What you need to know about drinking cocktails outdoors

by Sophie Whitbread

In celebration of up to six people, or two households, being able to meet outdoors from 29 March, summer drinks have come early. Since we’re tiptoeing back into a social life, why not do it Carrie Bradshaw-style, with a cocktail or two? But if you’re serving them outside, or even taking them on a picnic, I’d like to share a few things I've learned about how to make sure they travel well.

Keep it simple for picnics

Picnics require forward planning – who wants to carry lots of bottles as well as food on a walk? Whether you’re buying the booze from a nearby shop or taking it with you, you’ll want to keep things simple.

If you can pick up sparkling wine from a shop or persuade someone to carry it, you only need add one or two ingredients for a special drink. A glug of orange juice makes a Mimosa, Aperol and soda water an Aperol spritz, crème de cassis a Kir royale. A dash of elderflower cordial in fizz is refreshing, and perfect for mocktails like this Apple, elderflower cooler. For flair, add a thin slice of orange or lemon or a slither of peel.

Lidded jars make a great portable cocktail shaker for drinks best served shaken, such as a Margarita or Gin fizz. They also double up as glasses – or you can buy non-glass reusable cups with fitted lids and straws.

It may be chilly outside, but when it comes to cocktails, think of this as good news – it’s easier to serve them cold! If you need to keep them cool, put ice in a portable cooler and sit the bottles on top. Wrapping wet paper towels around bottles will speed up the cooling. If you’re making drinks before you leave home, freeze them for half an hour.

But remember, alcohol consumption isn’t allowed in some outdoor places, so it’s best to check before you head off.

Aperol spritz is perfect for picnics

Let’s get this (garden) party started

For those serving drinks in the garden, with a fridge and freezer a few steps away, the world’s your oyster. We’re all ready for a bit of luxe right now, and creamy drinks, such as a White Russian, bring it. A Whiskey sour, made with egg whites, will also guarantee that special occasion vibe.

For those who have a well-stocked bar, get your mixing skills on with a Singapore sling, Mai tai or Purple rain. And when the heatwave finally arrives, cool down with a Bramble or Mint julep, laden with crushed ice. For fruity cocktails such as Pimm’s, frozen fruit is a great alternative to ice.

Don’t forget to include mocktails for the non-drinkers – you only need three ingredients to make this watermelon cooler.

Warm up with a hot cocktail

When it’s so cold outside and you’re lighting the barbecue for warmth rather than cooking, hot drinks can be as much fun as a cocktail. A Hot toddy, mulled wine, Cider toddy or Irish coffee will warm you up. Hot chocolate or a masala chai is perfect for the non-drinker.

At home, a slow-cooker is a great way to keep drinks warm, as they won’t get too hot and evaporate the alcohol. If you have a garden plug socket, you can bring it outside. Of course, a flask will also do the trick.

Take a small camping stove, or portable barbecue and saucepan, to make hot drinks on a picnic if it’s allowed – just don’t leave anything behind and make sure cooking (and alcohol) are permitted where you’re heading.

Hot toddies

Budget cocktails

If you don’t have lots of bottles, choose cocktails with just one spirit. You can build on your collection later to make more complicated recipes. Gin fizz, Screwdriver (vodka orange), Dark and stormy (rum and ginger beer) and Tequila sunrise (tequila with orange and grenadine), are great for when you’re starting out.

If you’re buying cheaper spirits, it can be a good idea to choose fruity cocktails, or make an infusion, such as sloe gin.

When it comes to kit and extras, fake it ’til you make it. A fork doubles up as a muddler (for squashing fruit), freeze your own ice, and those jam jars are good cocktail shakers for any occasion. You can make your own sugar syrup too – it’s a 1:2 ratio of water to sugar, just like in this French 75 cocktail.

Alcoholic ice-lollies

Ice-lolly cocktails are fun at a barbecue. You can transform the simplest cocktails (choose ones without dairy or egg white) into popsicles by freezing in a mould – I use small yoghurt pots with lolly sticks. Personal favourites are Pimm’s ice-lollies with berries and Mojito, though anything with fruit and herbs is pretty. If you don’t have lolly moulds, Tom Kerridge’s G&T granita is delicious. When you’re going on a picnic, put your lollies on ice in a coolbox – if you pop them in a ziplocked bag, you’ll have a drink if they melt!

Alcoholic ice-lollies

Themed cocktail parties

No earlier than 17 May can we expect to have larger gatherings, which gives us time to plan outdoor cocktail parties for summer. Here are a few ideas to get you started.