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Pre-prandial potions

Are Australians now ready to trade quantity for quality when it comes to pre-dinner drinks?

Are Australians now ready to trade quantity for quality when it comes to pre-dinner drinks? Photo: Domino Postiglione

Pre-dinner drinking has come a long way in Australia since the dark days of the 'six o'clock swill'. Though there is nothing deplorable about a cold schooner or pot after work, it seems Australians are now ready to trade quantity for quality.

A Roy Morgan poll canvasing 120,000 people between 2006 and 2011 who said they'd had a drink in the previous four weeks found an 8 per cent drop in drinking compared to the previous five years.

Red wine consumption during that period dropped by 12 per cent and white wine by 6. More telling though, was increases in the consumption of premium and imported beers, cider and spirits – with gin, tequila and liqueurs seeing a 31-50 per cent increase.

Reports like these are not disheartening to venues running a sophisticated operation – it's showing that though we're drinking less as a nation we're drinking better. And it may be that the traditional  beer or glass of Sauvignon Blanc before a meal is being traded for a pre-prandial cocktail.

Certainly cocktail bars and restaurants with advanced beverage programs are on the rise – which could mean the art of the aperitivo has finally arrived Down Under.

To get you up to speed here are a few indispensable pre-dinner tipples with which to whet your palate:

The Negroni
Named after Count Emilio Negroni, this potent potable is among the most popular drinks of the cocktail aristocracy. The most widely spread account of this drink's creation dates back to Florence in 1919 when our affable Count asked a bartender to fortify his favourite Americano cocktail with a little gin. Bitter-sweet and with a kick, the Negroni is more that the sum of its parts – and nearly any bar worth it's Margarita salt will be able to make you one of these:

30ml dry gin (use something juniper forward like Tanqueray London Dry Gin)
30ml Campari
30ml Sweet vermouth (like Marini, Cinzano or Carpano Antica Formula)

Method: Build in a rocks glass or tumbler with plenty of ice. Stir briefly. Garnish with a wide swath of orange peel.

The Martini
James Bond – the world's most famous martini drinker to never have existed enjoyed a pre-dinner drink. In Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, 1953, he says: "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad."

The martini of course fits this bill – it's strong and should be bitingly cold – containing just a couple of shots of chilled gin with a splash of vermouth. It's not difficult to make just make sure you're ordering one in a bar that seems to have a lot of cocktails going out. Oh and please order it stirred – not shaken. Bond was such a knave.

60ml dry Gin (something resinous like Sipsmith London Dry Gin works well)
10ml French dry vermouth (like Noilly Prat or Dolin Dry)
2 dashes orange bitters (a traditional touch)

Method: Add all ingredients into a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with un-pitted green olives or a twist of lemon peel.

This delicious concoction is one you'll probably need to teach your bartender. Though it's a little obscure, it's not difficult to make. Impress you barkeep by telling them it first appears in 1941 in a book called Here's How by W.C. Whitfield.

Airmail in its day was simply the best way to a message through – the cocktail of the same name similarly delivers on taste, class and potency with equal aplomb.

30ml rum (go for full-falvoured, high ester rums like Stolen Gold or Appleton V/X)
15ml fresh lime juice
15ml honey syrup (2 part honey mixed with 1 part hot water)
30ml brut champagne to top (try Veuve Cliquot NV or another Pinot Noir heavy champagne)

Method: Add all ingredients (except champagne) into an iced shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled champagne saucer or coupe glass. Top with champagne and garnish with a lime wheel.

How do you like to wet your whistle before a meal?

24 comments so far

  • Margaritas!

    The Shadow
    Date and time
    April 05, 2012, 5:32PM
    • Manhattan- How could you ever overlook this MD of the executive drinking board

      Date and time
      April 11, 2012, 1:37PM
      • Wise comments my friend!!!

        Date and time
        April 12, 2012, 3:52PM
    • What about a Whiskey Sour, or a Mint Julep or even a Caprioska?

      St Ives
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 1:29PM
      • Flemming wasn't wrong - Bond should have ordered it shaken, not stirred. With the shortages in the post war years (when Bond was written) good gin was hard to come by and most had a bitter oil in it. The martini needed to be shaken to disperse the oil, otherwise the drinker would get a mouthful of oil at the start of the drink.

        Date and time
        April 12, 2012, 2:00PM
        • Me, personally, I like the Gloria.

          1 part Bombay Gin
          1 part vodka
          1 part Campari
          Topped up with lemonade
          A slice of Blood Orange and served with ice.

          Named after a good friend I served for many years at Fusina Bar in Venice Italy. Sadly she passed away a few years ago, but the drink is still served and was one of my all time favourites.

          Date and time
          April 12, 2012, 2:59PM
          • Make mine a Sidecar.

            Southern California
            Date and time
            April 12, 2012, 5:25PM
            • Nothing I love more that a White Russian

              simple girl
              Date and time
              April 13, 2012, 9:34AM
              • For a real man's drink try the blue blazer. A real silver spoon tatse with a show before hand.

                To Make Blue Blazers for 4

                2 metal pint mugs with handles and flaring rims


                •1 bottle cask-strength single-malt Scotch, such as Laphroaig, the Glenlivet Nadurra, or the Macallan
                •4 tsp Demerara sugar or Sugar in the Raw
                •4 1-inch strips of thinly cut lemon peel

                1. Clear all flammable materials from the mixing area.

                2. Lay down some damp cloth napkins for the spills. There will be spills.

                3. Put a pot of water on to boil.

                4. Prepare 4 espresso cups by putting a teaspoon of sugar and a strip of lemon peel in each.

                5. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water into one of the metal mugs.

                6. Quickly add 5 oz whisky.

                7. Light this with a long match or grill lighter.

                8. Pick up both mugs and carefully pour 3/4 of the contents of the flaming one into the other.

                9. Now pour 3/4 of that back into the first mug, from a greater distance.

                10. Repeat 4 or 5 times, increasing the distance each time, all the while talking nonchalantly about how Jerry Thomas used to make these back in old San Francisco.

                11. Finally, pour all the liquid into one mug, and from there fill the 4 espresso cups. These should be flaming as well.

                12. Use the bottom of one mug to snuff whatever's on fire -- i.e., the other mug, the cups, the table, your shirt, the cat, etc.

                13. Stir the contents of each cup to dissolve the sugar, and serve.

                14. Immerse the mugs in cold water before repeating.

                Date and time
                April 13, 2012, 11:17AM
                • Aperitifs or pre-prandial cocktails are traditionally strongly alcoholic short drinks intended to stimulate the digestion prior to a meal. However, many traditional cocktail mixes can be stretched to longer drinks just to be enjoyed for themselves by the addition of sparkling wines or other traditional mixers - like the Airmail and the Gloria (above). Try a splash of traditional Cosmopolitan mix topped up with cold sparkling wine, or any not-so-sweet gin or vodka cocktail topped up with tonic or juice. Soda goes well with many whisky- or rum-based cocktails ... maybe even cola if you must. All these are great for long, hot summer evenings.

                  Date and time
                  April 13, 2012, 11:20AM

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