Unusual bitters and liqueurs that usually sit in the back of a home bar. Photo by Angie Bryan

You had good intentions when you bought that bottle of rosé vodka (yes, that actually exists). And when a friend gave you some lychee liqueur, you were excited about the possibilities. Yet here you are, years later, and those random “back of the bar” bottles persist, mocking you even after months of being stuck at home. Never fear, help is here!

Most liqueurs can be used to make a specialty flavor of either a Kir Royale or a margarita. A Kir Royale consists of sparkling wine and Crème de Cassis, a black currant liqueur, but you can swap out the Crème de Cassis for passionfruit liqueur, St. Germain (elderflower liqueur, also a perfect match with pear vodka in a pear martini or with Midori in a Melon Ball Drop), peach schnapps, Pimm’s, Crème de Noyaux, Crème de Violette, blackberry liqueur, Chambord and more. Ditto with a margarita – instead of using Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or Cointreau for the sweetening agent, try a fruit-flavored liqueur. I’m a big fan of making lychee or blackberry margaritas this way.

A Boulevardier is a great way to use up sweet (red) vermouth. Photo by Angie Bryan

If unusual bottles of bitters are your issue, make a variation on an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or Negroni. I still think about the Old Fashioned I had at Bird & Co. in Portland that used black walnut bitters, but I’ve also had great results adding cherry, orange or cranberry bitters instead of Angostura. I also love cherry bitters instead of Angostura in a Manhattan, and one of my favorite upgrades involves adding a few dashes of grapefruit bitters to a Negroni. Another option for using up extra bitters (or Aperol or Campari) is to infuse sugar cubes with them and then use those cubes in sparkling wine or in spirit-forward cocktails like the ones mentioned above.

After-dinner cocktails are a terrific way to use up sweeter ingredients such as crème de cacao, vanilla vodka, coffee liqueur, Chambord and nut-flavored liqueurs. Many of them taste great mixed with a little cream (or half and half or milk or almond milk), and even better when you add vodka. I’m constantly combining sweet liqueurs to see how they taste together. Pro tip: Almost everything tastes better when you add chocolate liqueur. The same is not true of banana liqueur.

If all else fails, consider cooking with your bar ingredients. I adore squasharetto, a dish I invented when I wondered what yellow summer squash would taste like sautéed in Amaretto. Sweet liqueurs are phenomenal in a semifreddo (a soft Italian frozen dessert) or even added to a cake batter (I’m looking at you, Crème de Violette).

Smoky and spicy mezcal Paloma. Photo by Isabel Rioja-Scott

And now for a few specific ideas for common back-of-the-bar ingredients. Mezcal? Use it in a drink that normally calls for tequila, such as a Paloma (2 parts mezcal, 2 parts grapefruit juice or grapefruit soda, 1 part lime juice and 1 part simple syrup, ideally with a chile salt rim). Or replace the gin in a Negroni with mezcal and add a sprig of rosemary. Limoncello? I drink it plain, but it’s also great in a Limonsecco (mixed with Prosecco) or as a substitute in cocktails calling for lemon juice and simple syrup, such as a Lemon Drop. Or add it to iced tea with some bourbon and take your summer sipping to a whole new level. Dry (white) vermouth? Martinis or an El Presidente. Sweet (red) vermouth? Negronis, Manhattans, Vieux Carrés and Boulevardiers (a Negroni with rye instead of gin), for starters.

As for that rosé vodka? Shame on you for buying something so disgusting in the first place. Toss it and vow to make better decisions in the future.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.


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