Ten Liquors You’ve Probably Never Tasted

I’m sure you’re all very familiar with the big five: Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Gin and Whiskey.  And I’m sure you’ve even gone down a few paths off the main road:  Kahlua, Rumple Minze, Irish Cream, Scotch (technically still whiskey), and some others.

If you’ve ever had Jagermeister, than you’ve had a drink from the category that includes most of the liquors on this list.  The Digestifs and Apertifs category of liquor includes a wide swash of tastes.  Ranging from bitter and herbal to super sweet fortified wines, they can be drank neat, or used in cocktails.  Much like our culinary finesse, the American Palette fails to appreciate the delicate, and often exotic flavor of these old world recipes.

In a country that used to imbibe Gin like it was going out of style (and invented Bourbon), the America’s palette has swung decidedly in the Vodka direction, a spirit that, by our own definition, must be FLAVORLESS!!  Although I’ve admit I haven’t had them all, I’ve tasted many of them, and they are anything but flavorless, and often unique and unequaled by anything you’ve tasted before.

It’s taken me a bit of time to compile this list, and I’m already on to the next ten Liquors you’ve never tasted.  In any case, I’m releasing the first ten tonight.  First one to get the honors…

Cynar

Cynar is a peculiar drink because one of the 13 flavorings in it is artichoke.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love artichokes to death, but not usually in my cocktail.  But, think of it this way…we do put oranges, lemons, limes, celery, peppers, onions and olives in our drinks, so why not artichokes?  You can mix it with orange juice, but because of it’s low 33 proof alcohol content, I’d recommend a splash of vodka as well.  Or, try this recipe which is a variation of a Negroni.

Benedictine

This 80 proof sweet liquor is made with over 25 different herbs with the exact recipe a closely guarded secret for over 150 years.  It has been made by monks living in France, near Normandy, for over 500 hundreds years, with the lost and rediscovered recipe extant since 1863 of so.  You may have heard of it before as it is the main ingredient in “B & B,” which happens to be a blend of Benedictine and Brandy to make the liquor less sweet.  I would recommend a  Monte-Carlo Cocktail, which is similar to a classic Manhattan, but with this fine liquor in place of the vermouth.

Chartreuse

Also distilled by monks in France, near Grenoble in the Southeast, this liquor is infused with an unprecedented 130 plus herbal extracts.  It comes in two versions, a naturally green version clocking in at 110 proof, from which the color Chartreuse is actually derived, and a yellow version that is a milder and sweeter 80 proof.  It is especially potent and should only be used in moderation for flavor.  I’d rock it in an Emerald Martini if I were me, which I am.

St-Germain

Also lovingly hand made in France, this sweet and syrupy liquor is made primarily of Elderflowers, a close relative of American Honeysuckles.   Indeed, it does have a complex flavor, but is used as just a hint in cocktails due to it’s sweetness and low alcohol content of just 40 proof.  Try a St-Germain G&T to be classy because the bite of the liquor works quite well with the bitterness of the tonic.

Absinthe

Okay, perhaps some of you actually have had Absinthe.  This is perhaps the most well known of all the liquors on this list to Americans, mostly because of its long, and mostly false history.  Everyone knows that absinthe makes you hallucinate, right?  Wrong.  Absinthe does contain an ingredient called Grand Wormwood, which does contain a chemical called Thujone, which has the ability to cause some psychedelic reactions.  However, there is little evidence that there was ever a recipe for Absinthe that contained enough thujone to cause hallucinations.  In fact, it’s practically impossible.

What is indeed probably true is that the Bohemians and artists, Like Ernest Hemingway and Vincent Van Gogh, who professed their love of absinthe we probably hallucinating.  That because they were eccentric alcoholics and probably loved the heroine and cocaine, too!  Absinthe is very strong, also, ranging from 100-140 proof.  It’s meant to be watered down, but if these jokers were drinking it straight, they’d surely be seeing pink elephants.

In any case, Absinthe was banned from being sold in the United States for most of the 20th century, but is now legal to make, consume and buy and sell.  You’ll find it these days, but you’ll still pay a hefty price of 50-90 bucks a bottle.   And be warned, it is a anise based liquor, and although I don’t think it taste like cheap black licorice, if you don’t like black licorice or extremely bitter drinks, you won’t like this.

If you do end up with a bottle, try a Hemingway, named for the writer who reportedly loved this drink.  Just add absinthe to Champagne (we like a 50/50 mix, but that’ll get you some drunk)!

Campari

Colored bright red and hovering around 50 proof, this apertif is bitter and sweet, having derived it’s flavor from herbs and fruits.  It is commonly served as a flavoring for simple soda water, or when combined with gin (and a dash of bitters or two) and vermouth, composes the Negroni Cocktail, which I personal love to devour.  Although still very distinct and likely foreign tasting to an American, the sweetness of this liquor will be more acceptable than others on this list for first time tasters.  Interestingly, it is said that when Campari was originally formulated, the brewer would crush insects and add them to achieve the distinct bright red color.  I assume today they just use regular food die, but I can only guess as this recipe is also top-secret.

