Help me break out of the straight/rocks rut
April 16, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Cocktail Filter: Help me triangulate the right stuff to buy so that I can optimize my available booze

I'm not exactly asking you help me stock my bar, rather help me figure out a few things by way of mixers and liqueurs that will help me make the most of what I have on hand.

In my cabinet is a hodgepodge of stuff, like:
Tito's Vodka
Railean Rum
Old Overholt Rye
Jim Beam Bourbon
Glenfiddich Scotch
and an ancient generic bottle of brandy I pretty much just use for cooking
The only liqueur I have on hand is Sambuca

So what can I buy that will give me the most drink-making flexibility with the above liquors? I am more into classics like the stuff my granddad drank during business meetings in the middle of last century. Graddad was a damn fine guy.

Yes, I do drink these by themselves (or in the cases of bourbon and scotch, with water or soda.) That's primarily the only way I drink them. But I'm trying to branch out in mature, non-foofy ways. Can you mixologists out there help me?
posted by cross_impact to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Pick up sour mix and either sweet or dry vermouth, depending on your preferences. Ginger ale and coke are good standard mixers to have around as well. Are you looking for other mixer suggestions or other types of booze?
posted by craven_morhead at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep it simple, I say. Tonic water for the vodka. Rum seems to like fruit juices as a mixer for the most part. Toss some limes in there for your vokda/tonics.

No gin? :|
posted by jquinby at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2010

Bitters, a bottle of sweet vermouth, a good lime juice (or a bunch of limes and a juicer and/or reamer) and some fine sugar or simple syrup premade, and you'll have enough ingredients for many many classic cocktails.

This Mark Bittman article is an invaluable resource, as you start to experiment. The basic Bittman cocktail recipe = Liquor + Sweet (sugar, sweet vermouth, apple brandy, lots of bartenders recently use Cherry Heering, triple sec, OJ, etc) + Sour (sour mix, lemon, lime, bitters, some sour-ish liqueur) + Garnish (mint, orange, lime, sprig of rosemary) (+ optional water (splash of water, ice, club soda)) = a vast variety of cocktails, for instance: Gimlet, Screwdriver, Margarita, Manhattan, Cosmo, Kamikaze, Sidecar, etc etc etc...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would only buy 3 bottles of liquor: dry and sweet vermouth, and a bottle of Angostura bitters. You can mix these with the vodka, bourbon, or rye in a variety of fun and interesting ways.

The cocktails I think you're thinking of consist of 4 primary ingredients: liquor, something sweet, bitters, and something to garnish it with. e.g. an old fashioned is whiskey, simple syrup, angostura bitters, and an orange slice.

Aside from the booze, just be sure to have a good supply of simple syrup, citrus, and if you're like me and love Manhattans, boozy marichino cherries (my favourite part of a manhattan is the boozy cherry you get at the end).
posted by chicago2penn at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2010

pickman's next top model beat me to it...
posted by chicago2penn at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2010

Bitters and simple syrup, as said above. Preferably both Angostura and Peychaud's.
posted by jalexc at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2010

There's a database called "Webtender" where you can plug in what you already have and it will generate a list of drinks you can make with it and possibly a couple of other ingredients you might not have. I suppose if enough of the drinks recommended the same thing, you know what to buy in order to round out your cabinet.
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:25 AM on April 16, 2010

Sweet Vermouth
Cherry Heering

Angosutura and Pechaud's bitters
posted by kaseijin at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2010

I am sure your granddad was a damn fine good. And since he was, for the love of God, respect his memory and get some gin. :)

It's not summer without it.

Yes, I'm adding a smiley to seem less like an ass, but I'm also totally serious.

(looks outside, realizes it's been sunny in Chicago for a while now, and that it's time to switch from brown to clear liquid in his glass, smiles)

I was also going to recommend that Mark Bittman article. I have another one that's even more simple cut out at home (God, I'm really starting to resent my life pre-Evernote) and will try to find it here. I'm not that much of a drinker at home, but following the simple, classic rules really makes me seem like I know what I'm doing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2010

damn fine guy, damn it

I'm sure he was also a damn fine good... whatever that means.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2010

The other answers have covered plenty, but I just want to add: Citrus juice and simple syrup will result in drinks that taste worlds better than drinks made with that liquified-Jolly-Rancher crap known as sour mix. This isn't a difference you need to be some kind of cocktail connoisseur to notice, trust me. Remember, friends don't let friends use sour mix.

Simple syrup is easy. Grab a small jar or bottle, fill halfway-ish with sugar, top off with water. Give it a shake and let it sit for a while. If it's still cloudy, shake some more. Keep it in the fridge. As for the citrus juice part, just pick up something like this and some lemons/limes. Half a fruit will give you in the neighborhood of 1/2oz of juice.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would nth the gingerale, many of my favorite at home drinks are highballs with gingerale or cocktails that use ginger ale as the sweetener. Its really great stuff in my opinion.
posted by Carillon at 12:13 PM on April 16, 2010

With bitters and soda, you can make Old Fashioneds, currently among my favorites. I make them with rye and scotch, but have substituted rum in a pinch.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:24 PM on April 16, 2010

Yeah-- avoid "sour mix" at all cost. Rose's Lime juice gets a b-minus on flavor, but some people like it. I really like Nellie and Joe's Key Lime Juice and superfine sugar. Also - don't use confectioner's sugar as a substitute for superfine sugar - it'll turn your drinks all cloudy. (It has cornstarch in it.)
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:42 PM on April 16, 2010

Fee Brothers bitters, in addition to Peychaud's and the easily available Angostura! Fee Brothers "old-fashion" bitters make the best Old-Fashioneds. Except for their Whiskey-Barrel aged bitters, which I had once at a Cool Bar in Brooklyn. They also make grapefruit, orange, rubarb bitters... I've only tried orange.

