1 1/2 oz. Limoncello 1 oz. Gin 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice 8-10 Mint Leaves Club Soda
Gently muddle the mint leaves with lemon juice in the bottom
of a mixing glass. Add the limoncello and gin and shake with ice. Strain into
an ice-filled highball glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Properly stocking a home bar can be an expensive proposition. There are many different products you likely will want to buy, and a lot of them aren't cheap. The good news is, you probably won't be going through the bottles that quickly, and most alcohol stays good for a very long time.*
GIN There are three different major styles of gin: London Dry, Old Tom and Genever. (You could also throw Plymouth Gin into the mix.) The good news is you only need to buy one bottle to start: London Dry. Tanqueray has long been my favorite, but Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater are excellent as well. Buy whichever one is cheapest.
VODKA It's easy to spend more money on vodka then you need to, especially if you reach for the Grey Goose because you "heard it's the best." By all means, pick up an expensive bottle if you're feeling flush. My favorite, which is medium-priced, is Stolichnaya. But you'll get by very well with some Sobieski.
RUM Rum is a little more challenging, because rums vary a lot depending on what country they're from, what color they are (light/white vs. gold/dark), how long they're aged, etc. I would recommend starting out with two bottles, one of white rum and one of gold rum. Cruzan (from the U.S. Virgin Islands) is recommended — both cheaper and better than the ubiquitous Bacardi. But if you can find Flor de Caña (from Nicaragua) it only costs a little more and is excellent. If you don't drink much rum and only want to buy one bottle, I suggest you get some Appleton V/X, a very versatile and tasty rum.
TEQUILA Tequila has grown enormously in popularity over the past several years, which means there are now a lot of great choices on the shelves, in all kinds of prices. If your goal is to make Margaritas and other similar drinks, you'll want a silver tequila. I recommend either Camarena or Milagro. They're both affordable and easy to find.
WHISKEY This is a tough one, because there are so many types and so many choices. Do you go with a Scotch, Canadian or Irish? Bourbon, rye or Tennessee? If I were buying just one type, I would probably go with bourbon, and would probably get Maker's Mark. Maker's isn't the favorite whiskey of a lot of people, but it's a very good one and it's something that almost any whiskey drinker will drink without complaining. If you want to branch out and add a Scotch, I'd go with Johnnie Walker Black. Again, not always a favorite, but a crowd pleaser.
BRANDY Cognac (which is brandy made according to certain rules in a particular area of France) was hot a decade or so back when the hip hop community discovered it, and brands like Hennessy and Remy Martin were name-checked in rap songs. It's cooled off since then, so there are plenty of good bargains to be found. (And also plenty of bottles that will cost you as much as a nice vacation.) If you want a simple brandy, I find Raynal to be quite good. It works fine in a lot of cocktails and won't set you back much at all. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, go for one of the cognacs made by Pierre Ferrand. (Their Ambre is very good and only costs around $40.)
ORANGE LIQUEUR If you're going to make any kind of cocktails, you're going to need some modifiers, with the most common being an orange liqueur. It might be triple sec or Curacao, but in order to make a Margarita or a Sidecar or Mai Tai, you're going to need something. There are many different types of orange liqueur, ranging from cheap to expensive. Unfortunately, the cheap stuff is usually not very good. On the upside, a bottle will last a long time, so it doesn't hurt as much to splurge. If you want a dryer liqueur, go with Cointreau. If you want a sweeter one, go with Grand Marnier. Yes, they're expensive. But they're so good that you'll be glad you spent the extra money.
VERMOUTH If you're planning to make Martinis or Manhattans, you'll need to get some vermouth. Sweet (red) vermouth goes in a Manhattan and dry (white) vermouth goes in a Martini. There are some high-end brands that are delicious. But on the affordable end of things Martini (sweet) and Noilly Pratt (dry) work very well.
