Asking me to pick my favorite cocktail is sort of like asking parents which of their kids is the best. It's a hard question to answer, but deep in my heart, I know. Sorry, Sazerac and Martini, even though I love you so, the Manhattan is easily my favorite drink. So I was surprised that a simple change to this classic drink made me love it even more.
'cocktail ingredients' on Serious Eats
There's just something cozy about pumpkin and spice, and once autumn's arrived, I want to cram pumpkin into everything I eat and drink. Getting pumpkin into a cocktail can be a little messy and goopy, so I like to whip up a batch of pumpkin liqueur to ensure that I can conveniently drink pumpkin pie cocktails for months to come. This recipe doesn't take long, so you can even finish it in time for that Halloween party you're having.
Prohibition did more than inspire an HBO gangster drama about how Steve Buscemi is rich and sleeps with showgirls while people get shot. Making booze illegal changed the way America drank, banishing a lot of popular ingredients to obscurity. One of the cocktail casualties was Swedish Punsch, a liqueur made with citrus, spices, rum, and a southeastern Asian liquor made with sugar cane and red rice called Batavia Arrack.
Making your own honey liqueur is dead simple. You don't have to do anything but heat the honey with some water and then mix it with vodka. I like to let the liqueur sit overnight to ensure the flavors are totally integrated, but if you're truly impatient you can use it right away. As much as I love Bärenjäger, when I compared it side-by-side I liked the homemade stuff just as much and it was a hell of a lot cheaper.
One sure-fire way to start an argument with me is to say that absinthe makes people hallucinate. It doesn't. But if you think it does, you have something in common with French regulators in the early 1900s. Back then, everyone was panicking that absinthe would drive people insane because it contained wormwood. Before more people could succumb to absinthe madness and chop their ear off à la Vincent van Gogh, they outlawed the spirit. (The fact that absinthe was 140 proof and people were drinking it like wine had more than a little to do with the crazy behavior, but I digress.) With absinthe out of the picture, people needed another delicious anise-flavored alcoholic beverage. That's where pastis came in.
Bananas don't get much play in the cocktail world because they're mushy and fibrous, making them impossible to juice and gross to muddle. Even when the blender is out, poor old banana is frequently left out of the cocktail party. But the vibrant, tropical flavor of bananas tastes amazing in drinks, especially ones made with rum.
The first time I tried cherry liqueur, I thought it tasted like cough syrup. For years, I avoided anything made with the stuff because I don't want my cocktails to remind me of sick children. Then one day I ordered a Singapore Sling without really knowing what was in it. When I found out that cherry liqueur played a big part in making this drink so good, I realized that maybe I had stereotyped all cherry liqueurs because of one that was particularly bad (and probably cheap).
Once upon a time, simple syrup wasn't so simple. Instead of using a mixture of just sugar and water, old timey barkeeps would sweeten cocktails with a more viscous sweetener known as gomme or gum syrup.
A good melon liqueur can turn basic club soda into a sophisticated summer cooler or add another layer to a complex tiki drink.
Sometimes when I read about big city bars, I get a little jealous. Part of what inspired me to learn to mix a good drink is that most of the bars within walking distance of my house have deer heads mounted on the wall and bartenders who get a little confused if your cocktail isn't a Rum & Coke, Gin & Tonic, or other drink whose name is its ingredients. But then I make a batch of DIY blackberry liqueur with fresh berries, I mix myself a Bramble, and all envy dissipates.
Love of Nutella is one of the things that connects us as a species. And while chocolate is fantastic, it's the humble hazelnut that elevates Nutella from delicious to life-changing. That's why I'm surprised that hazelnut liqueur (also called noisette) flies a bit under the radar compared to its nutty cousin amaretto.
Homemade peach liqueur captures everything that is fantastic about this fresh summer fruit, and it's easy to make. Plus, making your own means no preservatives or artificial coloring.
If you're eating or drinking something at my house between April and October, it's going to have strawberry in it. Strawberries go well with just about every spirit, fruit, and herb, so they're as at home at the bar as a lemon or a lime.
While it might seem like putting a bunch of berries and herbs in vodka couldn't possibly result in a drinkable gin, you definitely can make a gin just as complex and delicious as what you'll find at the liquor store. I like to call it I Can't Believe It's Not Gin, even though that's selling it short because it does not taste like a substitute or compromise.
Whether it's infusing your own vodka or crafting the ideal elderflower cordial, you can tap into your creativity to make better cocktail components, made with all-natural ingredients, for cheaper than you'd buy at a liquor store.
Amaro is yet another item from behind the bar that started out as a way to cure what ailed us—it was once a treatment for everything from an upset stomach or colicky baby to cholera. Really, "amaro" (or amari, in the plural) is just a general name for a bitter, herbal liqueur.
Raspberry liqueur isn't hard to find, but the bottles you can buy are all over the map. Some options are candy sweet, while others are cough syrup-strong. Making your own liqueur gives you control over how sweet and boozy the end result is—you're likely to end up with something that better suits your sugar tolerance.
Rhubarb is one of my favorite cocktail ingredients. When rhubarb season arrived, I ran to buy as much as I could from the market that's usually first to get all the seasonal produce. When I couldn't find it, I went to the manager in a panic. "We used to stock that," he said. "But nobody likes it, so we stopped." I then dramatically flung myself onto the nearest support beam and screamed, "Noooooo!" as if I just found out Darth Vader was my father. (He is not.) Luckily, the next store had a whole display of rhubarb and promised me that they would keep stocking it throughout the season.
Celery bitters might sound like something that hipster mixologists invented while turning everything edible into a flavor of bitters, but cocktail curmudgeons can rest easy knowing that these bitters were actually around in the 1800s. Celery bitters went out of style around Prohibition and didn't come back until just a few years ago. A few drops of this savory and unusual concoction can completely change a classic cocktail—and inspire tons of new recipes.
Grenadine is a pomegranate syrup—or that's what it's supposed to be. If you've ever seen a pomegranate, you know that it's not an easy fruit to juice. So somewhere along the way, grenadine makers strayed away from using real pomegranate juice and instead used corn syrup and red dye #40. That's why a lot of us think of grenadine as "that sweet stuff that turns drinks red" and avoid it like the technicolor plague.