England, as it turns out, has created some of the world’s most famous and favourite cocktails. Hands up if you’ve ordered an espresso martini in the hopes that you’ll be able to suppress your yawns with the caffeine kick and hide the fact that you would rather be in bed binging Netflix – you’re not alone. It’s also not far off how the famous British cocktail, the espresso martini, was created one night in London – or so rumour has it!
One of my favourite things to do on my travels is to try a local tipple that has a historical or cultural connection to where I’m visiting. I find you can learn a lot about the history of a place from its cocktail creations. From the sweet, fruity sip of a Singapore Sling created to disguise alcohol for female socialites so they could “acceptably” drink in public settings, to the warming sip of a New Orleans’ Sazerac, known to be the world’s first cocktail that is famously served in a bar – The Sazerac Bar – that up until 1949, only served men.
With the help of The Ivy Brasserie Norwich I was able to put together this cocktail list of six classic English cocktails. Here you’ll learn a bit about their creation, what’s in them and how to make them. I can guarantee you that just as long as alcoholic beverages are your thing, then there is something here for you whether you prefer sweet, sour or straight up boozy, one of these is sure to delight. When ordering these cocktails, go to a bar, like The Ivy, where you can guarantee you’ll not only be served by experienced bartenders but at a well-stocked bar so that they are able to create cocktails that aren’t on their menu. For this reason, your average pub shouldn’t be your go-to when ordering these cocktails.
So let’s find out the origin story of the following 6 classic English cocktails and the recipes for how you can make these famous British cocktails at home.
1. Vesper Martini
The Vesper Martini cocktail was created by British writer, Ian Fleming in his very first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale”, published in 1953. It’s named after the double agent, Vesper Lynd, one of Bond’s many, many, lovers but arguably his first and only love.
As in true Bond style, his martini preference is, altogether now, “shaken, not stirred,” but the golden rule is to always stir a spirit-only drink and not shake it as it dilutes the drink, but as per Mr. Bond’s strict instructions to “shake it very well until it’s ice-cold,” the Vesper Martini must also be shaken, not stirred.
Be warned the Vesper martini is the strongest drink on this list of English cocktail drinks, so take it easy with this one.
Ingredients to make a Vesper martini cocktail
60ml Gordon’s gin
10ml Kina Lillet (White vermouth)
Strip of lemon zest
How to make a Vesper Martini cocktail
Pour the gin, vodka and white vermouth into a shaker with ice.
Shake until the shaker is ice cold.
Double strain into a martini coupe glass.
Pinch the zest to spray over the glass then place the zest into the glass.
2. Espresso Martini
The world famous espresso martini was created by London bartender, Dick Bradsell, in 1984 upon request by a then up and coming British super model for “something that will wake me up and then f**k me up?”.
The queryable thing here is that the model is rumoured to be Naomi Campbell but with a simple Google, it’s a struggle to believe, even with my background in working with models, that a 14 year old Naomi was storming bars and demanding drinks when she wasn’t even “discovered” until she was 15!
Anyway, in 1984 upon this request Dick Bradsell came up with what is now one of the most classic cocktails in the world: the espresso martini. Bradsell’s espresso martini creation combined coffee to wake her up and vodka to do the rest. He says that the coffee machine was right next to the station where he served drinks and so it was on his mind when he was putting together this classic cocktail recipe.
Ingredients to make an espresso martini cocktail
20ml Coffee liqueur (recommended: Kahlua)
3 coffee beans
How to make an espresso martini cocktail
Make a shot of espresso and leave it to chill.
Pour the vodka, coffee liqueur and espresso into a shaker with ice.
Shake vigorously in order to create a froth and until the shaker feels ice cold.
Strain into a chilled martini coupe glass.
Garnish by placing three coffee beans onto the top of the foam.
Bars across the UK have began created all sorts of magical variants of the traditional English espresso martini cocktails including The Ivy who does a Salted Caramel Espresso Martini.
The Gimlet became popular in England after its mention in the 1953 novel by Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye. Before then, it is said to have been created in the late 19th century with the purpose of preventing sailors from getting scurvy. Its name is credit to two sources so without really knowing which one is right I’m letting you know both: one is after a hand-held tool for boring holes, which was used on the ships and the other is after Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette who is sometimes credited as the original creator of the Gimlet after he mixed his daily ration of lime cordial (to prevent scurvy) with gin.
When the Gimlet was first created it was 50% gin and 50% lime cordial, since then the Gimlet’s proportions have changed and are now served more to a 1 part lime and 2 parts gin standard, I’m including the original volume below as it’s the traditional recipe.
Ingredients to make a gimlet cocktail
50ml Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial
Strip of lime zest
How to make a gimlet cocktail
Pour the gin and lime syrup into a shaker with ice.
Shake until the shaker feels cold.
Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Pinch the zest to spray over the glass then place the zest on the rim of the glass.
In term of taste, it’s really not dissimilar to a Brazilian Caipirinha.
The Espresso Martini wasn’t British bartender. Dick Bradsell’s only cocktail creation, he also came up with another classic English cocktail: the bramble. Bradsell invented the bramble in the 80s at Fred’s Club in Soho, London and says it was inspired by the blackberries he used to pick on the Isle of Wight as a child. When looking to create this simple cocktail he adapted a Singapore Sling. He dropped a few ingredients and served it in a short glass and called it a Bramble after the bush in which Blackberries (the dominant flavour of this cocktail) grow on.
Ingredients to make a bramble cocktail
25ml Lemon juice
2 bar spoons simple sugar syrup
2 bar spoons crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur)
Strip of lemon zest
How to make a bramble cocktail
Pour the gin, lemon juice and syrup into a shaker with ice.
Fill an Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice.
Drizzle the crème de mure over the ice.
Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with blackberries and lemon zest.
5. Tom/John Collins
John Collins created the classic English cocktail John Collins in a restaurant in London around 1860. In 1874 a popular joke was being told in New York whereby people would start a conversation asking if someone had seen Tom Collins, they would then proceed to say that this Tom Collins has been talking smack about them and that they should go find them. Tom Collins was a fictional person. Rumour has it that one day a witty barman made a John Collins and served it to a man asking for a Tom Collins and from that moment on, the name of the cocktail changed to Tom Collins and was so cemented that in 1876 Jerry Thomas, known as “the father of American mixology” published the recipe to a John Collins as a Tom Collins is his book, The Bartenders’ Guide. Poor John, right?
John hasn’t been completely left behind though, as now a John Collins is known as the rum based version of his original cocktail.
The classic Tom Collins cocktail is a long drink, perfect for sipping out on the grass on a summer’s afternoon or accompanying a weekend brunch.
Ingredients to make a Tom Collins cocktail
50ml Gin (Tom) or rum (John)
25ml Lemon juice
25ml Simple sugar syrup
125ml chilled soda water
Strip of lemon zest
How to make a Tom Collins cocktail
Fill a Collins glass with cubes of ice.
Pour in the gin, lemon juice and syrup.
Stir to combine and then top off with the soda water.
Garnish with lemon zest.
6. Pimm’s No1. Cup
To find out how to make one of the most famous British cocktails, a Pimm’s fruit cup, head to my previous blog post: How to make the perfect pitcher of Pimm’s No1. Cup You’ll also get to learn more about the history of this classic English cocktail and its important and beloved place in British culture.
So there you have it, 6 English cocktails, which one are you eager to try? Let me know in the comments below if you make one of the drinks from this classic cocktail recipe list and what you thought of it!
Do more on & for the planet, Gabriella
Please drink responsibly.
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The Ivy uses biodegradable straws, should you wish to use your own, just request that no straw is served in your drink.