Summer is finally drawing to a close. We’re about to hit September and the start of autumn, but we’ve got one final weekend of sun ahead of us, and thanks to the bank holiday, it’s a long one. We forecast wall-to-wall barbecuing, and discussions in the office have veered from the inevitable grill-geekery to the most important part of a BBQ: the drinks.
You could go for whisky – and we have a handy guide if you do – but don’t be afraid to try something more traditional.
Fruity cocktails are great and, with autumn looming, now’s the time to drink them without feeling like a fraud. If you’ve got a garden full of people, then a big bucket of fruity punch is the perfect way to not only get everyone a drink, but also use up anything you have left in the fruit bowl.
Punch has a long history and the word itself comes from the Sanksrit for ‘five’, the number of ingredients in the ancient version – alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and spices. These days you can find any number of recipes, but making punch is a personal thing and we’d recommend winging it. Here are a few simple guidelines to make sure things don’t get too weird:
1) Don’t use too many ingredients – one main spirit will do along with a couple of juices and a sprinkling of other bits and pieces. If you add too many conflicting flavours, you’ll quickly end up with an undrinkable bowl of murky liquid.
2) Don’t make it too strong – it’s meant to be a long drink, not a short cocktail. Lots of ice, juice and other mixers will make something that tastes great and lasts all afternoon.
3) Do add real fruit – juice is good, but adding chopped fruit will add flavour and make it look great. Apples and oranges almost always work, but drop in kiwi, passion fruit and mango for something a bit special.
4) Go for a classic formula – the mantra for a rum punch is ‘one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak’, and it works. Start with something like lemon juice, sugar syrup, rum and orange juice, and experiment from there.
The most important thing for me when drinking beer in the sun is to try and avoid anything too dark or strong – knocking back a 10% imperial stout in the heat is a recipe for a guaranteed early snooze. While the current IPA craze has led to a wide array of 6% ABV+ beasts, there are still lots of great craft beers that fit the bill. From punchy pale ales like Rocky Head Pale and Brixton Reliance to session beers like Gipsy Hill Hepcat and the amazing Kernel Table Beer, it’s incredible how much flavour brewers can pack into beers with such sensible strengths.
A cold fizzy beer around the barbecue is a cliché but can be great, especially now there are loads of interesting lagers out there. Whether you go for something like the excellent Harviestoun Schiehallion, a staple for me when meeting up with whisky-drinking friends, or something more ‘crafty’, like Spreadsheet Ninja from Weird Beard (my local brewer), the days of boring, tasteless, yellow fizzy beer are behind us.
While I don’t know much about wine, I have colleagues who do. Dawn Davies, our buyer, is not only one of only 350 Masters of Wine in the world – the most qualified and knowledgeable wine experts – but she’s also a fan of al fresco summer drinking. Here are her recommendations:
Andriano Pinot Grigio: Pinot Grigio can be dull and boring, but this is from one of the top producers in northern Italy. It’s very fresh with a wonderful bouquet – lots of lifted florals – and is very rounded on the palate
Alta Alella Bruant 2014 Organic Cava: this is a really good-quality Cava and has been aged on the lees, making it a bit more like Champagne. It’s organic and the producers really know their grapes and terroir.
Weingut Richter Brauneberger Riesling Kabinett 2015: people are often scared of Riesling, but this goes well with food and is very fresh and summery. Chill it down and it’ll open up beautifully in the glass. It’s also not that high in alcohol – only 8%. It’s worth getting a couple of bottles…
Whatever you’re doing, this weekend should be a lazy one – enjoy it.