Random spirits lurking in your liquor cabinet? Mike Bennie gets creative to find a use for all of them (well, almost).
Unleash your hidden cocktail skills.
STANTON & KILLEEN CLASSIC RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT 12 YEARS, $35 Be it for Gran to have a tipple of, to spike a dessert (pour it over ice cream and watch it sing!) or just to luxuriate with in front of a fire, Rutherglen Muscat is a wonderful thing. Think lush, dense, liquefied Xmas pudding in style. Magic.
CYNAR, $25 Cynar is a bitter Italian liqueur made from 13 botanicals; the dominant base is artichoke. Don’t baulk at that, it’s one of the most delicious digestifs going. Some serve it with a wedge of orange over soda, but I like it chilled, neat, and downed as a single shot.
CASSIS, $53 Vedrenne makes some of the best spirits around, and this is a profoundly good example. Incomparable for its mainlining of blackcurrant aromas and flavours, cassis is brilliant in Kir Royale cocktails where you add a splash to Champagne or sparkling wine. Delicious!
VOK TRIPLE SEC, $25 If you rummage through any collection of spirits, you’re bound to find triple sec gathering dust. Usually it’s the cheaper end, too. Vok is a bargain in the triple sec stakes, delivering just the right orangey tang to spike a Margarita Cosmopolitan (remember those?!) or Mai Tai. TWENTY THIRD STREET DISTILLERY NOT YOUR NANNA’S BRANDY, $55 Brandy has a pretty daggy vibe and, indeed, a bit of a rep for being Nan’s choice of drink. Bottles languish in drinks cabinets, but with class examples like this, bust out the triple sec and lemon juice, and whip up a classy Sidecar.
BIANCO, $45 Grappa is the bane of my cabinet. It turns up in the back, in an oddly shaped bottle, and seems to multiply. Fear not: a wise Italian friend reminded me that caffè
corretto, an espresso with a belt of grappa in it, is how he starts his day. It’s also great after a long dinner.
THERE’S A COMMON understanding that to be a great home cook you have to be able to throw together a decent meal from the leftovers in a fridge and pantry. The magic of being able to walk into any kitchen, spot a clutch of ingredients and produce something edible is certainly an attribute I admire in people.
What most don’t think about is how that might also work for the humble liquor cabinet. Sure, you might be up to speed on artisan gin, small-batch bourbon or Tasmanian single malt, but what about the dusty flotsam and jetsam of bottles lurking in the nethers of that cupboard?
While investigating this story, I brushed away cobwebs from the creaking doors of my liquor cabinet, reached gingerly into the back, recoiled at something furry, then dragged out 10 or so bottles to investigate.
Brandy! Wow, haven’t had a sip since flogging a nip from my dad’s highest-filled spirit bottles to make rocket fuel in my wanton childhood. South African moonshine? Someone was playing a bad joke on me at a dinner party somewhere last century. Southern Comfort? I shudder looking at the label. Advocaat? Well, I don’t think a bottle of the stuff has been opened since flares and fondue were in fashion.
The leftovers of the liquor cabinet are typically a minefield of re-gifted bottles and hard-to-drink, unusual-in-application spirits that mostly are left standing sentry while the front of the cupboard shuffles in and out with mirthful regularity.
What is left unsaid is that those spirits left wanting do have a purpose. Brandy makes friends in some of the world’s best cocktails. Moonshine is a wonderful talking point and can be dressed up with cola. Southern Comfort had a small renaissance when people found it actually works well in punch. And Advocaat, well, that’s a toughy, but if you like Fluffy Ducks, go for it.
With that in mind, here’s a neat selection of liqueurs and spirits that might just help inspire you to work through that rustic back catalogue of booze.