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It’s okay to dump that regrettable bottle of booze

If you buy liquor, you may have a bottle that makes you wince. Maybe it’s a bottle that was trendy in a different decade, like Galliano or Midori. Or something with a color not found in nature, like blue curacao (aka Windex).

For me, it was a bottle of creme de cacao. It was good creme de cacao (I mean, as good as creme de cacao could be, I guess). I managed to make decent Brandy Alexanders by mixing it with cashew cream, but it didn’t take long for me to remember that (1) I’m not a fan of sweet dessert drinks and (2) I’d rather eat my chocolate than drink it.

So if you have a regrettable bottle and you can’t find someone to take it off your hands, what do you do? My recommendation: dump it and don’t think twice about it.

Now, I hate wasting food and money as much as the next person, but when it comes to alcohol and other unhealthy items, I make an exception. My body is not a garbage disposal, and forcing myself to finish a bottle I don’t like just to be frugal is the definition of being penny wise and pound foolish. Life’s too short and my liver’s too valuable to drink anything less than wonderful every single time.

So consider this a permission slip to pour that regrettable booze down the drain. Your health is far more important than saving a few dollars. Oh, and don’t forget to recycle the bottle.

See, this is why I don’t blog

When I started this blog a month ago, I was deep-diving into cocktails, so I wrote about that. But now I’m focused on something else (and not drinking because I haven’t been in the mood). According to the “experts,” if I switch topics, I’m blogging the “wrong” way.

Personally, I think it’s silly. How many of us have only ONE interest? Not me. I like studying something deeply for a while, then moving on when I think I’ve learned enough for my own purposes. Like over the past few days, I’ve been experimenting with whole food plant based (WFPB) recipes to level up my vegan eating game and thinking of ways to eat well and exercise while travelling (I still have bad memories of being stuck in northern Michigan on a group bus tour with my mom and having almost nothing to eat for days). I’m also a bit of a personal finance geek and a ninja when it comes to packing for travel. I’d love to write blog posts about those someday, but a stupid, niggling voice from reading too much writing advice in the past tells me it’s not good to jump from topic to topic.

The older I get, the more I ignore advice, but man, it’s hard to shake those stupid doubts sometimes. IMO, if advice paralyzes you from action or makes you feel less confident, disregard it. This is why I’ve dropped out of writing groups and online communities too–all the advice flying around had long stopped helping me and instead was making it impossible to write. I know it goes against the sharing culture we have now, but I’m much happier and more productive as a reclusive writer. If that means I’m doing it “wrong,” so be it. Always remember that you’re a single data point. The general consensus advice  may not work specifically to you, and that’s okay. You do what works for you.

The Last Christmas cocktail

For those of you who celebrate, Merry Christmas!

I recently made a small batch of allspice dram, which is a spicy liqueur sometimes used in Tiki drinks. Although it was an interesting experiment, I’m not sure I’m enough of a cocktail fanatic to make it again. In the meantime, I have a cute little pint jar of the stuff to play with. (I made a half batch and cut the amount of water to match the amount of sugar.)

To be honest, I’m not much of a Tiki drink fan. Rum and I have a, um, complicated relationship and even though I appreciate it more now than in the past, I don’t think it’ll ever be the spirit I reach for first. So I searched for non-Tiki uses for allspice dram.

One that caught my eye was the Last Dance cocktail, which is a riff off the Last Word (one of my favorites). The Last Word is an equal parts cocktail, so it’s dead simple to make and scale up for multiple servings. I included brief notes on the taste of each ingredient so you can see how the pieces fit together).

Last Word

3/4 oz. gin (sharp) (A subtle gin gets lost in this cocktail, so use a London Dry gin here.)
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur (funky, sweet, slightly bitter)
3/4 oz. green Chartreuse (intensely herbaceous and sweet)
3/4 oz. lime juice (sour)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

On paper, the Last Word shouldn’t work. Individually, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse tend to overpower a cocktail, yet the Last Word includes generous pours of both. They somehow cancel each other out to form a complex base for the gin and lime.