You're not going to get this done without spending a couple hundred bucks. But once you do, you'll be able to make a lot of drinks — and save yourself a ton of dough over what you'd spend in a bar. Plus, with a little practice, you'll be able to whip up some great cocktails that will quickly make you the envy of all your friends and neighbors.
*Except for vermouth. Vermouth is only good for a couple of months once you open it. And only if you keep it in the refrigerator. And yes, I know vermouth isn't a spirit. Neither is orange liqueur.
Spiced rum is a category of spirits that often gets no respect. And for good reason, too: it's usually pretty gross. But there are times when spiced rum can be useful. Mixing up a punch or grog, for example, or giving a little extra zing to a Rum and Coke. What should you do in those cases?
We sampled six popular spiced rums to find which ones you can safely use, and which you should avoid. Here are the results.
Coruba Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $16 (750ml)
Jamaican rums are probably my favorite overall, so I was looking forward to this one. Sadly, it didn't match up to the quality and taste of Coruba's dark rum. It has the typical spiced rum flavor profile of vanilla, cinnamon and caramel. But that's about it. This isn't a bad rum, but it's slightly harsh and much lighter than regular Coruba. Nothing much to recommend it.
Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Score: (Highly Recommended) Price: $17 (750ml)
This is by far the highest octane rum in the bunch, clocking in at a whopping 92 proof. You can smell the ethanol when you lift the glass to your mouth. This stuff doesn't mess around. It's also very strong tasting — this isn't a subtle spirit. But the flavor works very well. Lots of cherry and vanilla, cinnamon and cloves, maybe even a little almonds in there. It has just the right amount of sweetness, giving it a nice balance. My favorite of the bunch.
Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $20 (750ml)
The ubiquitous privateer Captain Morgan makes a foray into the finished rum category with this new offering, which rests in Sherry casks after aging. It starts out well, with a sweet and fruity aroma that's appealing. The taste is also sweet and fruity, and the Sherry flavor is there — but so is a chemically aftertaste. I could have recommended this as a sweeter spiced rum if not for that odd, off-putting note.
Shellback Caribbean Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $16 (750ml)
I had good things to say about Shellbacks Silver Rum when I reviewed it a while back. Unfortunately, their spiced rum doesn't earn the same praise. It has the same overpowering aroma of vanilla extract — which is not a deal breaker; this is spiced rum, after all — and the vanilla continues onto the palate. But that's all there was. Lots of sweet, artificial vanilla, with little other spice.
I'm not usually a fan of Bacardi's offerings — their mainstay rums are just too flavorless to be of any interest — but their spiced rum brings something nice to the table. Oakheart has a rich, fruity smell — lots of plum and vanilla. The taste is pleasantly spiced (cinnamon) and fruity, with some caramel-like sweetness. There's a little bit of oak, but not as much as the name would imply. A solid spiced rum and one of the two best overall.
Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum Score: (Not recommended) Price: $16 (750ml)
I love Cruzan rums in general, but this was a bomb. It reeks of brine and medicine, and the taste is the same. An overload of spice with salt and pepper, allspice and juniper assaulting the senses. It ends up all running together and tasting pungent. A spiced rum shouldn't be sweet, necessarily, but it should have some sweetness. This was too dry. A disappointment.
The Bottom Line:
Sailor Jerry and Bacardi Oakheart were the best spiced rums of this batch. Both are recommended, but Sailor Jerry is better, and its higher proof means it will stand up in cocktails especially well.
Aviation Gin American Gin Grade:(Superb) Price: $28 (750ml)
First launched in 2006 as one of the pioneers of the new trend in American gins, Aviation has been repackaged with a striking new look that classes up the bottle to match the contents.
Aviation tastes like gin, but not the gin we're used to. It has the requisite juniper flavor, but it's much more subtle than in London dry gin. (That makes this a nice alternative for those who find gin too piney.) It has pronounced notes of citrus and spice, and an almost briny character that would probably go great in a Martini.
Aviation is softer than most gins. A little more inviting. It's designed to be used in cocktails, especially those from the pre-Prohibition era. But you can certainly drink it straight if you want to, and won't be disappointed.
