Even the biggest Scrooge will admit that cocktails win hands down when it comes to adding glamour to a Christmas party.
A well-made negroni or gin martini will ignite a gathering in a way that a glass of plonk or cava never can. The trouble is that making cocktails takes time — and a lot of ice — and inevitably you’ll find yourself in a losing battle with a queue of thirsty guests stretching out of the door.
Which is why Ryan “Mr Lyan” Chetiyawardana might just come to your rescue this Christmas. No, he’s not going to come round and mix cocktails for you, more’s the pity, but the bartending world’s latest superstar has done the next best thing, creating an array of cocktail recipes with party-throwers especially in mind — ones that can be prepared ahead, with no need for ice, and which at most need to be topped up with champagne or ginger ale at the last moment.
“Cocktails should never be about being stuck in the kitchen shaking up individual drinks because that way you’ll be missing out on the party,” 30-year-old Chetiyawardana says. “What you need are interesting drinks that can be made in advance.”
Punches can be difficult because, if your guests don’t all arrive at the same time, you’ll probably end up having to top up the bowl as you go along, resulting in “a frat party punch where everything is out of thwack”. “Better to make premixed cocktails, bottle them and chill them down in the fridge. That way they will all be beautifully balanced and still have that special element to them, but you get to spend time with your friends.”
It seems so obvious, this idea of premixing cocktails, but it wasn’t one the cocktail world really accepted when Chetiyawardana opened his first bar, White Lyan, in Hoxton, east London, swiftly followed this year by Dandelyan at the new Mondrian Hotel on London’s South Bank. “I suppose some barmen frown upon pre-made cocktails as it doesn’t reflect their skills,” he shrugs, but he feels it means he can serve consistently good cocktails more quickly and more cheaply. The drink should taste incredible, that’s the only thing that matters.”
That attention is remarkable. He re-mineralises tap water and makes his own spirits, tinctures, distillates and cordials, which he measures out in tenths of grams when making his mother mixes. He uses citric acid instead of lemons so that he can be sure of the acidity levels. “We know the flavour, the dilution, the arc of the drink. We know its pH, so we don’t have to worry about one lemon being sharper than another.” Best of all, on a busy night, there are no queues and no waste.
One of his most celebrated drinks is his Moby Dick Sazerac. Traditionally it’s made with rye whiskey stirred over ice with bitters, sugar and a dash of absinthe. At Dandelyan they add ambergris, an old perfumer’s ingredient used to fix flavours. “The glass and the cocktail are stored at a predetermined temperature. We weigh the glass, pour a measure and then spray absinthe over a strip of rice paper, which is dropped into the drink. As the drink warms you get a change in flavour, and the ambergris helps the flavours to lift off the tongue, so you get a very different journey to the drink.”
His Spotless Martini, a premixed gin martini that you can also buy by the bottle at Selfridges, is made with his own gin, distilled nocellara olives and distilled lemon. His Bone Dry Martini, made with vodka, has roast chicken bone in it. “We dissolve it in phosphoric acid, which gives it a mineral-led dryness. It’s very clean and snappy as it washes over your palate.”
No chicken bones or phosphoric acid are needed for the home cocktails he’s shared with us on this page, although there are one or two unusual ingredients and techniques. Who’d have though Ribena or the microwave would be in any bartender’s handbook?
Makes enough for 20 cocktails
300ml London dry gin
200ml pink grapefruit juice
50ml lime cordial
Combine all the ingredients except the champagne and chill in the fridge at least two hours before your guests arrive. When ready to serve, pour 35ml into a champagne glass and top up with well chilled pink champagne. Add a twist of orange zest and serve.
300ml London dry gin
300ml Sweet vermouth
1 sprig rosemary
1 slice grapefruit
Earlier in the day, place all the ingredients in a microwave and blast them on for 3 min on full power. Allow to cool, strain and bottle. Store in the fridge. To serve, fill a rocks glass with ice, pour in a healthy measure and garnish with extra slices of grapefruit
500ml aged golden tequila (eg Agave Reposado)
200ml Lillet Blanc
Ginger ale, to serve
Mint sprigs, to serve
Mix the tequila and Lillet Blanc in advance, pour into a bottle and chill well. When ready to serve, pour 50ml to a hi-ball glass filled with ice, top with chilled ginger ale and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Bottled Can Can
500ml London dry gin
100ml St Germain
tsp grapefruit juice
150ml mineral water
Mix all the ingredients and store in a bottle in the fridge. Put eight small glasses in the freezer. When ready to serve, pour about 100ml into a frozen glass and garnish with a Luxardo or marinated cherry.
300ml blended scotch
300ml cloudy/pressed apple juice
1tsp Angostura bitters
Fresh ginger, to serve
Combine all the ingredients. When ready to serve, place 100ml in a teacup with a slice of fresh ginger. Top up with 100ml hot water from the kettle and serve immediately.