The Last Dance I linked to swaps all of the components in the Last Word, but keeps its four-equal-parts structure. I switched the bourbon to rye because the sharp pepperiness of rye can punch through the strong flavors of the other ingredients. Since the most common description for allspice dram is “Christmas in a bottle” (because it smells like a mall Christmas display), I call my variation “Last Christmas”:

Last Christmas

3/4 oz. rye (sharp) (No mellow Canadian ryes here–you want something more assertive.)
3/4 oz. allspice dram (funky, sweet, slightly bitter)
3/4 oz. Benedictine (intensely herbaceous and sweet)
3/4 oz. lemon juice (sour)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

The Last Christmas reminds me a bit of a whiskey sour, and if you squint at the recipe, you can sort of see one even though the proportions are out of whack. It does require a well-stocked bar to make, but if you happen to find yourself somewhere with all of the ingredients and decide to try this, let me know what you think.

Drink-mixing tools: the basics

You don’t need many tools to mix great drinks, but the right ones will make the process easier:

Jigger or tiny measuring cup: This is the most important tool, in my opinion. Cocktails demand precise ingredient measuring, so you need a tool to help you do just that. Oxo makes a good (and cute!) little measuring cup as well as a stylish jigger, and both are easy to use. You could also measuring spoons and some math (e.g., 1 fluid ounce = 2 tablespoons, 1/4 fluid ounce = 1 1/2 teaspoons), but this can get cumbersome, especially after the first drink.

Juicer: Freshly squeezed juices make a huge difference. I have the orange Chef’n juicer (big enough to squeeze oranges and small grapefruits as well as lemons and limes), but this reamer by Oxo is an effective, budget-friendly option.

Shaker: If your drink contains fruit juice or syrup, it should be shaken with ice to make sure everything mixes together. You have two options: a “cobbler” shaker (which has a mixing tin, a strainer lid, and a cap), or a “Boston” shaker (which is two tins or a tin and a pint glass). Both have their fans and detractors, so use whatever’s easiest for you. In a pinch, you can even use a Mason jar as a shaker.

Strainer: You won’t need this if you’re using a cobbler shaker. Since I use a Boston shaker, I have Oxo’s strainer because its short handle stays out of my way (note: I’m not sponsored by Oxo–I simply like their stuff). If you’re using a Mason jar, you can use the lid to hold back the ice when you pour, although this requires more hand coordination than I have.

Stirrer: Drinks that contain only liquor are usually stirred with ice to keep them beautifully clear. A long-handled bar spoon is the tool to get, but a chopstick or table knife works too.

That’s it! There are tons of other gadgets and accoutrements that you could get, but I prefer keeping things simple. Besides, more money spent on gadgets means less money available for booze and ingredients. It’s all about prioritizing. 😉

My own home bar (for now)

I make a cocktail once or twice a week, if that, and I always cut the recipe in half. The result is that it takes me months, sometimes even years, to finish a bottle. Over the past two years, I went a bit overboard on getting new things faster than I could drink them and ended up with a collection.

Over the weekend, I did a quick inventory and jotted some random notes:

  • Gin (Plymouth) (I ordinarily wouldn’t have this, but $14 for a 1L bottle at duty free was too good of a bargain to pass up when it’s $35/750 ml in Michigan)
  • Gin (Tanqueray) (chosen after taste testing it with Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater mini bottles)
  • Vodka (Tito’s) (chosen after taste testing it with Grey Goose and Smirnoff mini bottles and remembering other vodkas I’ve had over the years, including Absolut and *barf* Popov)
  • White rum (Flor de Cana 4 Extra Sec) (probably won’t rebuy unless a recipe specifically requires white rum)
  • Gold rum (Flor de Cana 7) (unopened)
  • Dark rum (Myers’s) (half bottle, unopened)
  • Bourbon (Buffalo Trace) (my second bottle)
  • Bourbon (Elijah Craig) (I don’t drink often enough to need more than one bourbon at a time and Buffalo Trace is great, so I either won’t rebuy this or will alternate with Buffalo Trace.)
  • Rye (Rittenhouse) (A workhorse rye. I love Manhattans made with this.)
  • Cognac (Courvoisier VSOP) (I got a half bottle for experimenting. It’s interesting, but I won’t rebuy.)

