised drinks company, it ought to know its spirits there was a negroni fountain. Mishearing that as Peroni fountain and expecting something the colour of a very light beer, I went and stuck my glass in the actual fountain, made of water. But that is a perfectly fine misunderstanding. Negronis are, give or take the odd bit of zest and bitters, entirely composed of mostly very strong alcohol, which is the worst thing you can do to yourself, because they are delicious.
The place you really want to go, for ideas if not for originality, is the past, where they knew a thing or two about drinking. What was your grandfathers favourite cocktail? What did your uncle want at his funeral? (Mine wanted black velvets: Guinness topped with champagne an excellent winter drink and an even better funeral drink, but simply not cold enough for summer.) The mermaids kiss was a fabled summer cocktail of the seafaring forces, but the original version has completely fallen out of fashion; now all you get when you look it up is a load of blue Curaao (too colourful, way too colourful). The cocktail blogger Mr Aperitif (@mraperitif) has very graciously reinvented it as vodka, Italicus Rosolio de Bergamotto (full taste spectrum Im afraid Im not kidding bergamot peel, Cedro lemons, chamomile, lavender, gentian, yellow roses and melissa balm), some lemon juice combo and a splash of prosecco, served in a glass dipped in a mixture of fine sea salt and caster sugar. I admit, it doesnt quite tick the box marked: Must be weak enough to drink all night, but its an outstanding opening cocktail sweet, bitter, a little dirty (vodka will never be the connoisseurs base liquor) and exhilarating.
My dad was a booze oracle: the first job I had was editing a doomed freesheet for students in Earls Court, and I gave him a column called the Old Imbiber. All around the pubs of a very small pocket of west London, the bar staff used to go: I know you, youre that old imbiber!, and someone once took a picture of him with his mouth against an optic, which in the days before cameraphones was a huge deal, like being Madonna.
His wisdom was slightly sullied by the fact that he would drink absolutely anything, and once when he had a cough, he made a cocktail of grappa and Benylin. So I am not saying listen to him on everything, but he had a particular fondness for the whiskey base, which brings us to the mint julep. This is the definitive summer cocktail: terrifically delicious, great pedigree. Signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, where it is always hot and they know a thing or two about drinking for two days straight, it is simple to the point of purity: bourbon, five sprigs of mint, a slug of sugar syrup, heaps of ice. With a glass full of crushed ice, the drink evolves with your conversation, getting weaker as it goes. Its a sipper but a charmer.