Pre-prandial potions

Pre-dinner drinking has come a long way in Australia since the dark days of the 'six o'clock swill'. Though there is nothing deplorable about a cold schooner or pot after work, it seems Australians are now ready to trade quantity for quality.

A Roy Morgan poll canvasing 120,000 people between 2006 and 2011 who said they'd had a drink in the previous four weeks found an 8 per cent drop in drinking compared to the previous five years.

Red wine consumption during that period dropped by 12 per cent and white wine by 6. More telling though, was increases in the consumption of premium and imported beers, cider and spirits – with gin, tequila and liqueurs seeing a 31-50 per cent increase.

Reports like these are not disheartening to venues running a sophisticated operation – it's showing that though we're drinking less as a nation we're drinking better. And it may be that the traditional  beer or glass of Sauvignon Blanc before a meal is being traded for a pre-prandial cocktail.

Certainly cocktail bars and restaurants with advanced beverage programs are on the rise – which could mean the art of the aperitivo has finally arrived Down Under.

To get you up to speed here are a few indispensable pre-dinner tipples with which to whet your palate:

The Negroni
Named after Count Emilio Negroni, this potent potable is among the most popular drinks of the cocktail aristocracy. The most widely spread account of this drink's creation dates back to Florence in 1919 when our affable Count asked a bartender to fortify his favourite Americano cocktail with a little gin. Bitter-sweet and with a kick, the Negroni is more that the sum of its parts – and nearly any bar worth it's Margarita salt will be able to make you one of these:

30ml dry gin (use something juniper forward like Tanqueray London Dry Gin)
30ml Campari
30ml Sweet vermouth (like Marini, Cinzano or Carpano Antica Formula)

Method: Build in a rocks glass or tumbler with plenty of ice. Stir briefly. Garnish with a wide swath of orange peel.


The Martini
James Bond – the world's most famous martini drinker to never have existed enjoyed a pre-dinner drink. In Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, 1953, he says: "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad."

The martini of course fits this bill – it's strong and should be bitingly cold – containing just a couple of shots of chilled gin with a splash of vermouth. It's not difficult to make just make sure you're ordering one in a bar that seems to have a lot of cocktails going out. Oh and please order it stirred – not shaken. Bond was such a knave.

60ml dry Gin (something resinous like Sipsmith London Dry Gin works well)
10ml French dry vermouth (like Noilly Prat or Dolin Dry)
2 dashes orange bitters (a traditional touch)

Method: Add all ingredients into a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with un-pitted green olives or a twist of lemon peel.

This delicious concoction is one you'll probably need to teach your bartender. Though it's a little obscure, it's not difficult to make. Impress you barkeep by telling them it first appears in 1941 in a book called Here's How by W.C. Whitfield.

Airmail in its day was simply the best way to a message through – the cocktail of the same name similarly delivers on taste, class and potency with equal aplomb.

30ml rum (go for full-falvoured, high ester rums like Stolen Gold or Appleton V/X)
15ml fresh lime juice
15ml honey syrup (2 part honey mixed with 1 part hot water)
30ml brut champagne to top (try Veuve Cliquot NV or another Pinot Noir heavy champagne)

Method: Add all ingredients (except champagne) into an iced shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled champagne saucer or coupe glass. Top with champagne and garnish with a lime wheel.

How do you like to wet your whistle before a meal?