When I started getting into making cocktails at home, I naturally started out with the basics: gin, rye, vermouth, Angostura bitters, etc. I didn’t buy a new ingredient (like Campari or Chartreuse) until I knew there were a few classic cocktails I wanted to try that used it; I didn’t want to spend forty bucks on a big bottle of something that I only ended up pouring an ounce from once or twice.
Because of this, my acquisition rate slowed down markedly for a while. Cherry Heering, say, looked interesting, but what was I going to use it for besides a Blood and Sand? Well, in that particular case, once I tried a Blood and Sand at the Highland Kitchen, it was clear that that was reason enough to buy a bottle of Cherry Heering, but in the general case, I was still unwilling to make a commitment to off-the-beaten-path ingredients.
What finally got me buying interesting liquors with abandon was Thursday Drink Night at the Mixoloseum. On Thursday evenings, cocktail enthusiasts from all over the country (at least) gather in a chat room and share improvised recipes, some fair and a few admittedly foul (in my defense, rinsing a glass with chili oil before adding rye seemed like a great idea at the time). Of course I have much less experience than most of the participants, but the spirit of experimentation inspired me, and I realized that there are lots of interesting drinks waiting to be discovered, and that concocting a concoction that is at least palatable is not rocket science. For example, 2 oz base spirit (rye or gin), 1/2 oz something sweet, 1/2 oz something bitter is always going to be fairly balanced, and could be quite delicious, depending on how those ingredients happen to work with each other. Which means that if I buy some crazy new ingredient, I don’t need three classic drinks that use it; I can invent some myself!
So when the local liquor store had St. Germain on sale, I finally bit the bullet and bought a bottle. It is an elderflower liqueur, which if that means nothing to you, hey, it meant nothing to me either. It turns out to be pretty sweet in a tropical fruit kind of way with some herbal notes. So, what to do with it? Here are two recipes I came up with that are both delicious, and follow the basic template I mentioned above.
- 2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz St. Germain
- 1/2 oz Lillet
Add ice, shake, and strain.
Lillet is a fortified wine with some herbs and quinine (the same thing that gives tonic water its flavor); it’s like dry vermouth with an edge. It gives just the right kick to the sweetness of the St. Germain.
- 2 oz rye
- 1/2 oz St. Germain
- 1/2 oz Aperol
I shake and strain this like I do everything, but for rye drinks I think you’re supposed to stir it instead. Whatever.
Aperol is a bitter amaro, like Campari but more laid-back. There’s enough of the rye for its characteristic grain-ness to come through but the St. Germain and Aperol add a really nice complementary sweetness and bitterness to it.
Did I mention that the best part of inventing new drinks is naming them?