red champagne cocktail with foam on top

By Georgina Hayden

Ah, sunshine, croquet and Pimms… what is there not to love about summertime?

What’s more, we’ve been so lucky this year with the weather. And now there’s another mini-summer this week, so I can extend the season of long weekends sitting on our balcony, drinking cocktails and catching up with friends – there really is nothing better.

Now the key to being a fabulous hostess (or host!) isn’t showy, fancy-pants cocktails, it’s a steady stream of delicious things. I only learnt this after many failed attempts to make my guests fabulous drinks to order – you end up spending all your time in the kitchen. If you are only having a few people over by all means dig out the cocktail shaker and do your best Tom Cruise impression. However, if your guests are plenty then it’s best to make a punch or even infuse spirits ahead of time to top with a mixer to give you interesting combos. The latter is my favourite – investing a little time and love in an exotic spirit creates impressive cocktails with not much effort at all. Try infusing berries into vodka with a split vanilla pod and a few spoonfuls of sugar. Leave it for a few weeks, then simply strain and serve topped with bitter lemon or apple juice. Other cracking concoctions are citrus-based liquors. Make a sugar syrup with your favourite citrus juice and mix with the spirit of your choice. Bergamot gin topped with tonic? Clementine and lime vodka with soda? Amazing, just add a slice of fruit and you have an instant hit.

An exciting and simple way to start a party, especially if it’s a special occasion, is a really simple Champagne or Prosecco cocktail, such as Jamie’s pomegranate and bubbly recipe, which can be adapted according to the season. Another great party classic is punch. Forget the “dumping-every-type-of-booze-in-a-plastic-bucket-and-drinking-it” tactic from student days gone by, and think of delicious refreshing mixes such as Spanish sangria – slices of citrus, mixed with a fruity red wine, sugar, soda and brandy. Delicious. And don’t be afraid to play around with the ingredients a little depending on your taste – try it with rosé or even white wine, and they will work with different fruits too.

The key to a good punch is to experiment with your favourite flavours but make sure you keep the ingredients minimal. And try not to go overboard on the spirits, because punch is often approached like pop and gets necked very quickly! You don’t want legless guests by 4pm. I love elderflower as a base for a summery punch. Mix it with gin, fresh mint and good-quality cloudy lemonade and bulk it out with fruit such as apple slices or grapes. And if the weather is not so great, go for slightly wintery mixtures – spiced rum with ginger syrup or alcoholic ginger beer, fresh lime and apple juice is a wonderful treat. If it is really nippy out then warm the apple juice first, which is a sure-fire way to warm your cockles.

And last but no means least think about how you are going to serve/ present your drinks – basic but oh-so important. You don’t need to dig out your posh crystal, but having a few large jugs on ice will work a treat. Pimp up the cups with colourful stripy straws and even go full-on kitsch and add paper umbrellas for some summertime fun. A few years ago I invested in a glass cocktail dispenser, which didn’t cost much at all and has quite frankly been my saving grace on many occasions. Whip one of these bad boys out, filled with some delicious concoction and your friends will love you forever.