Versatile Liqueur Bottles to Stock for Your Home BarBy Jake Emen
The old adage says you should work smarter, not harder. With some handy simple home cocktail tips under your belt, now it’s time to do just that. Make more with less while maximizing the resources you have on hand. It may seem as if you need dozens of different bottles to make a diverse range of cocktails. However, the addition of a single bottle can open a world of possibilities with the rest of your stock. A versatile liqueur will help stretch out your home bar and build a multitude of cocktails and drink variations. This will allow you to build a multitude of tasty cocktails and drink variations.
Given that you likely have Campari and a bottle of vermouth around already, or don’t need as much advice with those bottles at least, we asked a few bartenders for their picks of what to choose next and how to use it.
A bottle of Chartreuse is an investment that will quickly pay for itself, and that includes whether you opt for the more traditional Green Chartreuse or its partner in crime, Yellow Chartreuse. “Either one will do, but the intensity of the 110 proof Green may be a bit much for some,” advises Joaquín Simó of Pouring Ribbons in New York. “Yellow Chartreuse has recently had its proof bumped back up to 86, from 80, and that small difference in alcohol content has dried this honeyed Alpine herbal liqueur just the right amount.”
While Simó acknowledges it’s expensive compared to most liqueurs, it’s worth noting that a little goes a long way. “A mere teaspoon can transform your Martinis or Champagne cocktails, and a wee quarter ounce can have quite an impact on a Daiquiri, Collins or Sour. It’s a fantastic cheat code to add immense levels of depth and complexity in even tiny amounts, and it plays beautifully with all manner of spirits without overwhelming them.”
With gin, lime juice, and this versatile liqueur, you’re three quarters of the way to a Last Word. Furthermore, placing Chartreuse alongside rye whiskey and apple brandy gives you the venerable Diamondback.
There’s a lot of confusion in the triple sec and curacao family of liqueurs in terms of what’s what. But without diving into entirely too many geeky details on the subject, suffice it to say that one quality bottle from this domain will prove to be a boon to your home bar. “Cointreau is a tried and true modifier for all spirits from vodka to rum to scotch,” says Lucinda Sterling of Middle Branch in New York. “Its floral and fruity, yet dry and tart, characteristics add to the base spirit without taking over.”
You’re likely familiar with Cointreau being used for Margaritas, and therefore you should consider that to be an open license to deploy it alongside agave in any number of cocktails. It’s also a key ingredient in the Sidecar. Sterling recommends you try the Chelsea Sidecar, replacing the cognac with gin, for a new riff. Perhaps this variation works better with what you have on hand already.
Luna Aperitivo, an aperitif liqueur from Don Ciccio & Figli, is made from an Italian recipe dating to 1894. “Bitterness is one of my favorite flavor profiles in general and Luna is an amazing representation of that in its expression,” says Brad Langdon of The Dabney in Washington D.C.
You can deploy Luna in classic spirituous sippers as well as tall drinks topped up with tonic or club soda. “It has a unique elegance balancing bitter, floral, and sweeter notes, adding complexity and depth of flavor to any Negroni, Boulevardier or Spritz,” Langdon says. “It’s a very versatile liqueur to have in any professional or at home bartender’s arsenal.”
Langdon is supporting locals by selecting this D.C. producer. But if you can’t find this particular bottle, consider the category at large. Alternative bitter liqueurs from craft producers include options such as St. George’s Bruto Americano and Leopold Bros. Aperitivo Liqueur.
Within the world of fortified wine is the subcategory of aromatized wine, “an ingredient that I always have a bottle of in my fridge,” says Julia Momose of Kumiko in Chicago. “My current bottle of choice is Lillet Blanc. It is luscious and fruity without being too sweet, balanced with bitter quinine and a keen acidity.”
Lillet Blanc /Photo Credit: Lillet
While she’s content sipping it on the rocks with club soda, or as a sonic, deployed with a mix of soda and tonic, the ingredient also plays a vital role in several classics. “It’s a key component in fun cocktails like the Corpse Reviver #2, as well as the Vesper cocktail,” Momose says. “It mixes well and plays fair with others in everything from a Manhattan variation to something like a bitter spritz. I also enjoy mixing Lillet with mezcal and Suze (a bitter French aperitif) for a smoky, spirituous sipper.”
Passoã Passion Fruit Liqueur
A lesser known entrant that can instantly liven up your repertoire of libations is Passoã, a Brazilian passion fruit liqueur that’s beginning to take hold stateside though it’s been around for several decades. “Passoã is a passion fruit liqueur that’s a little like a Swiss Army knife for cocktails,” says Fernando Morales of El Vaquero in Columbus, Ohio. He suggests mixing the versatile liqueur with tequila and orange juice for a twist on the Tequila Sunrise.
As it goes well with agave in general, you’ll want to try it out elsewhere in cocktails like the Paloma. Passoã also plays nicely with rum, and can work wonders in a daiquiri, whether the traditional or frozen variety. Since a little bit of an escape with a frozen drink in hand is never a bad idea when you’re at home for an extended period, try it out in a Piña Colada as well. Of course, hailing from Brazil, you’ll want to go ahead and mix it up with some cachaça should you have any available.
Ready to grab your own bottle of versatile liqueur?
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