Thursday, March 10, 2011

Liquor leftovers

Photo: JOEL VEAK

What's in your liquor cabinet these days? No, seriously, what is that stuff in there? I've got bottles of, like, peanut-butter-infused sherry and schnozberry-flavored vodka stacked behind rows of bottles so generic they seem like they should have question marks on their labels: "Brandy?" Then there are the more reputable spirits that you don't necessarily know what to do with, bottles that a friend brought for that New Year's party, for example, or out-of-fashion spirits left over from before you started reading this magazine and learned how to have good taste.

Such situations present the home drinker with a conundrum: you don't really know how to utilize this stuff (or whether you should even want to), but you also can't bring yourself to throw booze away. That's a mindset left over from our ancestors' days as cave-drinkers, when, anthropology tells us, quality spirits were dreadfully hard to come by.

So what about that bottle of peach schnapps? Is it useless unless you're planning on partying with the 16-year-old version of yourself after school today? Maybe not.

You'd never drink peach schnapps on its own, says Simone Nakhoul, general manager at Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen (604 Columbus Avenue, Boston, 617.536.1100). Same thing with sloe gin. What you can do, he says, is steep 10 bags of English Breakfast tea in either bottle for eight hours. Then you can make a cocktail with 1.5 ounces of the tea-infused schnapps or sloe gin, 1.5 ounces of bourbon, .75 ounces of lemon juice, and three ounces of unsweetened black tea.

Even harder to resuscitate is a melon liqueur like Midori, pretty much the Platonic ideal of disgustingly sweet liqueurs. I tasked Corey Bunnewith of Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar (1310 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.450.9000) with doing just that. The result is a cocktail he calls Pennsylvania Green Eyes, made with two ounces of rye, .75 ounces of Midori, .5 ounces of Aperol, .5 ounces of lemon juice, and two dashes of orange bitters. The dry spice of the rye and the bitter citrus of the Aperol and lemon counteract the treacly melon candy.

Stephanie Clarkson, a private-party bartender and, like Bunnewith, a member of the Boston chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG), suggests using Midori in place of triple sec in a margarita. "Instead of being too sweet a note, it adds some play to the sour dominant note."

Butterscotch schnapps are salvageable too, Clarkson says, as in her recipe for the Almond Butter, made with one ounce of amaretto, one ounce of butterscotch schnapps, chocolate syrup, two to three ounces of cream, and seltzer water. It's like a grown-up egg cream, she says; the carbonation "cuts the sweet schnapps, and you wind up with a very clean-tasting drink that still satisfies the sweet tooth."

While other sweet liqueurs like Galliano aren't quite as maligned as melon liqueurs or schnapps, they're usually met with a big shrug of the shoulders when pulled from the cabinet. Matt Whitney of Alta Strada (92 Central Street, Wellesley, 781.237.6100) says Galliano's unique anise flavor can be a turnoff. You won't see it employed too often outside of the occasional Harvey Wallbanger, but it can be versatile. "Notes of anise, vanilla, juniper, and spice allow a person to use it in a variety of settings," he says. "Its flavor profile can really pop when tied together with similar ingredients." Mixing .75 ounces of Galliano with one ounce of Scotch, .75 ounces of Aperol, and .5 ounces of sweet vermouth allows it to play off the Aperol's bitterness and the vermouth's sweet herbal quality, while the Scotch cuts through some of the overwhelming anise.

If you don't feel like being so precise with your unwanted booze, you have a great opportunity to try punches. "You would generally speaking still follow the 2:1:1, spirit:sweet:bitter/sour proportions that we consider classic. Use the odds-and-ends liquor in whichever category it fits best," says restaurant and bar consultant Keith Harmon, another USBG guy.

Harmon adds, "Since alcohol, citrus, and sugar are all preservatives, they will keep in the fridge for quite some time. To serve, you'd pour the bottle out in a bowl with ice or individually and then finish with sparkling or still wine, hot tea, ginger beer, spices, etc."

It's an efficient way to get rid of a lot of leftovers at once, and perfect for preparing ahead for impromptu late-night gatherings at your place. Just make sure your friends don't bring any curious spirits with them.

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