Dusty back bar

Give those old bottles of obscure booze a new life
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Photo by Tomas Flint

Imagine yourself at one of the numerous holiday parties this time of year. You are in someone else’s home, enjoying the libations they have provided. At some point, whether the booze well has run dry, or you are looking to entertain the guests with your newly acquired bartending skills, you go to the liquor cabinet for inspiration. You open the cabinet, and to your dismay, you find a selection of mysterious dusty, old, bottles of liquor: relics of parties gone by.What can you make with them?

Here you will find a basic understanding of some of these long-abandoned spirits, updated for modern tastes. The following drinks are approachable and contain seasonal ingredients. For example, winter citrus is at its best this time of year, and hardy herbs such as rosemary and thyme complement nearly every flavor. In a pinch, the spice cabinet can be your best friend for a quick simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water).

When deciding which spirit to explore, consider my three “must haves” before you begin:

  1. The spirit must be (somewhat) shelf stable. Certain spirits simply won’t last forever. Many homes have a room- temperature, opened bottle of vermouth, or a bottle of Baileys sitting around. Vermouth is a delicate aromatized wine that must be refrigerated and sealed once it has been opened, much like a bottle of wine. Cream-based liqueurs are also not the best option unless they are fresh and refrigerated. Make sure to pick liquors that have a long life and have not spoiled over time. Look for signs of texture changes, foul smells, fermentation, and odd discoloration. Some spirits have an expiration date on the bottle as well.

  2. The spirit must have limited applications. It’s not as much fun to experiment with a spirit that you can easily search online for multiple existing recipes. Likewise, it is much more interesting to work with a spirit, such as Galliano, with only a few well-known cocktails. Any spirit you discover will be delicious in a classic “sour” cocktail, — 1-1/2 ounces any spirit of your choice, 1/2 ounce of your liquor-cabinet find, 3/4 ounce fresh lemon or lime juice, and 3/4 ounce of simple syrup. Shake all together and strain into a cocktail coupe.

  3. The more obscure the better. A spirit that has been sitting locked away and its only purpose is holding down the shelf. The joy is in bringing the spirit back to life, in a new way.

With these parameters in mind, let’s explore a few of these unsung heroes that just might save the party.


An Italian liqueur with a tall, imposing bottle that’s impossible to miss and unlike any other. Galliano received some fleeting success with the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail, popularized in the early 1970s, but has since fallen out of fashion. Golden colored with an herbal sweetness, the primary flavors of Galliano are vanilla and star anise, with a blend of Mediterranean spices. Galliano pairs well with citrus, coffee, pears, sparkling wine, root beer, honey, and, famously, oranges. If you are looking for spirits to pair with Galliano, rum, whiskey, and vodka are all excellent. Serve this as a delicious aperitif with lemon, orange, and sparkling wine, or as a digestif on its own or in a cup of coffee at the end of a holiday feast. A single ounce of Galliano in a glass filled with ice and root beer is quick and easy; however, if you are feeling even more adventurous, whip up our cocktail featuring orange cranberry sauce. Try it, I’m not kidding.

Holiday Galliano Sour: 1-1/2 ounces vodka or whisky, 1/2 ounce Galliano, 3/4 ounce simple syrup, and 1 heaping tablespoon orange cranberry sauce. Shake all ingredients together, strain into a glass over ice. Garnish with a cranberry or a kumquat.

Crème de menthe

Crème de menthe is a sweet, minty, lower- alcohol liqueur coming in at twenty-five percent ABV. Cream is often an added ingredient in Crème de menthe cocktails; however, crème does not imply a cream- based liqueur, but a sweet one. Many of your favorite cocktails already use fresh mint, such as mojitos, mint juleps, and whiskey smashes. Available in a vibrant green or clear version, crème de menthe is an easy alternative to fresh mint, as long as you limit the amount of added sugar. Seriously, use it sparingly—as crème de menthe can very easily overpower the flavor of a drink. My preferred brand of crème de menthe is Tempus Fugit. Try a half ounce with any spirit of your choice, with a little cucumber and some citrus, and you’ll fall in love. You can also use crème de menthe in your next whiskey sour, a vodka or ginger beer spritz, or drizzled over a scoop of chocolate ice cream, floating in a glass of dark beer for dessert.

Spring Green: Combine 1-1/2 ounces bourbon of your choice, 1/2 ounce Tempus Fugit crème de menthe, 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice, and a 1/2 ounce simple syrup with two slices of cucumbers in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass with a cucumber garnish.


Chambord is a French berry liqueur made with black raspberries, blackberries, currants, Madagascar vanilla, and cognac. It has moderate sweetness, and it is velvety and fruity with a cognac backbone. Chambord is enjoyed on its own or is mostly known for the classic French martini (Chambord, vodka, pineapple). Spirits that pair well with Chambord are vodka, gin, brandy, tequila, or bourbon. Ginger, citrus, sparkling wine, orange, mint, grapefruit, rosemary, and chocolate are all complementary flavors. For an easy cocktail, pour an ounce of Chambord in a glass of sparkling wine.

Chambord gimlet: Combine 2 ounces of gin or cognac, 3/4 ounce of lime juice, and a 1/2 ounce of Chambord into a shaker with ice. Shake well. Sweeten with a little simple syrup if desired. Strain into a cocktail coupe glass or a small rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a raspberry.

Have fun when playing around with cocktails! As we say in the industry, it’s just dinner; the company is what matters most. My last word of advice, if you won’t drink it, don’t serve it. Happy mixing.

Categories: Food & Drink, Taste