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It happens to almost all of us (and to some of us eager beavers a little more often than others): A wave of mixological ambition overtakes you and you pick up an obscure liquor. Or perhaps you spot a bottle with an extra-pretty label on the shelf and can’t resist. Either way, you get it home, maybe you make one drink with it, and then it gets shuttled to the back of your cupboard and languishes, unused, because you have absolutely no idea what to do with it. Luckily, most kinds of booze last practically forever, but still, you don’t want bottles of interesting things to go to waste simply because you’re floundering for ideas.
I polled a bunch of my friends, employees, and the Food52 editors to learn which types of bottles they’re struggling to use. Here are some solutions for what to do with them!
Vermouths and other fortified-aromatized wines (i.e. Quinquinas, Chinatos, Gentians…)
If you’re struggling to use up vermouth, I’m not convinced you actually like cocktails. Many, many classic cocktails call for vermouth. Give a Negroni or a Manhattan a whirl and see if you can’t start to make your way through your bottle of sweet vermouth.
Martinis are, of course, the ultimate home for dry vermouth, but if that’s not your style, try a Lucien Gaudin instead: 1 ounce gin and a 1/2 ounce each of dry vermouth, Campari, and Cointreau, stirred. It’s boozy and elegant, but not overly dry.
- 1 ounce London dry-style gin
- 1/2 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
- 1/2 ounce Cointreau
- 1/2 ounce Campari
- A strip of lemon peel with no zest
If you find yourself with blanc (or bianco) vermouth and don’t know what to do, well, I think you’re in luck—it’s one of my favorite cocktail ingredients! Replace a portion of the sweet vermouth in any cocktail recipe with blanc vermouth to make a lightened-up version of that drink. Or add 1/2 to 1 ounce of it to fruity drinks to give them a sophisticated tinge, like in a Straw Dog: Muddle a strawberry or peach slice in a cocktail shaker; add 1 1/2 ounces blended Scotch, 1 ounce blanc vermouth, 3/4 ounce lemon juice, and 1/2 ounce simple syrup. Shake with ice and strain into a coupe. Drink all summer.
The other fortified-aromatized wines are a huge group that include all sorts of things with esoteric names like Byrrh, Kina l’Avion d’Or, Cocchi Americano, Bonal Gentiane, Lillet, Chinato, etc. All of these can be used similarly to vermouth, though they will each give a cocktail their own distinct character, so you have to have a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure attitude. You can also use any of them to replace a portion of the vermouth in a cocktail and see what happens. If all else fails, all vermouths and other aromatized wines make great aperitifs if you serve them over ice, perhaps with a splash of soda water and a wedge of citrus.
- 1 fresh strawberry or slice of ripe peach
- 1 1/2 ounces blended Scotch—a non-peaty variety (or bourbon, especially if you're using a peach slice)
- 1 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Sherry keeps becoming more and more popular with bartenders as a way to add a complex, nutty je ne sais quoi to cocktails. There are a lot of different types of sherry and it’s hard to keep track of them. They range from dry and toasty, like a Fino or Amontillado, to dark and sticky-sweet, like Pedro Ximinez. I personally find the drier sherries easier to use in cocktails.
Play with adding a spoonful or two to cocktails with vermouth, or in cocktails with apricot liqueur (sherry has an affinity for apricot) to add a layer of complexity. You can use a spoonful of sweet sherry to replace a little of the sweetener in classic cocktails, where it will bring out the fruit flavors in whichever base spirit you’re using. Or, you know, drink it straight, after dinner, which is what it was made for! (And dry sherry is awfully good in creamy soups…)
More: You know where else sherry is delicious? In lentils! It's a genius move.
There are a few different floral liqueurs, including St. Germain, Crème de Violette, Crème Yvette, and Dimmi Liquore. These liqueurs add a lovely fragrance to drinks, but are easily overpowering and soapy-tasting, so the key with them is to use them in small amounts. I rarely use more than a 1/4 ounce in a drink. But they’re great in drinks that are citrusy and have a base spirit that is herbaceous itself, like gin or tequila.
Replace 1/4 ounce of simple syrup in your gimlet or margarita with a floral liqueur. Then maybe add a bit of grapefruit juice on top of that to gussy it up even more! Add a spoonful of a floral liqueur to lemonade. Or add a splash to your mimosa. And of course, there’s always the Aviation, which is a great way to use up both Crème de Violette and Maraschino liqueur.
Weird herbal liqueurs are quite possibly my very favorite category of spirit. I like weird things, and I like things that are made from secret recipes guarded by monks. Anyway, in this category I include liqueurs like Chartreuse, Benedictine, Strega, and Genepy des Alpes, to name a handful. These liqueurs all hold sweet and savory flavors in dramatic tension and add a lot of flair to cocktails. Herbal liqueurs give amazing dimension to boozy stirred cocktails like the Vieux Carre or the Bijou (like a Negroni but with Green Chartreuse instead of Campari).
But my favorite place for them is in cocktails with a lot of lime, or, somewhat weirdly in my opinion, pineapple. One of Benedictine’s highest callings is in a good Singapore Sling. And of course, Chartreuse belongs in a Last Word. And the Last Word was made to play with. Switch in Scotch or tequila for the gin in your Last Word; use Genepy instead of Chartreuse; or try using Aperol instead of Luxardo to get an entirely different but equally thrilling cocktail.
Nut liqueurs like Frangelico, Amaretto, Crème de Noyaux, Nocino, and so on can be integrated into all sorts of interesting, elegant cocktails, but personally, I think the very best way to use them is to spike your coffee, hot chocolate, or milkshakes. So there!
Crummy Rail Liquors that Don’t Actually Taste Very Good
This was an interesting category that came up in our discussion of how to use things up, and one that I hadn’t thought of before. (How did you wind up with that big bottle of crummy liquor in the first place?) If something is really gross, it’s not worth it to drink it, in my opinion. Use it as a cleaner (we have a bottle of white whiskey that we bought because it was intriguing, but we didn’t like at all so we use it for wiping down our dry-erase board!) or just dump it. Or, if you can’t quite bring yourself to pour it down the drain, I’d say your best bet is to use it in a big bowl of punch with a ton of fruit juice—think pineapple, orange, lots of lime, and grenadine—to cover up the flavor of the spirit itself.
Is there any drink you can mix up using absolutely anything?
Because there is such a huge diversity of flavors in spirituous beverages, this question is basically the same as Is there any food that tastes good with absolutely anything (from steak to parsnips to Starbursts)? I’d say the answer is no. But you can come close—because there are very, very few spirits that don’t taste good with some lime, sugar, and soda. However, different things will require different proportions, and I’m going to let you figure all that out that on your own.
Confession time: What's the bottle you've been ignoring on your bar cart since you bought it? (And any suggestions for using up any of the above?)