Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 6: Liqueurs and Absinthe

Last week we looked at whiskey in building your home bar, and this week we turn our attention to the wonderfully varied categories of liqueurs and absinthe. Though the two are certainly distinct - a good absinthe should never come with sugar included, for one - liqueurs and absinthe serve a similar purpose in cocktail-making. Densely flavored, a small portion goes a long way in either case.

While absinthe is traditionally enjoyed with just a few parts cold water, it also creates a unique profile in even the smallest quantities. The Sazerac - a New Orleans classic and one of the most popular cocktails that includes absinthe - utilizes only a thin rinse of the glass, but the anise underpinning to the whiskey base is unmistakable. Though the world of absinthe is varied and nuanced, we'd suggest selecting a high-quality verte for your go-to for your bar; you'll go through it slowly when mixing, so it's worth picking one that will shine. One of our favorites is Emile Pernot's "Vieux Pontarlier" Absinthe Superieure, but Devoille "La Charlotte" offers great value for an extremely low price.

Whereas absinthe is generally reliant on a similar set of botanicals, liqueur as a category is extremely broad and highly varied. Requiring a particular sugar content minimum, cocktail-friendly liqueurs span from the rich and creamy to bright and refreshing. While you could fill your collection with an almost infinite variety, there are a few that we believe a cocktail enthusiast will want to keep on hand: triple sec (and/or curacao), cassis, Campari, and green Chartreuse. Triple sec is the go-to orange liqueur for Margaritas, Sidecars, and any number of other classics. Though triple sec can substitute in a pinch, if you're particularly into tropical drinks, curacao is a (subtly different) must. Made from the skins of a particular species of bitter orange, it has a distinctive citrus taste that's important in cocktails like the Mai Tai. Cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur, is used for the easy and festive Kir Royale cocktail. Campari, one of the classic bitter liqueurs, is important for classic drinks like the Negroni. And in our mixing, we've found Chartreuse to be a fun, versatile ingredient to keep on hand.

Depending on the time of year, particularly when there's snow on the ground, Amaretto and Irish Cream liqueurs can be a valuable staple in keeping guests happy through the cold. And for golden age cocktail geeks, your bar earns bonus points for containing these more-obscure, yet historically important staples: damson gin, a hard-to-find liqueur made from a particular species of plum; sloe gin, a bold and vaguely cranberry-like liqueur used for drinks like the Sloe Gin Fizz; Benedictine, an herbal liqueur called for in many a recipe; and creme de violette, an enchantingly floral spirit required to make a proper Aviation. Beyond this, explore based on your tastes. Do you like herbal profiles? Floral? Or are you drawn to fruitier fare? Find cocktails that appeal to you and mix accordingly. The world of liqueurs is vast and varied, and your drink making is limited only by your curiosity.

The Sazerac
3 oz. rye whiskey (we suggest McKenzie Rye)
.75 oz. simple syrup
.25 oz absinthe verte, or enough to rinse the inside of the glass
3 dashes The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters

Rinse the inside of a chilled cocktail glass with the absinthe. Stir other ingredients with ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Happy mixing from DrinkUpNY!

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