Peychaud's, by the way, is also good in vodka or gin on the rocks.

Simple syrup is easy to make at home -- dissolve sugar in an equal amount of water over low heat. Pour into jar. Keep in fridge.

Buy a thing to make lemon twists with -- I don't know what it's called.

Get a little bottle of St. Germain: they sell them in almost airplane size bottles. A little sploosh in vodka with a lemon twist = yummy.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:03 PM on April 16, 2010

After bitters (I'd start with Angostura, Peychaud's and Orange (Fee Bros is good, but I prefer the Angostura Orange)), good vermouth is your most important mixer. I like Punt E Mes for sweet, and the new Noilly Prat dry is very nice. Boissierre is another good brand, and Vya is a great premium brand.

With those you can make your Manhattans, Old Fashioneds.

Then you need gin. It will round out your liquour collection and open up all the classic cocktails.

Next, I'd get some sweet mixing liqueurs, Cointreau (unlocking most drinks involving citrus) and Benedictine to start (with that brandy and the rye you now have the components of a Vieux Carre). Lillet would round out the set.

In order after that, if I were building the collection.

Campari (opens up the Negroni, Boulevardier, and Americano)
Green Chartreuse (one of my favourites - Limbo - 1 part each Rye Whiskey, Green Chartreuse, Benedictine, and Lemon Juice. Up with a twist)
Maraschino (with the Chartreuse allows for the Last Word and the Final Ward, as well as the Aviation (modern version) )
Pastis or Absinthe (to allow for the Corpse Reviver no 2 and any number of other classics)

Once you've gotten all of these you can make most of the classics (at this point with the right mixers you could make a Singapore Sling) and have a lot of flexibility for experimentation. I rarely find the need for mixing spirits beyond them if I'm making classic style cocktails.

After that, it's mostly branching out and finding variations of the basic flavours:

Carpano Antica
Yellow Chartreuse

But this all really depends on personal taste.
posted by Jawn at 4:21 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bartender says: TRIPLE SEC.

Good triple sec. PatrĂ³n Citronge is quite good. Bols is the workhorse and quite affordable. Cointreau is for top shelf. Grand Marnier has brandy, and is best (I think) as a float on top or ULTRA premium drinks.

DO NOT buy the plastic bottles of no-alcohol HFCS syrup that gets labeled "Triple Sec".

Per Gary Regan, the New Orleans Sour family of drinks follows the same basic formula:
2 parts base spirit
1 part triple sec
1 part fresh citrus juice

Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass.
Brandy + TS + lemon = Sidecar
Tequila + TS + lime = Margarita
Rum + TS + lime = Daiquiri
Rum + Gin + TS + lemon = Maiden's Prayer
Brandy + Gin + TS + Lemon = Between the Sheets

You can "sour" just about anything by making your own sour mix. Whiskey sour, Brandy Sour, etc. Serve over ice. Add soda water to the sour and you have a "Collins" (it likes a tall glass and ice).

Nthing bitters. Angostura, Peychaud's, and Regan's Orange are my standards. Mix around with putting them in everything. See how you like them. A good way to familiarize yourself with bitters is to try a couple of splashes over ice with soda water, learn the characteristics. Appropriate use of bitters can make ghetto ingredients and plastic cups come to life.

Also N'thing sweet and dry vermouth. Get friendly with Manhattans and Martinis. A "perfect" version of either is 1/2 dry, 1/2 sweet.

Tonic & lime for the vodka. Ginger ale + vodka + lime is a Moscow Mule.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:24 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

nthing the anti-recommendation for sour mix. Squeezing your own lemons/limes is easy, and makes a world of difference. Simple syrup, as recommended above, is important, but is also not something you exactly need to buy specifically.

Triple sec, bitters, and dry vermouth, as mentioned above, are good standbys, and go a long ways. I find sweet vermouth to be a more variable taste in mixed drinks---try before you buy.

Cherry brandy is a good addition to a fair number of drinks, eg the most excellent Communist.

I'm a big promoter of elderflower cordial and creme de violette, though these are more advanced mixers. Elderflower in particular makes for some ridiculously good Gimlets.
posted by PMdixon at 6:04 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Advanced in the above should probably be niche, upon reflection.
posted by PMdixon at 6:04 PM on April 16, 2010

Nthing bitters (aromatic bitters, like Angostura), Chery Heering, Benedictine. And seconding brandied cherries, preferably homemade.

In our house, almost nothing goes faster than Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth. Comes in a big 1L bottle, but we still manage to use a bottle within a couple months. We keep ours in the wine fridge so it'll stay good a little longer.

In the barware category, strongly, strongly recommend checking out some of the barware from - especially the Japanese mixing glasses and bar spoons, which are really excellent.
posted by PandaMcBoof at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2010

Heartily nth-ing recommendations of real limes, real lemons, homemade simple syrup, a selection of bitters, and both sweet and dry vermouth. (Jawn has good advice.)

I also recommend buying the smaller bottles of vermouth. Vermouth is a fortified wine and won't last forever once opened. Because it's fortified, it can last a few weeks in the bottle, but give it a sniff after a while. You can definitely tell the difference between a just-opened bottle and an already-opened bottle.

Additionally, in terms of maraschino cherries, if you don't want to make your own and want to buy them, don't buy the artificially colored ones sugary ones that go on banana splits. Try to find real maraschino cherries: whole pitted Marasca cherries candied with Marasca syrup, no dyes, no artificial colors. The brand I like is Luxardo but it's pricey and can be hard to find.
posted by kathryn at 4:06 PM on April 18, 2010

« Older Help me replace my shower door "thingie"   |   take it easy Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.