Mike Stocks Your Liquor Cabinet: The 7 Virtuous Liqueurs
As we head into the thick of the holiday season, it’s about time that we started to get very serious about the non-core alcohol that you should, could and ought to keep around your house. There is plenty of entertaining to be done between now and the New Year, and while we all wish we could get along with just vodka, rum and gin, the truth is that you can do better. Indeed, you must do better, because mid-December through to early January is the prime season for the Blue-Faced Pretentious Ass to make his appearance.
Bird-watchers, get out your binoculars!
The Blue-Faced Pretentious Ass can be easily spotted by his or her propensity for shrugging excessively, showing up even though you didn’t invite them, somehow always finding a guitar to pick up and strum, being physically attractive in a way that makes you wish smashing people with folding chairs was legal outside of professional wrestling, and always being disappointed in how mundane you are. You, and your spouse, and your home, your pets, your food and your liquor.
“Oh, hey. Spring rolls! That’s cool, I remember when my Mom made these before we learned to love food.”
“Did you just decide you wanted an ordinary tabby cat, or is that all you could find?”
“So, you just mix your rum with… coke? That just seems like a missed opportunity, man. You know?”
No, you do not know, you have no idea, you are not at all sure what that even means, but this is the year that you will show that tousle-haired, tee-shirt wearing, faded-jean rocking, always unimpressed gate-crasher that you’re more than equal to them. All it takes is the right list of mixers, and the guidance of the Path of Goodness. And to help you along the path of righteousness, you shall always find the goodness and purity (HA HA HA HA HA HA) of the Choosy Beggars.
Let’s dive in at the most holy-looking, shall we?
Sure, we’ve recently had our fun with Frangelico. But in fact, as much as one might see it as a novelty, Frangelico has a unique flavor that’s easily applied to a variety of applications. A liqueur strongly flavored with hazelnut and caramel, it’s a sure thing for:
- Cocktails: Add an ouce of Frangelico and lime over ice in a rocks glass, and sip away to a sweet and tangy treat; take vanilla vodka, Frangelico and a packet of sweetener (with a little cran for color) and you’ve got yourself with a glass full of sweet, delicious booze that tastes like cake. And that’s just the start (with many thanks to our readers)!
- Baking: It’s not just rum that you can slather over your baked goods at the holidays, you know. There’re plenty of others that can do the job, and Frangelico is a solid candidate. Sub it in wherever you would normally see a brandy or rum additive, or just whip it into icings to give it a nutty, sweet and boozy kick that will leave your co-workers wondering why they’re so tired after your annual office potluck.
- Breakfast booze: There are few liqueurs so friendly to coffee as Frangelico happens to be, and fewer still that are so good at taking your Boxing Day headache and turning it into a smooth, contemplative mental state. Adding caramel sweetness and a nefarious kick, it does extremely well for a furtive morning jigger.
Best of all, Frangelico is one of those liquors that works well an ounce at a time, and can survive quite happily in the closet over months. A novel cocktail here, an innovative dessert there, a desperate Sunday morning all ’round, and you’ll still have plenty left over.
Again with the nut liqueur, you might say! But in fact, Amaretto is actually more heavily derived from apricot or almond pits, which is altogether a different proposition. The most common amaretto on the market, Disaronno, doesn’t have any nut ingredients in it at all — so those of you who have lived your entire lives in agonizing fear of dying from unexpected nut contamination will just have to wait for another cocktail, I’m afraid.
Wait! No, that’s a good thing. All right!
Despite the actual lack of almonds, amaretto still has a wonderfully almond-cherry flavor to it, lending it a richness and weight that makes it worth savoring. Mellow enough to serve alone on the rocks, where it will coat the ice with a slick sweetness, it blends wonderfully with almost anything you add it to — as long as you’re excited about tasting it. Amaretto is like that one girl you knew in high school, who used to wear the orange home-made dresses or coveralls in early June: happy to be part of the group as long as she was never expected to blend in.