I didn't make a Martini (or an Aviation, this gin's namesake cocktail), but I did mix it in a Gin and Tonic. I was concerned that the less assertive character of this spirit would get lost in the mix. But no fear. It balanced quite nicely, making for a tasty, refreshing cocktail that is dangerously easy to drink.
Aviation Gin is 84-proof, but never harsh. It's a different style of gin than the norm, but that's a good thing. Tasty alternatives are always welcome, and Aviation Gin matches up quite nicely on that score.
1 1/2 oz Bourbon Whiskey 3/4 oz Simple Syrup 1/2 Bar Spoon Vanilla Extract (a couple dashes) 3 oz Whole Milk or Half and Half Garnish with freshly-grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon.
Shake well with ice, then strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass.
Mardi Gras is coming, and this classic New Orleans brunch cocktail is the perfect way to start off a day of revelry. Or any day, for that matter.
The Milk Punch is often made with brandy instead of bourbon. (That's the way they make it at Commander's Palace.) I like bourbon better, though, so I make it this way. You can also substitute rum or spiced rum.
Shellback Caribbean Silver Rum Bajan Rum Grade: (Average) Price: $16 (750ml)
Shellback Caribbean Rum, currently available in silver and spiced varieties, represents another bold move into the spirits world by E.&J. Gallo, the ubiquitous California winemakers. It’s produced in Barbados by the West Indies Rum Distillery, the company that also make the rum that goes into Cockspur and Malibu.
Shellback Silver Rum is reportedly aged for at least one year in once-used American bourbon barrels, which are the most popular barrels for aging rum. It must be heavily filtered after that aging, because it’s completely clear in appearance. There’s a little bit of spice on the nose, but mostly vanilla. Lots and lots of vanilla. You could easily mistake this for vanilla extract. (This could be from the aging, although a year in wood isn’t very long, but more likely it means the distiller gave it a little help.)
The vanilla also hits you on the first sip. It’s not as strong as the aroma, but it’s definitely there. This rum is sweet, with a fruity, molasses-y flavor. There’s just a little spice and acidity that hits you at the end, but mostly it’s sweet vanilla. It also has an appealing creamy texture. This is the standard 40% ABV, but it goes down very easily.
Shellback Silver Rum is acceptable to drink neat, but it’s obviously designed to use in cocktails, and it works well there. It’s good in a Cherry Daiquiri or Cuba Libre. Any rum drink that works well with a hint of vanilla would likely taste good with Shellback.
This isn’t an especially sophisticated rum. But it’s a useful one, and the low price — I’ve seen it on sale for $11 — can’t be beat.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the U.S., that national holiday in celebration of overindulging. Millions of turkeys will be devoured, along with enough sides to make a new set of Dungeons and Dragons dice. But we're not here to talk about the bird.
Wine is the traditional accompaniment for the Thanksgiving feast. Pinot Noir and Riesling make good choices, and Champagne is perfect. I always drink plenty of the latter when I'm cooking. But it's important not to overlook the cocktails. Here are some suggestions for libations you can mix up.
2 oz Bourbon 8 Cranberries (Fresh or Frozen) 2 tsp Sugar (Preferably Caster or Superfine) Piece of Orange Zest 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
In an old-fashioned glass, muddle the cranberries, sugar, orange zest and bitters with a small amount of water. Add bourbon and ice.
3/4 oz Gin 3/4 oz Dry Vermouth 3/4 oz Apricot Brandy 1/4 oz Lemon Juice
Shake with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.
1 1/2 oz Rum 1/2 oz Grand Marnier 1/4 oz Allspice (Pimento) Liqueur 1/2 oz Lime Juice 1 oz Orange Juice 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Can also be served warm. Dust with freshly-grated nutmeg.
1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth 1/2 oz Brandy Splash of Pernod Splash of Triple Sec 2 dashes Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
2 oz Applejack 1 oz Triple Sec 3/4 oz Lemon Juice
Shake with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin slice of apple.