‘If you can make a bowl of pasta, you can definitely make a good cocktail’: Oisin Davis

With his new book, the cocktail king is on a mission to demystify mixed drinks and teach us how to stir them up at home

Oisin Davis: ‘Cocktails are a lot like cooking – all the home cook needs to get by is a few solid recipes they can fall back on.’ Picture: Jo Murphy

They say all the best parties finish up in the kitchen, but Oisin Davis wants you to know that all the best cocktails can start there too. That’s because he’s on a mission to democratise cocktail making and to help the public realise that they don’t need a PhD in mixology to whip up a tasty drink at home.

He’s titled his new book Irish Kitchen Cocktails for just that reason: he believes great cocktails can be made at home using standard kitchen equipment.

“It’s fun to watch a skilled bartender perfectly execute a complex drink, but really cocktails are a lot like cooking. While a chef will do a better job than a home cook of making dinner, all the home cook needs to get by is a few solid recipes they can fall back on,” he says.

Davis is well known in the Irish drinks industry as a founding father of modern Irish cocktail culture. From setting up and managing the Sugar Club in Dublin in 1999 – it was the first live music venue in the capital to have cocktails and table service – to operating a drinks consultancy today that creates cocktail programmes for bars and restaurants, he’s seen all ends of the drinks industry.

“I’ve been writing cocktail recipes for the guts of 15 years now, but I can still say that cocktails are relatively new here and there is a lack of awareness of what can be done with them,” he says.

“Back in 1999 I’d just come from living in San Francisco and working in different parts of the States, and I was excited to get a proper cocktail-friendly venue up and running.

“But when I’d ring up reps of drinks companies here to see what could be done, they’d hang up on me. They couldn’t see past the existing drinks culture, but of course over time I’ve been vindicated.

“We’re increasingly seeing that people would rather have a smaller number of higher quality drinks instead of a feed of pints.”

In the US, Davis experienced a more mature cocktail culture. When he visited family for dinner in New Jersey or New York, he’d invariably be offered a pre-dinner mixed drink. When he went to a restaurant, the first question asked would be: ‘Would sir like a cocktail while reading the menu?’

“But back in Dublin, that wasn’t done. Historically we did of course have cocktails, but they were quite niche. We have an opportunity now to really improve, and the reason is that we’re sitting on some of the best spirits in the world,” he says.

After he moved to Ireland, Davis’ appreciation for the quality of the spirits made here intensified, and he began to ask where the love was for Irish-made drinks in our bars, hotels and restaurants.

“I have strong feelings on this topic. I feel there’s a big disconnect between the hospitality industry and the drinks industry when it comes to pairing native Irish drinks with native Irish food,” he says.

“Why is the chef on the telly so keen about cooking Irish salmon but then recommending a French wine to pair with it? Why would a restaurant note the Irish provenance of their dishes but have zero Irish drinks products behind their bar? Why aren’t cocktail bars mixing up Irish whiskeys or gins for their signature drinks?”

Davis points out that a long-standing and active cocktail culture is very much the norm in the US and around Europe, and that Ireland is an outlier in this regard, despite the fact that as a nation, we produce some of the world’s best known spirits and liquors.

“Baileys is the number one liquor on the planet, and Jameson is one of the top ten premium spirits in the world – not just in whiskies, but in spirits full stop. There are now 40 Irish distilleries making whiskey here, and we also make gin, poitín, vodka, rum, liqueur, mead, vermouth and fruit distillates,” he says.

“In the same way that the Spanish know their Riojas and the Germans know their native beers, we should be up to speed with our Irish spirits. Understanding the basics of cocktails will allow you to explore these Irish spirits in delicious ways.”

The key to a good cocktail, according to Davis, is bringing together three distinct elements – balance, ingredients and dilution.

“Balance is about using the best ingredients to get the best flavours, ideally using seasonal influences, and getting things like dilution right. You don’t want an overmixed cocktail and you don’t want it undermixed either. These are all key lessons I try to share in the book,” he says.

“A good cocktail usually needs about 20 per cent dilution with water for example, whether it’s shaken or stirred, or mixed in a blender. That just means using the correct amount of ice, and shaking or stirring for the right amount of time.”

