Although by now we've drunk enough wine and spirits that we should be experts, for some reason we keep forgetting everything we've learnt. But there's no need to worry – Mike Walpole, spirits tutor at WSET’s flagship London Wine & Spirit School, is on hand to guide you through this summer's key cocktail trends.
"Spirits are a fantastic alternative to wine during the summer months," he says. "Whether you are drinking a traditional gin & tonic, or sipping a quality ice-cold vodka, it's all about personal preference. Try different gins with garnishes that match the botanical mix, or various brands of golden rum in your Cuba Libres. Your palate will improve, along with your understanding of the science of mixology."
Gins were first brought to England in the 1600s and by the early 20th century had become known as the mixing spirit for cocktails. In recent years, a new generation of gins has arrived meaning creating the perfect gin & tonic has become a quite a skill. London dry gins commonly use dry citrus peels in their botanical mix, the flavours of which can be brought out by garnishing with a slice of the same fruit. For styles with lots of strong spices in the recipe, try a garnish of star anise, rosemary or a cinnamon stick for a good pairing. Plymouth gin is a good pairing for a sweet slice of orange which help balance the juniper-forward spirit.
If you like gin...
Gin & tonic fans may enjoy white port over ice, topped up with tonic water and garnished with a slice of lemon or sprig of mint for a new refreshing summer cocktail.
Another popular summer highball drink is the Caribbean-inspired Cuba Libre. Supposedly invented by a member of the US Signal Corps known as 'Mr X' during the Spanish-American War of Independence in the early 20th century, a Cuba Libre contains golden rum paired with cola and should be garnished with a zesty slice of lime to offset the sweetness.
Rum fans should look out for...
If rum is your usual drink, try Brazilian spirit cachaça as your pick for this summer. Largely confused with rum, cachaça is actually made from distilled fresh sugar cane juice rather than molasses. There are two main varieties: white cachaça, which is a versatile cocktail mixer; and dark cachaça, which is usually more expensive and drunk straight.
Once known only as the most popular spirit for mixing, recent times have seen many premium and quality vodkas hit the shelves which are thoroughly enjoyable straight. Best ice-cold and sipped slowly, those made from grains often have a subtle cereal aroma, grape-based vodkas have a crisp, aromatic taste and potato vodkas are often described as creamy on the palate.
Vodka drinkers might also like...
Adventurous vodka drinkers looking for something new this summer could try white whisky. Known in its illegal form as 'moonshine', when distilled correctly, white whisky can be delicious. Try it mixed into your Moscow mules and martinis this summer.
The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is the largest body worldwide in wine and spirit education; visit wsetglobal.com for more information