You will always taste the amaretto a little, whether it’s in shots, cocktails, baked applications or even glazes. The flavor is mature, pronounced and full; it has no intention of hiding from the likes of you.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, it’s delightful enough that you won’t want it to.
Baileys is an essential liqueur possibly as a default, since everyone — even non-drinkers — seems to have a bottle kicking around somewhere. The experience of Irish Whiskey blended with cream liqueur is a weird one, since it’s hard to intuitively know what to do with it, once received: do you put it into the fridge once you’ve opened it? Does it go bad, given that it contains cream? Does it curdle if you mix it with other alcohols?
Let me answer a few of those for you, just in case you’ve not had the daring to experiment:
- You don’t have to, but maybe you should. It tends to be at its most flavorful within six months of purchase.
- It never goes bad, making it quite like the Twinkie of the alcoholic beverage marketplace. But on the outside, you’ve got 2 years before things get funky. After that, perform frequent vision and mental acuity checks after consuming.
- Good sweet Christ, yes.
But therein lie its opportunities. Like all of the liqueurs I’ve already mentioned, Baileys is an absolutely ideal non-dairy-but-pretty-dairy-actually-so-maybe-I-should’ve-said-boozy creamer for one’s Christmas morning coffee, particularly if the family event is a large one and your mental preparation has not been fully adequate. Unlike the others, it is actually creamy, and so will serve you add a wonderful fatty, textural element to your morning cup o’ Joe.
Even the most perfunctory Google search will reveal dozens of Baileys cocktail recipes to indulge in, and ambitious males in particular should consider the multitude of chocolate cocktails available to dazzle the female contingent at your New Year’s party. But what makes Baileys such a valuable asset — aside from its compatibility with morning caffeine drinks and its easy ability to absorb the toxic contents of novelty martinis — is its power as a vehicle. Cream can pick up and carry a lot of flavors with it, whether they’re hearty like coffee and chocolate, or light like mint and citrus.
More importantly, there is the daredevil factor: Baileys will crinkle up and turn into mud when exposed to a greater concentration of alcohol, and in many recipes this process takes place within the confines of your mouth. Whether dropped into a half-pint of Guinness with some Irish Whiskey, or taken as a shot with some vodka in the other cheek — cream does curdle, and one’s constitution can always be tested.
Consider this one to be definitive.
Those of you familiar with working in the kitchen will know the difference between a multi-purpose and a single-use tool. A paring knife, for example, can be used for tasks ranging from slicing fruit to fine slicing of meats to hand-to-hand combat with a home invader; conversely, a citrus juicer can be used for tasks ranging from squeezing juice from lemons to squeezing juice from limes (slightly less effectively).
While kitchen elites will frequently turn up their noses at the single-use contraptions, there are occasions when it doesn’t hurt at all to have something around that does one thing, and knows how to do it really well. Kaluha is most assuredly one of those, a liqueur that knows how to taste really strongly of coffee, but also be composed largely of alcohol. And while I know it may sound repetitive to say that coffee and booze go really well together, allow me to invite you to — momentarily — meditate on the fact that in Kaluha the combination has already happened.
It’s up to us to decide what to do next.
Thanks to its sweetness, its kick and its not-in-any-way-subtle coffee flavor, Kaluha makes an excellent topping to cold desserts like ice cream or frozen drinks. It’s also become depressingly common in cheesecakes and birthday cake icing, heavily compromised of its boozy benefits, which only poses a challenge to home cooks to preserve all of its advantages. Its singular focus also invites combination with more complex liqueurs like amaretto or even brandy, for those looking to sip for a very long time on their digestif.
But most importantly, without the Kaluha, there could be no B-52. Do you want to be the person responsible for saying, “Ooo, sorry!” to the most popular bar shot ever?
No. No you do not.
5. Creme de Cacao (white)
A chocolate liqueur is an essential component of your liquor cabinet, though it’s important to note that the clear variety is infinitely preferable here. The temptation to invest deeply in bottles of creamy chocolate booze is tempting, since it feels as though it’s an efficient way of tabling a delightful dessert; however, the risk of them being altogether too heavy-duty is great, and it’s far better to be picky about the individual flavor at hand.
