Amaro is Italian for “bitter”. This bittersweet liqueur is traditionally made by infusing grape brandies with a secret blend of herbs, flowers, roots, citrus peels, and aromatic barks. After adding sugar it is then aged in bottles or casks. There are hundreds of kinds to choose from. We chose Amaro Meletti for its delicate violet and caramel notes, and its dry finish of saffron and spice.
Bitters are essentially herbal tinctures. Derived for medicinal uses, one could argue that their inclusion in a drink is for health purposes, a notion we certainly embrace. Originally sold to sailors to combat seasickness and stomach maladies, it is an excellent digestif comprised of herbs, bark, roots and/or fruits infused in alcohol over a period of time. Angostura bitters is probably the most commonly used of the bitters with notes of clove, gentian, and cinnamon.
Ancho Reyes is a newer chile liqueur based on a 1927 recipe from Puebla, a town in Mexico known for its dried and smoked poblanos known as ancho chiles. The liquor starts off tasting almost of honey, with a chocolate and cinnamon note, and finishes with true ancho spice. Careful- the heat creeps up on you.
Many of you have probably tried Campari, the popular Italian bright-red amaro often served with soda and an orange wedge. Aperol is it’s coral hued relative, a bit sweeter and scented with bitter orange.
Averna is an Italian amaro that tastes like saffron, dark fruit, and light herbs. When combined with other liquors, it releases a hint of roast coffee and dessert. We often use it as a richer substitute for sweet vermouth in recipes, or just drink it mixed with whiskey and a little lemon zest. Oh, and we put it in shots. We like shots.
(we use Wild Turkey 101)
You are dastardly, old friend. You are the devil: A deliriously entertaining devil that imbues us with courage, wild hares and, occasionally, tears. You come from the limestone-rich waters and blue grasses of Kentucky, and you are cool as hell. Ain’t no other liquor quite like you. You’re an unrepentant cowboy with a stoic code of ethics. Stick to your guns, dear bourbon. We love you. xoxo, Craft Cocktail
Translation: Bourbon is an American spirit that falls under the whiskey umbrella. Distilled from corn, rye, wheat and/or barley, it is the most regulated liquor in America (superceded only by pisco worldwide) and adheres to strict regulations of production. We used Wild Turkey 101 because we like its high proof and the way it mixes. Let’s do shots!
(we used Mae de Oro)
Cachaça is a Brazilian liquor made from sugarcane. Until recently, it was considered to be a part of the rum family, and is most similar to rhum agricole, but it is created and produced in Brazil. It legally has its own classification now - it can be grassy and pungent, and some say it’s almost oily.
Campari is arguably one of the world’s most popular Italian amaros, a staple as aperitifs with soda, or in cocktails such as negronis. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, and has been around for 150 years. Chinotto, a bitter citrus similar to orange, figures prominently in the flavor, along with rhubarb and ginseng.
Chartreuse is an old and mysterious spirit, produced by Carthusian monks in the French Alps for over 400 years. 130 herbs, plants, and flowers go into the distillation of this spirit. The recipe is unknown to all but 3 of the monks, who each keep a third of the recipe under a vow of silence, never to travel in the same vehicle in case of an accident. Green Chartreuse is a robust 110 proof, and has notes of an entire herb garden. It is sweet, and has hints of black pepper, thyme, cloves, and rosemary. Yellow chartreuse is the lighter of the varietals, and has notes of honey, violet, anise, and saffron.
Bartenders LOVE this stuff. It’s similar to Lillet, the French fortified wine. This Italian one is based on the Moscato d’Asti grapes, fortified with botanicals, citrus peels, and most importantly, cinchona bark- the source of quinine, which lends a bitter tinge. Lillet quit using quinine in the 1980s, so original recipes calling for it (such as Corpse Revivers) often substitute Cocchi. It’s great over ice as a spritzer, and is awesome in cocktails.
Créme de Cacao
Made from the cacao bean, this liqueur imparts some vanilla and chocolate notes. We used Marie Brizzard for its true flavor.
Crème de Mure
Made from blackberries, this liqueur is both sweet and tart. We used Briottet for its lush and refined finish.
Crème de Pêche
Distilled from peaches, the Mathilde crème de pêche tastes like… peaches. We also recommend Rothman and Winter's Créme de Pêche.
Crème de Pêche de Vigne
Distilled in France from the peculiarly pink-fleshed vine peaches of the Burgundy region, Créme de Pêche de Vigne is a little more aromatic and delicate than a regular Créme de Pêche. Of course, whatever you can get your hands on will work. We used Briottet, distributed by Anchor in San Francisco.
Crème de Violette
A sweet and floral liqueur reminiscent of candied violets and perfume. Use with a variety of spirits— it adds a dusty lavender tint to your drink.
Douglas Fir Eau de Vie
Made by Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon, this is a brandy infused with spring buds from the Douglas Fir tree. Its green color is completely natural. It tastes like an Alpine spring, Nordic blossoms and a hint of pear, and a little goes a long way.
