As with cooking, so with cocktails: Sometimes there’s a recipe you’re dying to try, and it sounds so good, and you’ve got most of the stuff you’ll need, but there’s one ingredient—a spice, an unusual vinegar, something—you don’t have, and absolutely need, and may never use again. Most of the time, you’d say, “oh, what the hell,” and buy it. It can’t set you back that much.
But with cocktails, sometimes that one ingredient is, say, a stone pine liqueur (delicious, by the way). It hard to imagine using such a thing in another kind of cocktail, and since we’re talking about a bottle of alcohol and not a container of dried galangal, that’s a pricy purchase that may just sit around collecting dust.
Let’s change that. That one bottle of Chambord you bought to make French Martinis this spring can be used for other things. Below, some brief notes on a few commonplace liqueurs, what they’re used for most commonly, and what they can do besides take up space on the bar cart.
One quick note: While you’ve got loads of time before most spirits go bad, the same can’t be said of all liqueurs. If you’ve been sitting on a bottle of Bailey’s for years, best check the expiration date on that sucker—the same goes for any liqueur that uses eggs or milk. If the liqueur in question has a lower percentage of alcohol (say 16 percent or under) you may want to give it a try before using it willy-nilly. Otherwise, you should be fine.
What is it?: A French black raspberry liqueur that’s blended with cognac, vanilla, honey, and herbs. You know this one—it’s the round bottle with the gold around its middle that looks like it should be in the Pope’s hand or something.
What’s it most commonly used for?: Sweet cocktails of all kinds, perhaps most notably the French Martini, which was a big hit in the ’80s and ’90s.
Another cocktail: I’ve had it in a French Manhattan, which is just a Manhattan with Chambord in it. Sweet, but tasty.
Used without booze: Excellent in brownies. My favorite, though, is to mix it with something else you’re excited about—basil simple syrup, another liqueur maybe, preserves of some kind—and use it as a glaze or drizzle for something baked. Chambord-glazed doughtnuts! Chambord-glazed scones! Chambord-drizzled cheesecake! You get the idea.
What is it?: Another sweet, berry-based liqueur, though this one is often more complex than Chambord. An important note: does not contain dairy! That crème just means it has a soft, syrupy consistency.
What’s it most commonly used for?: On its own as an aperitif, or in a Kir or Kir Royale cocktail. Both have only two ingredients: crème de cassis and white wine. The Kir is made with still wine, the Royale with Champagne.
Another cocktail: Can be very tasty in beer and cider cocktails, particularly dry ciders and stouts. It’s great in Guinness.
Used without booze: Anything fruity and warmed up, just pour a little in. My plan this Thanksgiving is to try some in my cranberry sauce; I’ve also had it in pie fillings and drizzled over ice cream and sorbet. The same goes for most fruit liqueurs, some chocolate liqueurs, and crème de violette, although really if you own a bottle of crème de violette you should just make yourself an Aviation every Friday night, ya fancy bastard.
What is it?: A complex Italian bitter liqueur with a long history.
What’s it most commonly used for?: Negronis!
Another cocktail: Drink it on its own or with soda as an aperitif. Honestly, you can use this every time you have a dinner party and skip the alternate uses entirely. Aperitifs are so fancy.
Used without booze: Jams and marmalades, fruit salad, frosting, etc.—anything sweet you think could use a little bitter note. I’m dying to try this Negroni cake recipe.
What are they?: Orange liqueurs. Curacao came first, a Dutch spirit traditionally dark in color (now blue, green, red, whatever) and with a brandy case. Triple sec was invented by the French, is usually clear, and has neutral spirits as a base. There are bad versions of both, and they are used all the time in cocktails, so it’s worth springing for a decent bottle. As a general rule, curacaos work best with aged spirits, triple sec with gins, vodkas, etc.
What are they most commonly used for?: Margaritas, Cosmopolitans, kamikazes… they’re everywhere. They’re also not interchangeable, but for our purposes, we’ll group them together.
Another cocktail: Honestly, the most surprising alcohol-related use for triple sec might be to drink it on its own, with an ice cube. Just make sure it’s a good one.
Used without booze: Baking. Triple sec and curacao can be amazing in baked goods, especially brunchy ones. This orange olive oil pound cake is one example, but there are many. Just be careful if you’re subbing one for the other, as triple sec is typically not as sweet as its cousin.
What is it?: A thing you tried in college on a dare. Just me? Okay, it’s an aniseed liqueur that’s very sweet.
What’s it most commonly used for?: A shot that’s lit on fire, hence the dare. Also frequently served with coffee beans in it.
Another cocktail: It’s apparently great with or after coffee, but to be totally honest, it’s not my thing, so I have not tried.
Used without booze: Here’s a liqueur often used in cooking, rather than baking. I am particularly intrigued by this cranberries recipe. The customers at my fancy whiskey shop have mentioned others, including roasts and breads.
What is it?: A clear Marasca cherry liqueur. It is not red and syrupy. It is floral and sweet, with an aroma that’s nutty and smoky. The cherries are named for the liqueur, not the other way around—they’re traditionally soaked in it. Luxardo is the best known; their maraschino cherries are also unbelievable.
What’s it most commonly used for?: Keep making those Aviations, ya fancy bastard.
Another cocktail: The Hemingway Daiquiri, if you feel like getting hammered and being a sonofabitch.
Used without booze: Make your own maraschino cherries. You are extremely welcome. Lots of variations on that recipe available, including just using liqueur and cherries, but I’d go the whole hog and add vanilla and lemon and all that. They’ll keep for months.