There are a huge multitude of chocolate liqueurs on the marketplace at present, most visibly (but hardly exclusively) the Godiva brand with three of their own flavors. The most important thought to keep in mind with any of them is that, much like the chocolate one buys at the grocery store, one cannot count on these drinks to be delicious all by themselves. Just as everyone has had their horrifying experience with unsweetened baking chocolate, so too will they discover that creme de cacao is not always the candy-delicious treat they were expecting.
Not that it can’t be, of course. The aforementioned chocolate-ini would be nothing without a splash of creme de cacao, and there are absolutely dozens of cocktail recipes that include it as a key ingredient. It doesn’t transport quite so well to sauces unless one really has a deft touch with mole-style flavors, but in baking it melds nicely with icing sweetness for those of us who want cookies that make us feel tired and happy afterwards.
Most importantly, when having guests in your home, there is a good certainty that you’ll be asked whether you can make one of a dozen popular drinks that feature a good chocolate liqueur. It is never bad form to have a supply on-hand, and never hurts for your own quiet consumption later, either.
6. Creme de Menthe
Yeah, I know. Creme de Menthe is that bright green stuff you remember sitting at the back of your parents’ liquor cabinet for your entire life, its contents slowly vanishing though you never saw anyone actually drinking it — was it evaporation? Did Grandma have a covert drinking habit, satisfied by the only drink that could freshen her breath pre-emptively? Why in God’s name would anyone one that stuff hanging around, if not to make the Blue Curacao feel better?
But let’s face it: Every toolbench needs a jumbo wrench, the kind that only comes out twice a year but that — without its presence — certain projects would be an insufferable pain in the ass. The same is true of the liquor cabinet, and the boozy-minty goodness of Creme de Menthe. If you want a cocktail, sauce or dessert to taste authentically like mint, and carry a delightful warm fuzzy feeling along with it, then you really have only one option.
Creme de Menthe is available in a bright green and clear version, depending on the addition of artificial color. In the case of a Grasshopper, the verdant coloring might be just what you’re going for to achieve aesthetic effect; in many other instances, the green can make the rest of the drink seem muddy and slightly alarming. Choose wisely, but never turn down the opportunity to offer a delightful, smooth and minty digestif to your guests — properly equipped, you could be the one who finally makes an After Eight cocktail that actually tastes like After Eights.
That, in itself, should be cause enough to keep some around.
7. Peach Schnapps
Why do you need Peach Schnapps? If you’re asking yourself this question, then you need to ask a few more, like:
- Why do we need fun?
- Why do children have to laugh in delight so much? I mean come on
- Why does the sun have to be so bright and sunny in the summertime?
- What kind of relatively harmless booze can my kids discover in the cabinet and drink too quickly, causing painful sickness?
First of all, in case you think that you’re dealing with anything exotic, schnapps is just a term for alcoholic drinks of a certain strength — in the U.S. that can range anywhere from 25% to 50%, though they mostly float down in the liqueur (20% to 30%) range. Infused with sweet fruit flavors and smoothed out with sugars and glycerin, producing a smoother syrupy texture, schnapps are the kind of candy-sweet booze that beg for a fizzy base and a ballsy approach.
Dropped into some less-expensive sparkling white wine, to create a sweet toast? Swizzled in with some diet lemon-lime soda to create a lightweight cocktail? Poured into a shot glass and plopped into a pint of lager? The choices are endless for a liqueur that epitomizes fun-loving, carefree sweetness.
Sure, you might need a hug, but a Peach Schnapps can at least give you a smile.
The trick to having a complete liquor cabinet is the balance between all the bottles you must have, the ones you end up with, and the ones you can call upon on just the right occasion. Any and all of these are never-miss bottles that may hang around slightly longer than your hard core, but will never fail you when the time comes. With the holidays approaching and house parties an inevitability, these will serve you well and prove their worth to stay as the seven pure, virtuous and loyal liqueurs who’ll stay by your side.
Next: The vicious Vices!