Tag Archives: europe

Sangria: A latin party maker and centrepiece to boot

sangria slowstruck

Here’s a little secret: Sangria is a perfect centrepiece for parties. Ok, so it wasn’tsuper-secret – most of you already knew that!  But do you know the best way to get the most out of your sangria recipes? No? Well, here is my guide to perfect sangrias every time…

Europe And Its Great But Terrible Sangria Obsession

To be faithful to my story telling roots (or, if you want to put it more bluntly, my rambling nature), I thought I’d start with a bit of history: about the origins of Sangria and, most importantly, about why wine takes centre stage in this universal favourite.

What are the origins of Sangria? Well done for those of you who answered ‘Spain’, but even more points for those of you who said Spain and identified the timeframe of 1700-1800’s. We know this historical period more commonly as the Middle Ages (think Game of Thrones, albeit a little less rose tinted – if that’s possible!). Sangria was created mainly out of necessity! Until the mid-late 19th century, safe drinking water was not as readily available as it is today; therefore, the people of the time looked for safer means of drinking.

Based upon the idea that alcohol kills off the harmful bacteria/nasty stuff that causes diseases like Cholera and Diptheria, alcohol naturally and literally became the only safe way to drink any water. In addition to the health benefits of this plan, it was obvious that certain concoctions would be socially shared (quite merrily, I might add).

As these potent mixtures gained popularity, they also accumulated added ingredients, and thus the first ‘Sangria’ recipes came to be. As milk was considered strictly for babies, and as water was more likely to kill you than keep you alive, this wine mixture was consumed en masse, and even given to young children – talk about an interesting childhood.

Traditionally, the typical Sangria consisted of several ingredients: wine, some type of brandy and fruit. This mixture – in one form or another – became popular across Europe for hundreds of years, and has eventually been refined into the modern Sangria we know and love so much. Introduced into the USA back in 1964’s World Fair in New York, Sangria really put Spain (and red wine, especially) on the map across the Americas.

To this day, traditional Sangria is still made using red wine, brandy and fruit, although sugar and fruit juices are generally both used as well.

But where do you begin with the preparation of your Sangria? What ingredients do you need to rustle up a crowd pleasing wonder? Well, before I share with you my easy-to-follow recipes, why don’t you quickly review this check list to get a basic Idea of the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Wine or non-alcoholic substitute.
  • Try using different fruit juices. Base fruit juices such as orange, apple, peach and grape are great possibilities.
  • Sugar: preferably unrefined brown/muscovado – it’s richer in flavour and is not as bad for you as the refined white cane sugar. Honey/Agave Nectar are also great substitutes.
  • Spirits: rum, vodka, gin, tequila and liqueurs – choose those that work best with the wine you’ve picked. For instance, try using tequila in a spicy style wine, and rum for a sweet one.
  • Fruits, Vegetables, Spices: Citrus Fruits(lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits), Orchard Fruits (plums, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines),Soft Fruits/Berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, etc.), Exotic Fruits (dragon fruit, bananas, coconut, pineapple, kiwi, sharon fruit, lychee), Vegetables (cucumber, tomatoes, peppers) andspices (fresh red/green chili, ginger, jalapeno, cinnamon).

Once you have your plethora of ingredients, you can move on to the step by step guide below (here’s some free advice: for that added ‘special something’, try using locally grown seasonal ingredients; they will add much more flavour and you can direct your friends on where to acquire them).

How to Mix Sangria

sangria (1)
If your Sangria looks a little like this? You did good 🙂
  1. One giant leap

Start by mixing the wine, chosen spirit, juice and sugar together and then cover and chill for approximately 1-2 hours.

I find that taking your sweet time will result in a better tasting end product. Stir in the sugar until it is fully dissolved, and mix in your juices and spirits thoroughly.

Did you know? – Whilst traditional Sangria primarily uses red wine and brandy, you can use pretty much any type of wine and any spirit you like. Why not try rum and sparkling white wine (Prosecco/Cava/Champagne) or vodka and still white wine?

  1. Sugar and spice and everything nice

Now comes the best bit: adding your preferred flavours.

First, quickly stir your sugar/juice mixture then introduce your ready-prepared mix of fruits and/or vegetables and spices. You can use any fruit you like, so experiment and have some fun. Once the fruit has been added, cover and return to the fridge for another 2-4 hours

  1. The mid-season finale

Like any decent process, you need to check your progress half way through, so this step it designed to allow you to do just that. Remove the Sangria from the fridge, stir it extremely well to make sure the Sangria ingredients are combining well, and then cover and put back in the fridge for one final time (again for around 2-4 hours).

Did you know? – The best tasting Sangria can sometimes involve leaving the mixture in a fridge overnight to allow the fruit to settle into the alcohol, creating deeper, more meaningful flavours in the mixture.

  1. As cold as ice

By now you should have a large bowl/container/pitcher full of a very fruity and alcohol-laced chilled liquid. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to stir thoroughly before serving and have your carbonated mixer on hand (if you’re using one – you don’t have to!). If serving straight away, then ice isn’t necessary. But have a bag or two ready in case it’s a particularly hot day (or you plan on leaving it out all evening).

