Though my home bar sports a few dozen different bottles—whiskeys, gins, vodkas, brandies, amari, and on down the line—I fully admit that the ones that get emptied fastest are the bourbons (and sometimes the ryes). I make no bones about American whiskey being my spirit of choice, and my knee-jerk cocktail is often bound to be a whiskey sour, a Paper Plane, or a Manhattan.
But woman cannot live on whiskey alone, so my second cocktail resolution this year was to challenge myself to branch out a bit and turn to other types of booze when mixing drinks.
As part of my efforts to learn more about brandy (so I could share that knowledge with all of you, natch), I spent some time in that world in February and March, so much of my branching out happened in that particular family tree.
There were Sidecars, of course, and they were predictably delicious, but I also went a bit farther afield.
So, yes: the Saratoga from The New Cocktail Hour by Julie Reiner does in fact have rye in it, but it also has cognac, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters, so I'm totally counting it in my not-just-American-whiskey tally, especially since it was delicious. (I'm sure these charming pressed glass Nick and Nora glasses enhanced the taste even more.)
Next up was the Bardstown cocktail from Seattle bartender and bar owner Andrew Friedman. I picked this one while flipping through the book West Coast Libations because, let me be honest here, it was the drink that required the least effort (no infusions, no emulsions, no special syrups), and for which I had all the ingredients on hand.
Was one of those ingredients rye? Yes. Yes, it was. You might sense a theme here. But what if I defend myself by noting that this beauty also has applejack, and thus fits with the whole brandy theme? (Bonus: I served it in one of these classic "bamboo stem" coupes.)
By Andrew Friedman of Liberty Bar, Seattle; from West Coast Libations by Ted Munat
2 oz. Rittenhouse 100-proof rye
1 oz. Laird's applejack
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Long orange twist, for garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the orange twist.
I wrapped up my time in Brandytown with a cocktail called the A.J., from Mittie Hellmich's Ultimate Bar Book. The A.J. combines applejack, grapefruit juice, and grenadine, and, on paper, looks suspect at best. (Applejack and grapefruit??) But friends, somehow it works.
Last Stop: Campari
I wish I could tell you that beyond my tinkering with various brandies I got into some truly creative stuff, and finally figured out what to do with that bottle of Ramazzotti, or that crazy-ass coca leaf liqueur my friend Rob gave me for my birthday back in, um, 2011, or that rhubarb liqueur that's been all but untouched for years now.
In fact, I did none of those things. But I did keep putzing around.
On one of the coldest nights we had all winter (yes, that's a relative measure in Northern California, but still), I dusted off my bottle of silver tequila, squeezed a grapefruit, and made Palomas. Tequila is a spirit that has never excited me (and sorry, mezcal, but smoky just isn't my thing), but in the Paloma, I can start to see its appeal.
St. Patrick's Day here at In Our Cups world HQ involved not green beer (or, in fact, any beer) or terrible shots, but instead a round of Wild Irish Roses, Dale DeGroff's take on the Jack Rose, which subs Irish whiskey for applejack. That bottle of Bushmill's at the back of my bar hadn't seen so much action in years. (Love those Libbey Royal Fern glasses? Find 'em here.)
Finally, I rounded out March with the Negroni Sbagliato, the "mistaken" version of that classic with Prosecco standing in for the gin. (And check out those charming Libbey Tally Ho lowballs!) If I'm drinking something bitter and bubbly, there's a 99% chance it's an Aperol Spritz, so, hey, double pat on the back for a cocktail that's neither a spritz nor features American whiskey.
I've got plenty more exploring to do over the coming months—I will open that bottle of falernum! I will figure out something to do with cachaça other than make Caipirinhas! And dammit, Ramazzotti, I'm coming for you. And let's be honest: I didn't actually go way out in left field with most of my cocktailing over these last couple of months.
But it did feel good to crack open some infrequently used bottles, and to get myself out of my whiskey-first habit for a bit. If you, like me, have neglected bottles hanging around your home bar, I definitely encourage showing them some love.