Valentine’s Day is looming once again. Whether you have a partner or not, you’ll likely be on the sauce, getting the beers in or popping the prosecco (other beverage varieties are available). With that in mind, to enhance the romance of the day, I put on my deerstalker hat to sleuth out the perfect cocktail to compliment any amorous plans.
When in doubt, ask an expert. So first, I journeyed down to my local watering hole to ask a bartender what drink best embodies romance. The Clockwork Rose is Bristol’s first and only Steampunk bar, their unique custom menu features drinks inspired by the travels of the adventurer Captain Sebastian Commodore.
I asked bartender Josh Bishop what he’d recommend to those seeking romance. He suggested the French 75 – a classy, elegant drink that’s well-suited for a formal dinner date or a fancy living room. To make this glamorous concoction you’ll want to mix lemon juice, gin and sugar syrup then top it with the fanciest champagne that your budget allows. Garnish with a twirly piece of lemon zest for added flair.
When we are speaking about matters of the heart, where else should we turn but to the City of Love? Over the centuries, Paris has boasted more bars and celebrated drinkers than any other city in the world. Though there hasn’t been a survey since before the pandemic, they were ahead of the nearest competition by more than 2000 establishments so it’s unlikely any city has surpassed them since 2019. From tortured souls like Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali to pioneers like Coco Chanel and even Benjamin Franklin were said to favour the cafés of the French capital.
I dug out a well-used copy of Parisian Cocktails by Laura Gladwin from the depths of my bookshelves. The book contains everything you might expect from French libations; apéritifs and champagne cocktails; cocktails perfect for day drinking; digestifs and late night classics – as well as recipes for small bites to serve alongside them at any respectable dinner party. There were so many good recipes that I found it very hard to narrow it down to just one – so here are two…
The first is a very literal interpretation of drinking love – the Sapphire. It’s made with a curaçao-based liqueur called Parfait d’Amour that’s infused with rose petals, violets and almonds. To make this one, you’ll need to add 10ml of the light purple liqueur to your favourite chilled cocktail glass. Pour 50ml of very cold gin over the rounded back of a spoon and garnish with fresh blueberries.
It’s important for the gin to be very cold so that the all-important layers form properly – chuck it in the freezer for a while before mixing.
My second choice, The Green Fairy or La Fee Verte, is made from Absinthe and was well known for being an artists’ muse in the bohemian Paris of the 1890s. Many famous works of art and fiction were inspired by reaching the bottom of one of these babies. Equal parts smooth and strong, you don’t want to drink too many of these in a row or you might find yourself hallucinating a real green fairy.
Construct this tipple by mixing 25ml of Absinthe, 25ml of lemon juice, 25ml of chilled water, 20ml of sugar syrup, ½ an egg white and a dash of Angostura Bitters into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass before upending the contents directly into your mouth.
The only thing left for me to look at was the scientific approach. Recent studies have shown that alcohol’s effect on the brain is very similar to Oxytocin, the Love hormone. Although the two compounds target different receptors in the brain they both cause a similar reaction in the prefrontal cortex and the limbic structures, resulting in lowered inhibitions and proving a scientific basis behind the idea of ‘Dutch Courage’.
We can increase the alchemy in our love potion by taking a look at aphrodisiacs. Named after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and aphrodisiac is a substance that increases sexual libido. Since attraction is so personal, there is a wide array of things that could be considered to have an aphrodisiac effect. Since a lot of these are organic compounds like food or drugs, it’s easy to construct delicious cocktails from these ingredients.
Though strawberries and oysters are often thought of as the most popular aphrodisiacs, neither of these foods has had a proven scientific effect in studies, though they may still have a placebo effect for some due to the popularity of the myth. Instead, try saffron, nutmeg, dates or red ginseng which have demonstrated a positive impact on sexual desire; often being used to treat erectile dysfunction, increase sperm count and improve arousal in women.
The best way to use these aphrodisiacs is to infuse them into a spirit of your choice – think vodka or gin for example. You can then use this as a base for any number of spicy cocktails. Make a Ginseng Ginger Spritz by combining 45ml of ginseng vodka with 15ml of dry vermouth, and 10mls of ginger syrup before topping up with either ginger beer or ginger ale depending on your preference – don’t forget to garnish with some lemongrass and ginger shavings.
Science tells us that people are predisposed to liking the things they find visually appealing. This makes the presentation of any cocktail a key part of the romance, just make sure you tailor the drink towards your love’s tastes. After all, you wouldn’t want to give them a drink they don’t want to plaster all over Instagram right?
So what have we learned?
A lot of the drinks suggested on my tour of discovery were built around base spirits like gin or vodka and were often infused with libido enhancing ingredients and pretty decorations to enhance the sense of whimsy. However, this all pales in comparison to the specific palate of your beloved. By serving them a bespoke cocktail tailored to their desires, you’re showing them you know them and that you listen. And what could be more romantic than that…?