To make a Negroni, fill a rocks glass with, well, ice, and fill 1/3 with a quality, neutral flavor gin like Tanqueray and 1/3 sweet red vermouth.  Top with Campari and a few shakes of Bitters.  Serve with a twist (or wedge) of orange.

Pernod

This one can be a bit confusing.  Pernod is not absinthe, but it’s similar.  Further confusing the matter is the fact that Pernod is also the name of the company that produces it and many other spirits.  Even further confusing is that the company is called Pernod-Ricard, and they also make a similar product called Ricard, and they also make a genuine absinthe whose bottle is almost identical to a Pernod bottle, but says absinthe under the name.

It seems that the recipe for this anise based liquor was drafted to replace absinthe which had become banned.  It is drank in the same manner, or just over ice, and will cloud when diluted with water.  While you may have never tried Pernod, it’s likely you’ve tasted some of the company’s other offerings which include:  Absolut, Stolichnaya, Kahlua, Maker’s Mark, Seagrams, Canadian Club, Malibu, Beefeater, Jameson, Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, and Courvoisier, to name just a few.

This one you shouldn’t mess with in cocktails so much.  Add some club soda or tonic water to a bit and enjoy over rocks as an nice after-diner sipping cocktail.

Cinzano

Cinzano is a specific brand of Vermouth, which is classified as a fortified wine.  Unless you drink “real” cocktails like a Manhattan or Gin Martini, or the above mentioned Negroni, you’ve probably never encountered vermouth.  Some vermouth contains wormwood making it common to both this liquor and Absinthe.  Made with another closely guarded recipe, vermouth and cinzano are relatively low in alcohol content around 20 percent, but are essential ingredients in classic cocktail recipes.

A well stocked bar should always have some Rossa (red) and Blanca (white) on hand at all times.  To rock an old school Manhattan, I like my quite basic.  Chill a martini glass for a few moments with ice water.  Dump out the worthless water and dump in some good bourbon, like Maker’s Mark, or Knob Creek.  I’d hit up a good 3 oz.  and to that add two cap-fulls or so of Sweet Vermouth.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry and enjoy with a cigar.  You’re a man, now, or the sexiest lady in the room.

Bitters

Although there are many brands and types of bitters, in drink recipes and at any bar, the word bitters refers specifically to Angosturo Bitters, a brand made in    .  In fact, chances are that your liquor store won’t even carry another brand at all.  I’ve gotten other brands, but only through online purchases.

Bitters are, well…bitter, due to the fact that there is no sugar or sweeteners added to them.  They are very herbally, and viscous and potent.  Merely one or two drops in a cocktail will flavor it correctly, and 10 drops will ruin it.  Because of their potency, they usually come in small bottles similar to a hot sauce sized bottle.  They are also sometimes called “aromatic” bitters because of their strong, but very pleasant odor.

Bitters are high in alcohol coming in around 80-90 proof.  However, because only a small amount is used at a time, the alcohol is negligible.  In fact, in most countries it’s not even really considered an alcoholic beverage because if underage kids wanted to drink a bottle of this to catch a buzz, they would find it nearly impossible because the strength of the bitterness will choke you if you try to gulp some.

Another famous brand is Peychaud’s, hailing from New Orleans and being an essential ingredient in the Sazerac.  You can score these all over Louisiana, but making one at home takes a little more skill:

fill one glass with cubed ice and fill with water to chill.  In a second glass, muddle one sugar cube with 5 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters.  Once combined, add 2-3 oz of rye whiskey and stir to mix.  Empty the first glass, add a cap-full of absinthe, swirl to coat all the sides, and discard (although you can choose to leave the excess absinthe in).  Add the rye mixture to the absinthe-coated glass and serve with a twist of lemon.

Cachaca

Cachaca is what you drink non-stop in Brazil.  It sort of like Rum in the same way Mezcal and Tequila are the same, or Scotch and Bourbon are the same.  Same families, different spirits.  Whereas Rum is made from the molasses derived from refining sugar cane, Cachaca skips the extra steps and derives its alcohol directly from sugar cane sugars itself.

Cachaca is not super popular or even known outside of Brazil, but my local liquor store does carry one brand, pictured above, that is impossibly hidden on the bottom shelf and is dusty.  To put things in perspective, the entire world consumes 15 Million Liters a year; Brazil consumes 1.5 Billion Liters.  They seem to really like this shit.

In any case, the quintessential cocktail made with Cachaca is the Caipirnha.  In fact, it is the national drink of Brazil (the United States doesn’t have one, but Bourbon would have to be the de facto national beverage).  You can whip one of these up quite simply.  It’s like a Mojito, basically, but leave out the mint leaves and soda.  Muddle some sugar with some generous fresh lime juice, add the Cachaca and serve on the rocks.  Great summertime drink, during the day or at a Brazillian night club.

2 Responses to “Ten Liquors You’ve Probably Never Tasted”

  1. Very interesting, and FYI, last week on a TV show, they were having
    absinthe tea……

  2. […] Ten Liquors You’ve Probably Never Tasted November 2010 1 comment 5 […]

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