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The Quest for a Perfectly Potable Picnic

 Breaking News
June 03
21:13 2017

(Drinking Trends) Summer is upon us – well, very nearly – and as the sun becomes a more common fixture in our day-to-day lives, so does the common. Or the park. Or the back garden, field, knoll, or verge; essentially any open space with even the barest modicum of grass will serve for the vitamin D-starved inhabitants of Britannia to bare pasty white skin at the merest break in the clouds. And as we arrange to meet friends for the purpose of whiling away a sun-kissed afternoon, our thoughts invariably turn to food & drink and, arising from its winter hibernation, the ‘Picnic’ re-enters the vernacular.

Nothing is so seemingly quintessentially British as the picnic. The mere mention of the word brings forth visions of wicker hampers overflowing onto giant rugs on riverside grass, as frilly ladies are punted past by candy striped gents, and children run genteelly wild, resplendent in their Victoriana.

It is undeniable truth that our modern day version of the picnic is more often than not a bag-for-life filled with two-for-one meats, cheeses, shrink-wrapped sad pastries and dry, flavourless chicken pieces; all washed down with whichever generic flavourless lager and / or ‘blush’ is on special at whichever post-apocalyptically barren-shelved ‘local’ supermarket chain is situated between the nearest tube and the chosen stretch of crowded greenery.

For the more enterprising picnicker or the purist, however, the picnic inspires military-grade organisation and communication as the Fortnum & Mason’s hamper is ferreted out from the loft or garage and dusted off; cutlery and jovially patterned crockery is inventoried and replaced via Amazon where necessary, and the homemade smorgasbord is prepared. Unlike the increasingly popular barbeque – the picnic’s more vulgar and labour-intensive colonial cousin – A picnic requires no cooking implements.

Pondering the Perfect Picnic. Image: Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

Once the cornucopia of salads, sandwiches, charcuterie, artisan cheeses and chutneys (quince jelly anyone?) are assembled, our focus turns to suitable beverages fitting for such fare. Foie gras? What about that delightful Riesling we brought back from Alsace? For blinis ready to be laden with caviar or salmon we bring out the bubbles – Or for the more adventurous a chilled bottle of Russian vodka, complete with those darling crystal sipping glasses, of course.

With every quality thirst-quenching option comes complications of containers and concomitant requirements:

Wine? Add wine glasses and don’t forget the corkscrew.

G&T’s? Glasses, ice, garnishes, a knife, chopping boards, tonic water (Fevertree for preference), not to mention the gin.

Even the simplest range mixed drink seems to require a mobile bar, so notwithstanding those Londoners willing to load up the car, find nearby parking – And then NOT DRINK! – any attempt at lugging picnic-pairing libations then needs suitable Sherpas. The more Sherpas, the more food and booze needed at the end of the journey.

So how does one go about preparing the perfect picnic potions with minimal accoutrements? Below I’ve listed some simple recipes that can be prepared in advance, as well as being adaptable to the palate and spirit preference of the picnicker.

  1. The Punch

For nearly 500 years people throughout the known world were pre-batching this fantastic mix in every conceivable environment. One simply chooses a base spirit, then adds sour in the form of any citrus juice and a balancing sweetening agent such as sugar, honey or agave. 2 parts base to one part each of both sour and sweet suits the average palate, and one can simply add or subtract to taste.

Once the boozy base is batched, we stretch it with a lengthener – Apple, cranberry or pear juices; or any pleasing combination – in equal measures with the base.

Lastly we jazz it up a little – Several dashes of bitters or an overnight tea infusion are traditional, however, things like saffron or chilli can be used to add complexity as long as one remembers that for these intense ingredients less is most definitely more.

The punch can be mixed the night before and kept in the refrigerator, transported in any vessel to hand, served in any vessel (over ice if possible) and for a garnish, any fruit from the hamper, a slice of cucumber or a mint leaf work well.

picnic

Negroni Sbagliato Punch

  1. The Spritz

The Aperol or Campari Spritz is definitely here to stay, having jumped the channel and arrived in cocktail bar, restaurant and pubs alike.

In order to make an easy spritz for anyone anywhere, glasses, ice, Aperol or Campari, soda and sparkling wine are required.

The Negroni Sbagliato is richer and more complex while being simpler to make – Mix Campari and sweet vermouth in equal parts then refill the bottles or any other container with the mix.

Pour over ice and top with bubbles, lemonade or ginger beer, and garnish with a slice of orange.

For more exotic variations throw some Solerno Blood Orange liqueur or elderflower cordial into the mix, or top with rosé bubbles.

 

  1. Simple Champagne cocktails.

You’ve brought the bubbles anyway –Why not make it more interesting by rinsing the flute or antiquated coupette glass with the tiniest splash of classic cassis (a small bottle goes a long way) or the aforementioned elderflower, then top with bubbles. A petal from a rose to garnish or leave the effervescent liquid to glisten in the sun unadorned – Up to you.

 

  1. Boozy lollies and Alcoholic ice creams

Not technically a liquid refreshment, however homemade boozy popsicles (careful to keep them away from the kids!) are easy and delicious. Simply stir a diluted mix of low ABV liqueur, citrus juice and sweetener (see the punch base above) with equal parts water and pour into lolly moulds for a fruity fresh frozen post-picnic treat.

Another option is to bring a chilled cream liqueur (Coole Swan is available in the best shops and on-line and is Irish Cream liqueur for the connoisseur) or boozy ice cream in the freezer bag, then as the strawberries come out pour, scoop or ladle lashings of it over the top.

picnic

Image: Galliano Bitter

  1. The pre-bottled cocktail.

Lastly, if you have a particular hankering for a certain sartorial sippable to satisfy your guests or sate your inner Bacchanalian – Why not bring the drink ready to pour?

Exactly as with the punch recipe above, you can mix any amount of your favourite cocktail the night before (leaving out anything solid such as fruit pieces and anything sparkling) and then bring the chilled mix in a cold bag either in a large liquid container or in individual single-serve bottles. For these just keep and reuse your screw-top soda bottles and soak the labels off – If you want to get really fancy you can add a rustic hand-written label tag tied with some old-looking string – And serve it either with a coloured paper straw or a glass with ice.

Pre-mixed drinks will happily keep if chilled for a couple of days.

 

So there you have it. While the hoi polloi swig sugary cider from plastic bottles dodge drunkenly aimed frisbees and munch dejectedly on their flavourless Melton Mowbrays, you and your fellow picnickers can step right into a Seurat canvas and dine on delicious bites that would make Nigella go green, while you cheerfully quaff the finest of libations.

Just don’t forget the umbrellas – It is England, after all.

 

 

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Video: YouTube / Umbrella Entertainment Australia

Main Image: ForgivingMarta.com

Industry Expert

Jim Wrigley

Jim Wrigley

Legendary bartender, bon-viveur and Byronic man about town, Mr Jim Wrigley is known throughout the bar world as an oracle of knowledge, a drinksmith par excellence, and damn fine company. From London to California, to Australia and Venzuela, 'Wrigley' is a by-word for excellent drinks and unsurpassed hospitality.

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