In the previous home bar article, I focused on different gins and the variety of drinks that can be created from them, plus a few different ingredients. I really believe that gin is the centerpiece of any home bar collection because it is so mixable and perfect for warm-weather concoctions. But it’s also important to have a few liqueurs and mixers on hand to spice up your drinks. Some of my favorites may be familiar, while others may be completely foreign, but I think all of them are essential to the perfect home bar. They are easy on the palate and most of them can be enjoyed simply by adding sparkling water or soda. If I’m not drinking a gin cocktail, then I’m sipping on a simple libation made from one of the following products.
Campari (1L $26.99) Campari is an Italian liqueur made by infusing a combination of alcohol and water with herbs, aromatic plants and fruits. Its trademark flavor leans towards the bitter and can be an acquired taste for many, but it can be sweetened with a bit of orange juice to make a refreshing, grapefruit-like libation. The classic drink made from Campari is the Americano, which is made by simply adding sparkling water. It was the original drink of 007 James Bond, and it is the perfect pre-dinner aperitivo. In an effort to appeal to a new generation, Campari hired Selma Hayek for some very sexy magazine ads and most recently has tapped Lady Gaga as their new cover girl. It also makes one of my favorite cocktails - the Negroni (in home bar article, part 1).
Cynar (1l $21.99) A darker, more bitter version of Campari made primarily from artichokes (Cynara scolymus is Latin for artichoke). It can be substituted for Campari in practically any drink to add a darker color and a more intense flavor. I like it with the Hansen’s Diet Tangerine-Lime soda that I buy at Trader Joe’s. If you need help digesting your food, a few sips after dinner can really do the trick.
Pimm’s No.1 Cup ($16.99) There are six different variations of Pimm’s Cup that I know of, and each is formulated with a different spirit. I think that No. 1 is the best because it is made with gin, of course! The gin is steeped with herbs, apples, oranges and spices to make a tea-colored liquid that does taste faintly of tea. At 25% alcohol it mixes well with ginger ale, lemonade, or lemon-lime soda to make the trademark Pimm’s Cup, one of two signature drinks served at Wimbledon every year (the other being Champagne).
Aperol ($23.99) Another Italian aperitivo comprised of herbs and fruit - in this case rhubarb, bitter orange, gentian and cinchona. Lighter and more fruit-forward, it is the perfect alternative for those who cannot handle Campari’s strong bitterness. It mixes with grapefruit juice to make a Pompelmo, or with Prosecco to make a Spritz. It is only 11% to Campari’s 22% alcohol, so you can have a little more before dinner.
Lillet Blanc ($14.99) This is an absolute must for any drinker. Lillet Blanc (there is a Rouge as well) is a French aperitif made from 85% wine and citrus liqueur made from oranges. It has been in production since the 1800s and, when poured over ice, makes an ideal companion to a book and a lawn chair. Besides drinking deliciously on its own, it is 25% of my favorite gin cocktail - The Corpse Reviver #2 (recipe in home bar article, part 1). Lillet is also a favorite of James Bond, who orders (and invents) the Kina Lillet Martini in 1953’s Casino Royale, which I believe substitutes Lillet for vermouth. Some restaurants, like San Francisco’s Dosa, have made an entire drink menu out of Lillet cocktails.
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur ($31.99) This is a very unique French liqueur made from elderflower blossoms, a small amount of citrus and some natural cane sugar. It is pear-like and floral in taste and mixes extremely well with (you guessed it) gin to form an Elderflower Gimlet. Also, try it with sparkling wine. Most customers who have sampled it have come back to buy three or four more bottles.
Prunier Orange Liqueur ($24.99) Of all the unique and tasty spirits we have found, I am perhaps the most proud of this bottle. It is a million times better than Grand Marnier or Cointreau and it costs 10 bucks less! Made in France, the Prunier Liqueur d’Orange not only has all the flavor and texture of the fruit, but also the blossoms and peel. Think of Grand Marnier without all that sweetness that can quickly turn a perfectly happy stomach into a nauseous one. Your margaritas will taste fresher and brighter, your desserts richer. Add it with Lillet, Gin, lemon juice and Absinthe for the best drink ever, or sip it straight.