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Bar Fly: How to take cocktail hour up a notch

Want to take your home cocktail hour up a notch? Tim Blake, brains behind Bury St Edmunds speakeasy The Stillery, shares some failsafe mixology tips

These have been a strange couple of months. . . And by now I am sure you are all missing your favourite boozers, cocktails and - of course - bartenders.

Unfortunately I think we are going to have to wait for them a little bit longer. So in the meantime I thought I would show you a few ways you can make your drinks a little bit more interesting. Especially as hopefully we will at least be able to hold a BBQ or two in the near future.

But please promise me one thing: as soon as this is over, please go to a bar or restaurant, they are going to need as much support as they can get.


Infusing is fun. It means you can take anything and give it your own stamp and start to change the base flavour. It’s a great way of taking a standard style spirit and making it amazing.

Jams, Marmalades & Conserves

This is super easy and effective if you want to make your own fruit gin or spiced rum. The jam will give that full fruit flavour and lovely sweet finish. Because the flavour has been intensified during the jam making process, you can do more with so much less than using fresh fruit. Plus I am sure we all have a stray jam pot or two lurking in the cupboard.

The method couldn’t be simpler:

* Just add 2:1 spirit to conserve, eg 200g gin to 100g jam.

* Stir to combine in a sealable pot or jar.

* Leave for at least 24 hours and let the alcohol break down all the fruit, sugar and pectins.

* Strain through a coffee filter and you are good to go!

This works with all sorts of spirits: rum, whisky and, of course, gin. The best way to work out what goes with what is to think about the flavour of the spirit and work from there. You can even mix together two or more jams. Here are some examples:

* Orange Marmalade & Gin

* Apricot Jam & Whisky

* Ginger Conserve a& Aged Rum


Well this one is as simple as literally making a cup of tea. There are multitudes of flavours and styles to choose from: fruit, herb and, of course, the old classics. Just pop the bag in the liquid and leave it overnight for a cold infusion. If you are using looseleaf, go with 6g tea per litre of alcohol. Try these:

* Earl Grey & Gin

* Rooibos & Aged Rum

* Lapsang Souchong & Whisky

Sugar Syrups & Cordials

Sugar syrup is an integral part of drink making. There to create balance and bind flavour together, it is otherwise known as simple syrup and for good reason - it is the easiest thing in the world to make. Just mix equal parts of boiling water and sugar, then stir until the sugar has dissolved.

As well as balance and binding you can also use it to give a bit of added flavour or dimension to your drinks.

Firstly try messing about with the sugar you use. White gives a clean crisp sweet flavour; brown a more mellow sweetness; and muscovado a deep molasses punch. Have fun by changing the ratios: more sugar and less water will bring a bolder syrup.

Besides standard sugar there are, of course, other types of sweetener. Honey is a personal favourite, as there are so many varieties and it brings a beautiful floral lightness to any drink. Other options may be maple syrup or even golden syrup. With liquid sugars it is better to use less sugar so go with 3:1, sweetener to water.

As well as changing the sugar, the other way to add flavour to your syrup is of course changing or flavouring the water. Tea, again, is a great way of doing this. Just make a brew and then use this to replace the water in the simple syrup recipe.

If tea isn’t your thing why not just replace the water with a juice? Grenadine is basically pomegranate juice with white sugar! There are a few rules though: only FRESH juice, the ‘from concentrate’ is just a bit too thin.

For a more refined juice syrup, you can pass it through a cheesecloth to remove any organic debris. It is also sometimes best to do these on the hob: just add everything to a pan, heat and stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved - but don’t let it boil.

The final thing you can do to change up a syrup is add herbs or spices. It’s a great way to add flavour without adding more volume. If you are adding either, it is best to make your syrup on a hob. Add the herbs or spices at the start and leave to warm for a little longer after the sugar has dissolved. Once you have turned off the heat, leave to cool with the herbs or spices in.

Good things to use here would be star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, rosemary, tarragon, the list is endless! Remember you can do a mix of all the above. Try these:

* Pomegranate + White Sugar + Hibiscus

* Earl Grey + Honey

* Muscovado + Cinnamon + Star Anise + Allspice


I have written three base cocktails below. The syrups and spirits can be changed to whatever flavour you wish. If you aren’t feeling so adventurous, there is nothing wrong with just making a lovely flavoured G&T - home-infused marmalade G&T anyone?

The Stillery's Tim Blake shares his signature Sour recipe (35362593)
The Stillery's Tim Blake shares his signature Sour recipe (35362593)


60ml apricot jam whisky

20ml honey syrup

30ml lemon juice

3 dashes orange bitters (optional)

1 egg white (optional)

Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain back into the shaker. Dry shake, ie without ice, and fine strain into an ice filled rocks glass. Garnish with orange.

The Stillery's Tim Blake mixes up a Highball (35362605)
The Stillery's Tim Blake mixes up a Highball (35362605)


50ml strawberry jam gin

25ml pomegranate & hibiscus syrup

20ml lemon

soda to top

Add all ingredients to a tall glass and stir with ice. If you want to make a jug just multiply the ingredients by whatever you fancy.

The Stillery's Tim Blake makes the ultimate Punch (35362615)
The Stillery's Tim Blake makes the ultimate Punch (35362615)


Proportions-wise, you want one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak:

60ml ginger conserve aged rum

40ml muscovado + cinnamon + star anise + allspice syrup

20ml lime juice

80ml pineapple juice (can be any juice or water)

3 dashes angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to a glass of crushed ice and churn together. Garnish with pineapples and cherries. If you wish to do a jug, just add with loads of ice and stir to combine.

* Follow Tim @liquidevangelist on Instagram and keep up to date with Stillery news at stillery.co.uk or @stillerybar.

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