Last week, I discussed how to make cocktails when you have precious few ingredients. I made an argument that brown spirits are the most versatile for the impoverished home mixer. And finally, I discussed some 1-, 2-, and 3-bottle cocktails you can make with a limited bar.
Today, I'll continue in this vein. I'll discuss what to do if you have unusual spirits around, and what cocktails you can make with various combinations of spirits.
So, what I'll do is, I'll say, "If you have gin, limes, and Bottle X, you can make these cocktails."
Of course, the problem is that I don't know what you have in your liquor cabinet, so it's hard to tailor specific recommendations. What I can do is suggest certain bottles that you might have, and then discuss what you can make. Feel free to mention other oddities in the comments: bottles you have around that you're just not sure what to do with.
But First ...
Make sure you have lemons, limes, Angostura bitters, soda water, and sugar. Those basic ingredients are a decent starting point, along with gin and bourbon or rye. Having orange bitters around would be helpful, too, but don't let that stop you from reading on...
Got a bottle of gin? Good. With that and the basic pantry ingredients above, plus one other bottle, there are a number of excellent cocktails you can make.
Let's start with Chartreuse. There are two types: green and yellow. Both are herbal liqueurs; the differences are, first, that green is 110 proof (55% alcohol by volume), whereas yellow is 40% ABV; and, second, that yellow is moderately sweeter and milder tasting than green.
Chartreuse is a natural pairing with gin; the herbal flavors of the liqueur marry well with the botanicals in gin. So cocktails pairing gin and Chartreuse are fairly common. One of my favorites is the Green Ghost. It's similar to the justly famous Last Word, in that it contains gin, green Chartreuse, and lime juice, but the Green Ghost does not contain the maraschino liqueur that you'll find in the Last Word.
Speaking of maraschino liqueur, it's another common foil for gin. Now, maraschino liqueur is an interesting beast. It has very little to do with so-called maraschino cherries, those neon-red or -green aberrations that you find in many bars. Maraschino is made from the flesh and crushed pits of Marasca cherries. The pits lend an almond-like flavor to the liqueur, and it's this flavor that pairs so well with gin. (Don't believe me? Try having almonds as a snack alongside a bracingly cold martini. Or even as a garnish for the same.)
A popular cocktail using gin, maraschino, and lemon juice is the the Aviation. Now, folks who know a little bit about cocktails may say, "Wait, Dietsch, the Aviation also has creme de violette," and I would say, yes, yes it does.
But what I'll tell you now is that I think creme de violette is overrated as an Aviation ingredient. Some say it lends the drink a hint of blue that reminds its drinker of the sky outside an airplane window. But the problem is, that's only true if you add more creme de violette than the recipe calls for. At the quantity of a teaspoon or two per drink, you won't get much coloration. And if you do add enough to turn the drink a blueish color, you'll find that the cocktail is far too sweet to be enjoyable. And, frankly, too floral.
Nope, I'll argue that the Aviation is just fine without the damn creme de violette, and guess what? I just saved you the $22 bucks you'd have spent on it. Go buy yourself another bottle of Rittenhouse.
Back to gin. If you have some sweet vermouth and Campari, that's easy. Make a Negroni! But that's not your only choice, of course. How about a Lucien Gaudin? You'll just need some Cointreau and dry vermouth.
Incidentally, other bitter liqueurs also play well in Negroni-like drinks, so if you have something like Averna or Cynar around instead, feel free to swap them in for the Campari.
Benedictine? Hm. I might have to pass. There's the Singapore Sling, but that one requires cherry brandy as well, so it's a bit out of the remit of this post. There's little that works well with just gin, Benedictine, and citrus or anything else from your grocery run. Benedictine plays better with brown spirits, so I'll discuss it more in a later piece.
Next time I tackle this idea, I'll discuss what you can make with whiskey and whatever else you might drag down from your parents' attic.
But for now, it's your turn. What dusty bottles have you found somewhere and wondered, "What the heck can I make with that?" Let's see if you can stump me.