10 Bottles of Liquor That Everyone Owns But No One Ever Uses (Until Now)
You know the ones. And we know what to do with them.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that all the bars you usually frequent have been shut down and you’re going to be stuck at home for a while, with only the haphazard assortment of bottles in your liquor cabinet at your disposal. Perhaps you have some really nice bourbon, rare single malts or vintage armagnac. Excellent. Perhaps you also have some completely random liquor that you have no idea what do with: spirits purchased before you developed expensive taste, half-empty bottles leftover from parties, perplexing gifts from well-meaning house guests. They’ve been gathering dust for years, and every once in a while you wonder if you’re ever going to find a use for them.
Well, now is the time.
We’ve got the skinny on 10 bottles that may be cluttering your home bar, along with recipes for great cocktails in which to mix them. Some of the recipes are vintage, some are new, but they’re all worth drinking. Maybe they’ll give you a reason to finally empty an old bottle, or maybe you’ll rediscover a neglected spirit. You’ll never know unless you try.
Drambuie’s roots go back to at least the 1800s on the Isle of Skye, where it began as a blend of Scotch, spices, herbs and honey. Though it’s a liqueur, it’s deceptively strong, coming in at 80-proof. Today it’s synonymous with the Rusty Nail, a cocktail that gets a ton of mileage out of just two ingredients. Traditional recipes call for equal parts, which falls on the sweet side for modern tastes. Try these more austere proportions, then adjust as desired. Pro-tip: A squeeze of lemon peel over the finished drink adds a nice touch of brightness, but is not strictly necessary.
1 ½ oz Scotch
¾ oz Drambuie
Fill a rocks glass with ice, add the Scotch and Drambuie, and stir. Garnish with a lemon twist.
This golden Italian liqueur is famous for two things: the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail and a ridiculously tall bottle that doesn’t fit in anyone’s liquor cabinet. The spirit had its heyday in the 1970s — and there’s a decent chance your parents still have a bottle left over from that era — but it’s worth a fresh look today. The spirit is surprisingly complex, with dominant notes of anise and vanilla. To make a Wallbanger, all you need is a shot of vodka and some orange juice on ice, topped with a float of Galliano. For a more contemporary take, try this Harvey Weissbanger beer cocktail, which drops the vodka in favor of hefeweizen.
1 oz Galliano
2 oz orange juice
4-5 oz hefeweizen or other wheat beer
Combine all ingredients in a collins glass with ice, stir gently to combine, and garnish with an orange twist.
Fireball cinnamon-flavored whiskey dates back to the 1980s, but it wasn’t until around 2012 that it surged in popularity to become a hugely successful spirits brand that spawned myriad imitators. Perhaps one of those bottles is in your cabinet right now, and perhaps your tastes have moved on to straight, unsweetened whiskey. But just because you’re no longer downing shots doesn’t mean you can’t find a use for it. A little bit can add a pleasant spice note to a quick and dirty riff on the Manhattan.
2 oz rye or bourbon
½ oz Fireball
½ oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Jägermeister got a bit of a bad name in the US by association with frat boys doing party shots. Cocktail cognoscenti, however, know that it’s a delightfully herbaceous bittersweet liqueur. Traditionally it’s consumed ice-cold straight from the freezer, but creative bartenders have been finding ways to bring it into craft cocktails. The Jäg-ricole Daq is a Daiquiri that combines funky, sugar cane-based agricole rum with Jägermeister. Standard white rum works, too, but agricole takes this drink to the next level.
1 oz rum, preferably agricole
1 oz Jägermeister
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
If you’ve ever hosted a Swedish house guest, they may have brought over a bottle of aquavit and got everyone singing traditional drinking songs. Skäl! But now what do you do with the rest of it? And what the heck is aquavit, anyway? In brief, it’s a Scandinavian spirit flavored with caraway or dill. Unaged versions are often served cold, and it typically accompanies food or socializing. Though different brands vary widely in their flavor profiles, a Nordic Negroni is a sure-fire way to make a delicious aquavit cocktail.
1 oz aquavit
1 oz Campari
1 sweet vermouth
Stir with ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Kahlua is a sweet, rum-based coffee liqueur from Mexico. It’s simple enough to drink on the rocks, but put frequently to use in White Russians. The drink was immortalized by “The Dude” in the The Big Lebowski, who lovingly referred to the cocktail as a “Caucasian.” Sure, you could get fancier with Kahlua cocktails, but if you’re quarantined at home in a bathrobe anyway, why bother?
1 ½ oz Kahlua
1 oz vodka
1 oz cream
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Or, if you really want to lean into laziness, skip the shaking and just mix everything in the glass.
Amaretto is an Italian liqueur flavored with almonds or apricot and peach stones; Disaronno is the brand most likely lurking in your bar cabinet. It’s sweet and nutty, most often encountered in its namesake Amaretto Sour. For something a little more esoteric, try a Jockey Club #2, bar legend Gary Regan’s updated take on a cocktail from the classic Savoy Cocktail Book.
2 oz gin
¾ oz amaretto
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Oh man, Malibu? I’m sorry. There’s nothing wrong with coconut rum liqueur in the abstract, but this isn’t even one of the good ones. Here’s the good news: coconut has this weird affinity with Scotch or Irish whiskey, and you can use that to your advantage. Try making this tropical variation on a Whiskey Sour and you’ll be out of that party juice in no time.
1 ½ oz blended Scotch or Irish whiskey
1 oz Malibu
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 egg white
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
Shake everything without ice to aerate the egg white. Then add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Bailey’s brings spirits, Irish whiskey and cream together in one bottle. You can pour it in your coffee. It’s popular in Mud Slides, as well as in shots innumerable. Rather than disdain that approach, embrace it. The Duck Fart — coffee liqueur, Bailey’s and Crown Royal or whatever other whiskey you have on hand — is arguably the best of the genre. Traced back to Alaska, this shot also gives you the opportunity to practice your layering skills. The densest liqueurs go on the bottom, the lightest ingredients on top. If you make it right, you’ll have clean, distinct layers of the different spirits. Pour gently down a tilted shot glass to pull it off. Then undo all your precision pouring by swigging it down in one gulp.
1 part coffee liqueur
1 part Bailey’s
1 part whiskey
Layer the ingredients, in the order given, in a shot glass.
Crème de Cacao
“Brandy Alexander always gets me in to trouble,” Leslie Feist sang on her 2007 album “The Reminder.” She had it right: This is a guilty pleasure, “it goes down easy.” That’s mostly due to the crème de cacao, a rich chocolate liqueur. The original Alexander cocktail was made with gin, but you could theoretically use any spirit: bourbon, rum, maybe even mezcal. Brandy Alexander is the one that’s caught on, though. If you have cognac and crème de cacao on hand, you can’t do much better than this.
1 ½ oz cognac
1 oz crème de cacao
¾ oz cream
Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.