  1. Service with a smile

To serve, half fill a glass with ice, then top up with your chosen sparkling mixer!

Prosecco/champagne or lemonade make great mixers, but feel free to try any sparkling mixer you want.  I find orange soda works particularly well.

This 5 step guide is genuinely all you need to produce party-popping Sangria mixes every time. You can make non-alcoholic Sangria using  the same ingredients as detailed above. Whether alcoholic or not, your Sangria will be the envy of all your friends and before you know it, they’ll all be after your recipe.

Since it’s taken you nearly an entire day to create this masterpiece on your table, respect it and take every opportunity to enjoy every scent and sip. Did I mention it’ll keep, in a sealed container, for up to 24-48 hours depending on the fruit/juice used?

And, as I don my Etiquette hat for a small moment; A good host always remembers to be responsible when serving/consuming alcohol, and will check thoroughly that no one is allergic to the fruits/vegetables being used.

One Last Thought

I love to take the slower, more traveled path when creating a great cocktail.  I’ll go out and buy ingredients to make my own infused syrups rather than buying pre-prepared, lower quality products. This process scales elegantly in mixtures such as Sangria. Of course you can create a decent version in a couple of hours; but to really blow your guests away, use fresh juice, locally sourced ingredients, maybe something a little less known, and of course take your time preparing it. You should always treat Sangria like a joint of meat in a marinade – allow plenty of time for the flavour to develop.

Stay tuned for next time – I’ll have something a little seasonal once more, in the form of a very well known and historically charged topic: London Dry Gin.

The Cuba Libre – A classic cocktail for the new era.

 “The Cuba Libre requires Bacardi rum and Coca Colatm with ice and a wedge of fresh lime. Why? Because that’s how an original Cuba Libre has always been made – at least since 1900, when American soldiers on Neptuno Street, Havana, first persuaded a barman to mix his precious Bacardi rum with their tasty new beverage called Coca Cola” – Bacardi’s description of the Cuba Libre on their website. (http://www.bacardi.com/uk/Cocktails/BACARDI-Cuba-Libre)

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Old Havana Skyline, taken by Wikimedia Commons/Flickr user Gabriel Rodríguez.

The Cuba Libre has all the mysterious history you need from a classic cocktail and then some. Now I’m not saying it’s because of this that it’s actually considered a ‘classic cocktail’ but you have to admit the uncanny similarities to some of the other classics (Mojito, Martini, Margarita etc…).

The one thing that the Cuba Libre has in its favour though is its base spirit: Rum. Rum, as any well-to-do person will tell you, has a mysterious history all to its own. It just so happens that the Caribbean (that’s the collection of islands that includes Cuba would you know) is arguably the best place for premium quality rums anywhere in the world. Whether it’s the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Trinidad or even the ‘Rum King’ Island known as Barbados, the rum used in Cuba Libre’s has traditionally been of the best quality full stop (little wonder it’s become a classic then eh?).

The Recipe:

So traditionally it was made using Coca Cola, a Premium quality Cuban Anejo Rum and a wedge of Lime to freshen the drink up a little. However recently (mainly due to the lack of any Cuban rum in my repertoire) I have been trying out different brands and styles of rum both to find my favourite, and also because it is a simple recipe to stick to and easy to tweak without destroying the original idea…

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As you can see it keeps to the simple and balanced nature of the classic cocktail, but also packs a great taste (just try it if you don’t believe me)…

Of course there are many variations, more variations than the time I have to write them down for you, and some include different types/brands of rum. From the classic white(light) rums  to the semi-aged golden and Aged ‘Dark’ rums of the Caribbean and even the spiced rums (Captain Morgan’s, Kraken etc.) which have become more and more popular over recent years here in the UK…

The last time I got paid (just after Christmas) I went out and stocked up on some quality rums that my local Sainsbury’s had on offer at the time (and I also got a bottle of Makers Mark, but that’s a story for another time)… The Rums purchased/received as presents were;

–          Brugal Ron Anejo Rum £20-25 (I got it on offer for £16.99)

A Golden (semi-aged/aged) rum from the Dominican Republic; considered to be of a very high quality.

–          Kraken Black Spiced Rum £18-23 (depending on store)

Imported from the USA, Kraken comes in a glorious pirate themed bottle and denotes a giant squid (hence the ‘Kraken’) on the label. It’s a high quality black spiced rum and it tastes magical, which is probably why it has gathered quite the cult following. This was a very well received present from my sister for Christmas.

–          Bacardi Oakheart  £18-19 (£12 – offer price when I got it)

My soul reason for buying this bottle of rum was the price. It was a mere £12 at the time (worked out around £10.80 after my discount) and I just could not pass that up (considering its usual RRP is around £18-19!!!)…

Also I was a little wary because whilst Bacardi is a quality product, I feared they had created something that might not work (needless to say I was very, very wrong!).