Liqueurs:

  • Campari (I burn through this faster than anything else. Campari and soda is my go-to drink.)
  • Cointreau (an essential liqueur that appears in lots of cocktails)
  • Green Chartreuse (for making the Last Word, one of my favorite cocktails)
  • Luxardo Maraschino (again, for the Last Word)
  • Cherry Heering (This is great in Singapore Slings and will have fun experimenting with this, but probably won’t rebuy. Not that it’ll be an issue for a long time…)
  • Benedictine (Ditto. It took a while for me to warm up to this strong, sweet, herbal liqueur. It’s essential in Singapore Slings and Vieux Carres, but I don’t love those enough to keep this around when there are so many other drinks I enjoy.)
  • Marie Brizard white creme de cacao (I impulse-bought this to make Brandy Alexanders. I won’t rebuy this for the same reasons I don’t have Frangelico or Kahlua–it’s not versatile enough for the drinks I prefer to make. At least it’s tasty straight and in coffee.)

Miscellaneous:

  • Cocchi Vermouth de Torino (I always have a half bottle of this for Manhattans and negronis.)
  • A standard set of bitters (Angostura, Regan’s No. 6 orange, Peychaud’s)

At least it’s a well-considered collection and not haphazard? Cocktail geeks and people who entertain a lot will probably scoff at this list (Only 18 bottles? No tequila or Scotch? Only two bourbons? What about dry vermouth for martinis?) and other people may think I have too many. I feel somewhere in between: I like having options, but there’s a fine line between options and clutter, and clutter makes me antsy.

Honestly, I’d rather have a smaller but still efficient collection. I suspect I’m not the only one, judging by the success of articles like The 9-Bottle Bar and books like The 12 Bottle Bar and The One Bottle Cocktail (a book I highly recommend if you enjoy messing around in the kitchen).

I think my ideal home bar has between 8-10 bottles, so I won’t rebuy many of the things I currently own. In the meantime, I’ll have fun experimenting and really getting to know each item until it’s gone. Which, at my current rate of use, will be a long time from now.

Intro to my home bar posts

Since I’ve got cocktails on the brain right now, I figured I’d do a series of posts about booze. A friend said it would be a fascinating topic (thank you, Sarah!) and it was the boost I needed to continue this blog past one post.

I’ve been interested in cocktails since college. I partially blame Tom Cruise—Cocktail is an objectively awful film, but it made drink mixing look like so much fun, and I wanted to move beyond fuzzy navels (I had an, um, incident involving peach schnapps and to this day I get a little queasy if I sniff a peach/booze combo) and vodka and lemonade (the drink of choice in my sorority).

So I bought a Mr. Boston bartending book and experimented making Long Island Iced Teas and Lynchburg Lemonades at parties, with mixed results. You can only get so far with cheap booze, sweet-and-sour mix, and limited funds. Plus, the 90s weren’t exactly a great time for quality cocktails.

Fast forward to today, and the craft cocktail movement has made once obscure, inaccessible ingredients like allspice dram and creme de violette available to home bartenders. There’s plenty of new information about cocktail theory and technique, not just recipes. The problem now, I think, is being overwhelmed with too many options and wanting to do it “right.” It doesn’t help that many articles have intimidating lists of “must have” bottles for the beginner home bar. I especially get irked at lists that leave out vodka because it’s supposedly not cool. I’m sorry, but leaving out something as versatile as vodka makes no sense to me.

I’ll be up front: I’m not a drinks expert and I don’t claim to be one. I don’t even consider myself a cocktail enthusiast per se, not in the way that dedicated cocktail bloggers and Instagramers are. And to be honest, most cocktail books and databases confuse me if I’m not looking for something specific. I just like a good, well-made drink and learning new things about booze.

But I’m also trained as an engineer and I used to write about food, so I’ve spent way too many brain cycles overthinking my home bar. How to stock it, what to keep, what not to rebuy, what to make, how to keep it streamlinef. I figured I might as well do a brain-dump here and hope it might help someone.

At the very least, I’ll have a blast writing, and that’s no small thing.

Blogging ambivalence, trying yet again

I’ve lost count of how many blog posts I’ve written and taken down over the years. I hated blogging when it was part of “building my brand” because it was all about creating an image, not what I actually wanted to write.

But I have to admit that writing less frequently has atrophied my writing muscles. Worse yet, I convinced myself that I was better off invisible, that no one would care what I had to say anyway. That’s not a fun way to go through life.

I guess I want to approach this blog with a new mindset, viewing it as something I do solely for me, for *gasp* fun. I’ve always processed my thoughts through writing, and judging by how tangled my brain’s been lately, more writing should only help. If this attempt doesn’t go well, I can always delete the blog. It wouldn’t be the first time.