He explains that when a cocktail is shaken, stirred or blended with ice, more is going on than just a reduction in the temperature; a certain amount of water is also being added to the drink.

“These three things are pretty much essential in all cocktail making – using the best ingredients, getting the balance of flavours right and getting the dilution right. Do these correctly, and you end up with a tasty drink that’s also nice and cold,” he says.

“But it’s not rocket science, and if you’re able to cook a bowl of pasta, something like a half-decent bolognese, then you can definitely make a good cocktail.”

Davis’s book comes with the tag line ‘60 drinks you can make at home with everyday equipment’, and includes sections themed around the various occasions when readers might want to have a quality cocktail recipe in their back pocket.

The Frozen Blender Cocktails chapter makes use of a smoothie maker to help prepare drinks like frozen Jameson, ginger ale and lime, frozen poitín piña colada and frozen Club Orange gin fizz.

The Fridge Door Cocktails chapter details how to make cocktails in bulk that can be stored in the fridge to take the work out of having a mid-week pre-dinner drink at home, or to prepare in advance of a party.

And for those times when something sweet is required, there’s an entire chapter on Irish cream dessert cocktails including an Irish cream espresso martini and a Five Farms frozen mochaccino.

“The main thing is that they’re all accessible. There’s a smashing recipe for a solo cider spritz, which is made in the same glass you serve it in. It’s just one part whiskey, two parts dry cider and three parts ginger ale, and all you need to make it is a spirit measure. Then there are others that are more complex, and might require a couple of hours for the ingredients to infuse in a punch bowl for a party say,” says Davis.

“I think Irish people are embracing more and more spirits, and in particular they understand the value of premium products. They also realise that a mixed drink doesn’t have to blow your head off – you’re in control of the amount of alcohol,” he says.

Irish Kitchen Cocktails will be published by Nine Bean Rows on October 5, price €18, and will be available from all good bookshops and many independent retailers, as well as at

Oisin Davis will be hosting pop-ups in Cask in Cork on October 11, Taylors Bar in Galway on October 18, and Industry & Co in Dublin on November 3. Keep an eye on @oisindavis and @greatirishbeverages on social for more details


Bertha’s Rickey: this cocktail can be made in bulk ahead of time. Picture: Jo Murphy

Bertha’s Rickey

There are three types of gin drinkers. The first is your regular G&T fan. Their standard-serve gin will be drowned out by the 200ml of tonic water poured into a huge fish-bowl glass.

The second type veers towards simple, spirit-forward cocktails that make the gin shine, not get lost. The third type only drinks it straight. They’re usually distillers who are so psychotically protective of their product that they can only enjoy it neat and on their own.

All three types of gin drinkers are totally cool, although the psychotic distiller can often be zero craic at a dinner party.

Ingredients, makes 14 x 70ml serves

175ml freshly squeezed lime juice (6–10 limes)

1 x 700ml bottle of Bertha’s Revenge Irish Gin

100ml water

2 tbsp caster sugar

Ice cubes

1.5 litres sparkling water

Lime wheels, to garnish


1. Pour the juice into a large jug, then add the gin, water and sugar. Using a hand blender, blitz it for 30 seconds. Pour into a clean one litre swing-top bottle. Label it with the name and date and stick it in your fridge door to chill.

2. For each serve, give the bottle a quick shake. Fill a slim jim or long glass with ice, pour in 70ml of the gin mix and top it up with sparkling water. Garnish with a lime wheel.

3. This will keep for two weeks in your fridge. After you’ve opened it use it within a couple of days, as the lime will start to fade.

Blackwater martini: use Blackwater gin for this martini. Picture: Jo Murphy

Blackwater martini

To the best of my knowledge, the Blackwater Distillery has not made any of their juniper cask-aged gin for a couple of years, but it pops up in the wild every now and then.

If you see a bottle, get it and congratulate yourself for securing the best gin in the world for a martini. Otherwise their classic Blackwater No. 5 Irish Gin is lovely.