Dry sparkling wine
Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter what kind you use. We like prosecco with this drink, but any sparkling wine will do. Each variety will impart varying levels of minerality and fruit. If you have a sweet wine and an even sweeter melon, you may not need any honeysuckle syrup at all.
Fernet Branca, affectionately referred to as bartender’s mouthwash, is an Italian amaro renowned for its ability to sooth bellies afflicted with gluttony. It tastes like bitter eucalyptus and is flavored with a combination of over 40 herbs such as myrrh, gentian, and chamomile.
Herbsaint was created in New Orleans by a gentleman named J. Marion Legendre, who learned how to make absinthe in France during World War I. Though there wasn’t wormwood in his recipe, the feds during Prohibition were not cool with his title reference to the trippy french booze and demanded that he change the name. HERBSAINT is nearly an anagram of ABSINTHE, in name and in flavor.
Laphroaig Scotch Whisky
Laphroaig is one of the peatiest scotches available, it reminds us of burnt latex. Seriously. Bandaids, smoke… this shit is awesome.
Licor 43 is a Spanish liqueur comprised of 43 ingredients, and it’s been around since 209 BC! It is absolutely delicious, tasting of vanilla, oranges, and flowers. It is a great bottle to have around, you can drink it as a cordial or mix with other ingredients to bring out various flavors.
Lillet Rosé is a French apéritíf wine, made from Sémillon, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Once it’s blended, the distillers add sweet and bitter orange peels, quinine, and other fruit liquers native to Podensac, France. With bright strawberry and honeysuckle notes on the nose, this is fantastic on its own as well as an ingredient in cocktails.
London Dry Gin
(we use Junipero)
Junipero gin, distributed by Anchor Distillery in San Francisco, makes a beautiful addition to your home liquor cabinet. It clocks in at 98.6 proof, and has assertive juniper notes with a hint of citrus and pepper.
Malört is a notoriously noxious Swedish wormwood liquor popular in Chicago- it tastes like earwax and burning rubber. We love it in all its disgusting glory. Letherbee makes a palatable malört that is much more refined. If you can’t find malört, substitute with absinthe in our recipes.
(we use Del Maguey Vida)
Mezcal is the oldest distilled spirit in North America. It is made from the agave plant, much like its better-known relative, tequila. There is overlap, but the methods of production are vastly different. Tequila is only made from one species of blue agave from the Jalisco region of Mexico, while mezcals can be made from 28 species of agave in and around the entire Oaxacan region.
In the heart of the agave (technically called a maguey plant) lies the piña. Mezcal producers harvest the piñas and pile them in earthen pits lined with volcanic rock heated by crackling smoldering wood. They then cover them with dirt, and over a process lasting many moons, slowly roast, smoke and caramelize them. This ancient process is still adhered to.
There are many wonderful varietals. Much like wine, the elevation and terroir where the agave grows has an effect on its flavor profile. Though generally known for its smokiness, varieties range from creamy tropical flavors to those of earthen mint and cinnamon. Still others have no smoke at all, with complex minerality and notes of flint or clay. We chose Del Maguey Vida for our cocktails due to its accessibility, but we definitely recommend tasting as many mezcals as you can. We absolutely love mezcal.
Miller High Life
The Champagne of Beers.
Pimm’s No.1 Liqueur
This British liquor is derived from gin, and is macerated with fruit, cinchona, and other secret herbs. Most of our liquors of choice are mysterious, but we think that’s what makes tasting and utilizing them more intriguing. Pimm’s is almost tannic or tea-like in flavor, fitting for the most popular of British drinks.
(we use Encanto)
We are really into pisco. Pisco is Peruvian (or Chilean) grape brandy, distilled in pot stills and unaged. The Peruvian varietal is produced under the most stringent government regulations in the world, the only liquor more regulated than American bourbon. There is a subtle complexity to it; the essence of the grape shines through. We love the floral and melon notes, but there is an underlying funk to it, reminiscent of wet earth and heavy rains. We’ve chosen Encanto, which was developed by bartenders in San Francisco, mostly because the bottle is ridiculously attractive. It tastes amazing too.
Regan’s Orange Bitters
This brew of orange zest, cinchona, caraway and cardamom has a nice spicy nose and adds complexity to a cocktail.
(we used Brugal Anejo or Flor de Caña)
Rums are almost exclusively produced in the Caribbean, a result of the colonization of islands by the French, Spanish and English. They built sugar refining factories, and made booze from the byproducts. The English and Spanish islands produced RUMS from molasses, while the French produced RHUMS from sugarcane. For batches, we like Flor de Caña for its dryness and subtle hint of cinnamon and its very affordable price point.
(we used Rittenhouse)
Rye whiskey is distilled from a sour mash that is at least 51% rye (the rest can be corn, wheat, or barley). It can be spicier than bourbon, and often has a thinner mouthfeel. We like the burn and price of Rittenhouse, and consider it a staple for our bar.
(we use Lunazul)
We used Lunazul Blanco because there is a freaking wolf on the cap and that’s pretty sweet. It’s a remarkably good tequila for its price point, distributed by Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky. Notes of vanilla and citrus abound, and there is a slight vegetal tone. It is great for use in cocktails.