Liqueurs & Mixers

So many bottles, so little time!

“Pretty drinks are made from the tears of sad butterflies.”

- I think Mike Tyson said that!

Let’s Mix It Up!

a collage of stunning cocktails and extravagant garnishes
a collage of stunning cocktails and extravagant garnishes

When it comes to liqueurs and cordials, you don't have to buy the most expensive brands or bottles, in fact, I find you can skimp. For example, when it comes to Elderflower liqueur, you do not need to buy the expensive St. Germain’s. Lesser-known names taste almost identical at half the price. The same goes for Midori, Baileys Irish Cream, and so on.

Liqueurs, Mixers, & Sweeteners…

Some of my bitters, atomizers, dropper bottles...

My favorite and most used bottles...

Vermouth… Used in many cocktails; I like to always keep a bottle of sweet vermouth and extra dry vermouth on hand. If a cocktail calls for dry vermouth, I just mix half sweet and half extra dry. And like wine, vermouth does not last long once opened. Do yourself a favor and write the date on your vermouth bottles when you first open them. And please keep them refrigerated!

Pro Tip… Vermouth will only stay fresh for one to two months, and then just OK up to three months. After that, I would throw it out.

Orange You Happy… Dry Orange Curacao, Triple Sec, Blue Curacao, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier - all of which are part of the same, orange-flavored family, but with subtle differences. And of course, the oddball here is the Blue Curacao, which surprise – is blue, but tastes just like Triple Sec. Grand Marnier is the richest one and the only one I would ever consider sipping straight.

Red Alert… Campari, Aperol, and Amaro Nonino are three bittersweet bright red Italian liqueurs that I use all the time. There are other types of amaro, but Nonino is my favorite. Campari is extremely bitter and takes a while to get used to. It's kind of like sushi... the first time you try it, you find it disgusting. The second time, you tolerate it. The third time you start to like it, and by the fourth time, you are hooked! Aperol makes a great substitute if you find it too bitter!

Assorted… Licor 43 (vanilla flavor), Chambord, Amaretto, Irish Cream, Coffee liqueur (I prefer Mr. Black, which is less sweet than the popular Kahlua). Frangelico (hazelnut), Creme de Cacao (chocolate liqueur - comes in white and brown), Elderflower liqueur, Cherry liqueur, Banana liqueur, Melon liqueur (think Midori), and Peach Schnapps - all of these come in handy.

Bitters… By themselves, bitters taste nasty, bitter to be exact! They are mostly alcohol but packed with herbs and spices. Once mixed into a cocktail or floated on top, they can provide the finishing touch. They will turn an average cocktail into an elevated, aromatic, even exotic cocktail with a kick! Think about the perfect French fry, but without any salt, or picture a salad without any dressing. They just would not be complete or even satisfying. Bitters are to cocktails what condiments are to food, and they come in a wide assortment of flavors.

Release the Kraken… So, I suggest getting yourself a bottle of Angostura bitters, Peychaud's bitters, and Orange bitters. You can live without the rest, although I also use chocolate and cherry bitters in a few cocktails as well. But I use the first three constantly; they are extremely popular and used in many of the cocktails I make! Usually, just 1 to 3 dashes per cocktail is all you need - we are talking tiny drops here folks.

Non-Alcoholic Mixers/Sweeteners… Common non-alcoholic mixers include club soda, tonic water, ginger-ale, ginger beer, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and grapefruit soda. Sweeteners are also a huge part of making cocktails. The most common ones are Simple Syrup, Demerara Syrup, and Agave nectar. I use all three. Agave - mostly for tequila cocktails, demerara for bourbon cocktails, and simple syrup for the rest. Just keep them refrigerated once you open them.

Pro Tips… You can make your own simple syrup with only two ingredients. Use equal parts sugar and water, such as a ½ cup each. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar has been dissolved. Let cool, then pour into a glass jar and seal tightly with a lid. Keep it refrigerated, and it will last for 30 days, probably much longer. Some recipes call for using a “Rich Simple Syrup,” which is a mixture of two parts sugar to one part water. It just provides a richer, sweeter taste, but has the advantage of a longer shelf life thanks to the higher sugar content.

Use Real Grenadine… Speaking of sweeteners, please do not use the cheap, bright red grenadine bottles from the grocery store. These bottles are packed with high fructose corn syrup, which is just so bad for you! You want to use "Real" grenadine, which, surprise, comes from pomegranates - not cherry juice! Oh, did you already know that? So, it was just me that thought grenadine came from cherry juice? Fine. Moving on, you can either make your own grenadine or buy it online, although some liquor stores may carry it. But I’m telling you, once you use the good stuff, you will never want to go back to the cheap stuff.

Pro Tip… Get yourself some dark brandied cherries instead of those nuclear red maraschinos from the grocery store - although keep those on hand, they do serve a purpose; mostly for sweet, tropical drinks or sundaes. If you were to put one of those in, let’s say a Manhattan, then you would be laughed out of town. Your name would be “Mud.” The really good cherries can be found in some liquor stores, but mostly online. Quality name brands include Luxardo, Fabbri, Filthy Black, Bada Bing.

Now, there is no need to go out and buy all of this at once. Take your time! Only buy what you need or what you want. I suggest starting slow and try waiting for the items on your wish list to go on sale before buying them!

Let’s Talk About Booze - Base Spirits...