Anyway, back to the recipes;

                So I tried a Cuba Libre using a 2-1 (Rum-Lime) ratio and topped up with a cola (Pepsi as it’s my favourite but feel free to change that to your favourite). Needless to say you do get 3 very different tasting drinks.

The Brugal Anejo Cuba Libre is as close as a Classic Cuba Libre these recipes got, purely in the way of geographical accuracy (Dominican Rep. is as close to the Havana Club style Anejo I have) and I imagine it’s similar in tastes to a classic Cuba Libre too. Whilst not the best when mixed with Pepsi, if you use Coca Cola like the classic recipe requests, it becomes sublime. And as a classic Cuba Libre (if you don’t have any Cuban rum) then this is the recipe I suggest you use!

The Bacardi Oakheart Cuba Libre was a standout favourite among my friends and family, with its smooth taste blending with the lime and Pepsi better (in their opinion anyway) than the Brugal Ron Anejo. The Bacardi was obviously made for cocktail mixing; such is the way with their other rum products.

The Kraken Black Spiced Cuba Libre, after a few tries, was my personal standout recipe. Purely for the thick, almost syrupy taste it brings to the drink. The Lime juice, when freshly squeezed, cuts through the nasty aftertaste of the alcohol (that horrible kick you get that can spoil a drink) allowing you to pile in 2 measures without thought, and the Pepsi brought out the Spiced notes perfectly and made sure they were there in the background, but not too overpowering.

In my opinion the Kraken Rum brought something extra to the Pepsi recipes that the others simply did not have: a thick almost syrupy, spice texture that when cut with the fresh lime juice created this sensation of pure bliss; that something a little bit special.

Now don’t mistake my gushing for naivety. I know that the classic Cuban rum recipe will always be the classic Cuba Libre, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but what I am saying is that If you want something a little special and a bit of a taste-treat in the disguise of a Cuba Libre; then Kraken Black Spiced Rum is your poison of choice. Trust me you will not regret it.

Footnotes:

–          Always use freshly squeezed lime juice. Lime cordial is never a replacement at the best of times, and especially not here. It is too sweet and doesn’t help balance out the rum. Don’t expect the taste to be that good if you do use it. Having said that, if you have no choice try to use a little less rum so you don’t overpower the drink.

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Always use fresh lime juice where possible. It is far superior to any lime cordial in every way.

–          These rums were used purely because they were accessible at the time I tried them. So whilst I am raving about the Kraken Rum here, it is very likely you will disagree. Please don’t hate me for ignoring your favourite rum; that is not the intention. It was simply MY favourite of the 3!

Recipes:

Brugal Ron Anejo Cuba Libre (Coke)

2 measures Brugal Ron Anejo Rum

1 measure freshly squeezed lime juice*

Top up Coca Cola

Brugal Ron Anejo Cuba Libre (Pepsi)

2 measures Brugal Ron Anejo Rum

1 measure freshly squeezed lime juice

Top up Pepsi

Bacardi Oakheart Cuba Libre

2 measures Bacardi Oakheart

1 measure freshly squeezed lime juice*

Top up Pepsi

Kraken Black Spiced Cuba Libre

2 measures Kraken Black Spiced Rum

1 measure freshly squeezed lime Juice*

Top up Pepsi

*this is equivalent to around 1 small lime being around 25ml

Now as a slight addition to this post, one I did not intend I might add, will be in relation to the fact that whilst in the process of writing this post; I was again paid.

This payday I invested in a rather well-known brand of Cuban Rum, mainly to test out the theory of ‘Cuban rum for a Cuba Libre is better’ and also because I love it. That’s right ladies and gents; Havana Club 3yo white rum.

Now normally I would keep this sort of information to myself, but seeing as it was mainly to try a proper Cuba Libre Recipe out, I thought it best to add. The recipe I used was a 2:1 ratio (the same as the above recipes) only I added the lime juice to the glass first (following Havana Club guidelines).

And can I just say, from the above recipes, Brugal & Coca Cola was my favourite (not including the Kraken & Pepsi recipe), but this Havana Libre I made up, was on another level… It is very strange, but the flavour of the Havana Club comes through the cola perfectly, so you taste the rums flavour, but without the painful bite of the alcohol (thank the lime juice for that).

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Havana Nights: Cuba is the birthplace of the Cuba Libre and Cuban Rum should always be your first stop…

So I suppose to summarise I just have to leave you with this bit of advice: Cocktail recipes can be fluid. You make them to your own tastes. And sometimes you may want a spiced rum, sometimes you want a white. But if you ever have a Cuba Libre, try it first with the Havana Club 3yo, create a Cuba Libre the way it was intended and then, if you want to, experiment with other rums. You’ll find that this classic recipe is just that: a classic. You may find you prefer a spiced version, or even the taste of black rum. But no matter what you try you cannot beat the Cuban Anejo rum recipe. It’s just one of those things… Like gravity or the short life of a turkey; it’s inevitable.