The barbie. Clichéd or not, it's an Australian summer institution. A chance for Aussie males to flex their grilling and searing prowess over a hotplate.
More than simply alfresco cooking, the barbeque is a social occasion – simply firing it up is an excuse for a gathering. And where there's a gathering, invariably there's a cold drink or two close at hand with the six-pack being what you bring when you're told not to bring anything.
Whilst a cold can of domestic lager is a thirst-crushing companion to charred meat and the obligatory potato salad, I can't help but feel we're missing a trick here when it comes to barbecue-side libations. Sure, a frosted frothy can really hit the spot, but when I'm entertaining I like there to be options – and with a little effort you, too, can raise the beverage stakes at your shindig.
One of the problems I've encountered with playing host is that I find myself constantly in the kitchen, fixing people drinks with barely a moment to have a real conversation or keep an eye on the steak. Leaving guests to mix their own often ends in disaster, like seeing a prized bottle of 30-year-old single malt getting topped up with cola. Fortunately I've come up with a couple solutions over the years.
Home-made, ready-to-drink cocktails
I've long enjoyed whipping up a batch of home brew, but these days I rarely find the time to put one down. My bench-capper was sitting in the cupboard collecting dust until I figured out a way of putting it to good use.
By taking a cleaned beer or cider bottle, pouring in a spirit of choice and topping with your favourite mixer and a squeeze of citrus, you're able to create mixed drinks ahead of guests arriving - or hand-craft a six-pack with a difference. The capper allows you to seal the drinks, keeping in the fizz, and throw them in an esky. They're like a home-made and upmarket take on the big-selling, expensive concoctions you'll find in the bottle store.
There's several advantages in going down this road – guests can help themselves, you don't have to worry about anyone tucking into your liquor cabinet, and if you carefully measure each drink, guests are better able to keep track of what they drinking.
Some winning combinations to inspire you are: rum and sarsaparilla; rum, whiskey or vodka, fresh lime and ginger beer; Campari and grapefruit soda; Fernet Branca and chinotto; or the classic G&T. The options are endless. Experiment with your own mixes and because you're preparing these ahead of time, no one needs to be subjected to your failures.
The bowl of punch
The subject of punch has been broached in this column before, but still I feel it's an oft-maligned potion that could well do with a second chance and especially at social gatherings such as a barbecue. Now, to clarify, I'm not talking the deadly 'jungle juice' you may have been exposed to at university parties, but rather something much more civilised.
Punch again is a something you can prepare ahead of social gatherings and have stored in the fridge in bowls, jugs, even empty jars, to be topped with ice just before serving. Guests should be encouraged to help themselves, with suitable forewarning about the potency of your secret mix.
Here's a recipe of one of my favourites:
Backyard Gin Punch
About ½ dozen lemons (to yield about 1 cup of lemon juice)
1 cup castor sugar
1 700ml bottle of London dry gin
1 cup boiling water
2 litres of sparkling mineral water or soda
A good handful of mint plucked from your garden
A punnet of blackberries
Method: Peel three of your lemons and reserve for juicing. Place the peels in a large punch bowl and cover with the sugar. Muddle the peel with the sugar using a wooden spoon or rolling pin. Add your boiling water and stir to dissolve, then allow to cool. Juice your lemons and add along with the gin, then refrigerate the mix for at least four hours.
To finish, top with sparkling water, slip in a large iceberg (place a steel mixing bowl in the freezer to create this), and garnish with the mint and blackberries. Serve in small cups.
I don't think we'll ever see the end of beer being served at a barbecue and neither would I wish for it. I'll be enjoying a few pale ales for the remainder of the summer, or maybe wash down a steak with one of the Barossa's finest. But mix things up, give something new a go – variety is grand and there will always be a constant should you lose your way; a snag on white buttered bread is unquestionably delicious.
What's your favourite barbecue beverage?