From rosé wine and vermouth to Pimm's and non-alcoholic cocktails, Victoria reveals the best quick-prep drinks for a leisurely gathering in the sunshine.
Drinks for garden parties and other outdoor gatherings need to be simple. I was going to say that no one wants to spend the night watching their host finicking over a Boston shaker or sweating over the barbecue, but I’ve realised this isn’t true. I can’t think of anything more relaxing than sitting down, nursing a cocktail that took someone else 10 minutes to put together, and staring into the middle distance while they gallop around getting the meat à point and conjuring salads out of the kitchen. (This sounds bad. Is it just me?) However, for my purposes, my wish for you is simple drinks prep and plenty of time to talk to your friends.
My current favourite summer drink is on-trend rosé vermouth with tonic, on the rocks. Belsazar (£25.95 for 75ml, Ocado) and Regal Rogue (available from online specialists) are both very good. To serve, you need tumblers or wine glasses (if you’re out of tumblers). Throw in the ice, pour in some vermouth and top with tonic (1:3 is a good ratio but experiment to see what you like).
It’s not new, but for outdoor feasts and parties that begin during the day or early evening, I have yet to find a better drink than that old classic; the gin-based fruit cup. Pimm’s is the best-known ready-made version. I have tasted countless copycats, but my favourite is Sipsmith’s London Cup (around £19, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose) with its garden notes of bergamot, verbena and borage. I also love the DIY version: mix one part sweet red vermouth, one part gin and half a part of Cointreau (200ml + 200ml + 100ml) – leftovers can be stored in a sealed bottle.
Get yourself set up outside with a drinks station – a big tub of ice, bowls of freshly sliced cucumber and orange slices, the summer cup base, pink vermouth, and a choice of tonic or lemonade. Start by serving people, and don’t be above encouraging them to mix their own as the party wears on (this has the added bonus of allowing people to make drinks up to their own taste).
Wine? Everyone is still drinking rosé. Magnums look festive – how about AIX Rosé 2017 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (£26.99 for 1.5l, Majestic) or Mirabeau Pure 2017 Provence (£27.99 for 1.5l, Waitrose). For red, try the new bag-in-box brand in town, When in Rome. The brown paper packaging has a relaxed vibe for outdoor feasts, and it’s wine on tap, so nothing could be simpler. Try the Nero d’Avola (£25.99 for 2.25l, Waitrose).
Finally, don’t forget non-drinkers. For those with patience, in her excellent book, Dry, Clare Liardet has some subtle and sophisticated ideas involving simple homemade herb syrups (flavoured with geranium leaves, rosemary, basil etc). My favourite speedy non-alcoholic summer drink is San Pellegrino limonata and tonic, mixed 50:50 over ice with a sprig of rosemary in the glass. Even drinkers will appreciate the chance to add a few of these to their drinking mix, so put a couple of glassfuls on your drinking station.
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Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her most recent book is The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta).
All prices are correct as of August 2018.