Ingredients, makes 10 x 75ml serves

1 x 500ml bottle of Blackwater No. 5 Irish Gin

150ml Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth

1 tablespoon elderflower cordial (try to get the Richmount Cordial Co. brand)

130ml water

Quarter tsp salt

Lemon peels, to garnish


1. Pour the gin, vermouth and elderflower cordial into a large jug and stir with a spoon for 30 seconds. Add the water and salt and stir it all up for another 30 seconds, then decant into a clean one-litre swing-top bottle.

2. Label the bottle with the name of the cocktail and the date, and stick it in your fridge door. After a few hours, you’ll be good to go.

3. When you’re ready to serve, shake the bottle for a few seconds. Pour 75ml of the cocktail into a chilled martini glass. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off a strip of lemon zest and squeeze it into the glass. This will keep in your fridge for a month after you’ve opened it.

Chocolate Riot: a sweet treat. Picture: Jo Murphy

Chocolate Riot

If Supermac’s ever wanted to add a cocktail experience to their fast food outlets, this would be the kind of drink they could roll out from one of their milkshake machines. It would probably cause a riot but it would be some craic all the same.

Ingredients, makes one

35ml Kalak Single Malt Irish Vodka

20ml Kahlúa coffee liqueur

20ml chocolate liqueur

3 tbsp chocolate ice cream

1 martini glass of ice

1 small chocolate Flake bar (or a large one – nobody will judge you), to garnish


1. Pour the vodka, Kahlúa and chocolate liqueur into a NutriBullet or blender. Blitz for five seconds to combine, then add the chocolate ice cream and the ice.

2. Blitz again for three to five seconds, until the ice is no longer chunky. You want this to be the consistency of a slushie. If you blitz it for too long, it will liquify the ice.

3. Pour into your chilled martini glass and garnish with the Flake.

Gunpowder Negroni: Gunpowder Gin works brilliantly in a negroni. Picture: Jo Murphy

Gunpowder Negroni

Cocktails can be seasonal. You might very well want a mango daiquiri while you’re on your summer holliers, but come the winter, such a libation could be the last thing on your mind. But for me, the negroni is the one cocktail I can enjoy any time of the year and anywhere.

Gunpowder Gin from The Shed Distillery in Leitrim has taken the world by storm. Every Irish home should always keep a bottle handy, especially as it works so well in a negroni.

Ingredients, makes 11 x 90ml serves

300ml Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin

300ml sweet Italian vermouth

300ml Campari

100ml water

Ice cubes

Orange slices, to garnish


1. Pour the gin, vermouth and Campari into a large jug to mix it all up. Add the water and stir for 30 seconds. Decant into a clean one-litre swing-top bottle. Label it with the name and date and stick it in your fridge door to chill.

2. When you’re in the mood for a negroni, shake the bottle for a few seconds. Pour 90ml into an iced tumbler and stir it with a teaspoon for ten seconds. Add an orange slice to garnish each serve.

3. This will keep rather nicely for two months in your fridge. After you’ve opened it, use it within a month as the flavours will dissipate.

White Negroni: use Sliabh Liag’s gin in this white negroni. Picture: Jo Murphy

White Negroni

If you’re out on the sesh with a load of people from Donegal, then for the love of God, don’t try to keep up with them if a bottle of poitín is produced. It will not end well for you.

The ‘Forgotten County’ is widely recognised as being the poitín capital of Ireland and their people are well able for it. But thanks to the good folks in Sliabh Liag Distillery in Ardara, Donegal is now known for making some rather delectable whiskey, vodka and gin.

Their An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin is distilled with wild Donegal seaweeds and works magically in a white negroni.

Ingredients, makes 11 x 90ml serves

300ml An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin

300ml Lillet Blanc

300ml Suze

100ml water

Ice cubes

Orange wedges, to garnish


1. Pour the gin, Lillet, Suze and water into a large jug, then stir for 30 seconds. Pour into a clean one-litre swing-top bottle. Label it with the name and date and stick it in your fridge door to chill.

2. For each serve, shake the bottle, then pour 90ml into an iced tumbler and stir with a teaspoon for 10 seconds. Drop in an orange wedge to garnish.

3. This will keep for six months, unopened, in your fridge. After you open it, you will still get another month out of it.