Rarely does a good cocktail rely on just one alcoholic item, hence the name given to those skilled at making cocktails: a mixologist. So, let’s mix sh!t up! This article is intended to follow the first Bar Cart article where we gave a run down of the basic liquors to keep stocked. The exciting thing about investing in your liquor cabinet is each additional item will allow you to experiment with many new cocktail recipes. After you have your basic booze foundation, you’ll want to get a hold of these items: triple sec, Campari, and dry+sweet vermouth. A bar cart without these liquor sidekicks… well, it sucks.
If you learn how to use these liqueurs and fortified wines correctly, they should be the bottles that run low most often, after your gin, vodka, tequila, etc. Although, they shouldn’t run low that often! These are sidekicks, not the main act. Cocktail recipes will likely call for an ounce or less of these staples. They bring out the best in liquors, but they’re not often chosen as a standalone beverage – unless you fall head over heels in love with amaros (Italian herbal liqueurs), then you may want to have a glass of Campari on the rocks.
First Stop: Triple Sec
There’s nothing not to like about triple sec. It’s a sweet, orange liqueur that you have undoubtedly consumed if you have ordered a margarita. Beyond being a margarita necessity, triple sec also makes an appearance in several tiki beverages and classic cocktails. Once you’re familiar with the taste that this orange liqueur brings, you can rely on triple sec to sweeten up nearly any cocktail creation. If it’s classic margaritas your taste buds are after, pick up a bottle of Cointreau. Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao is another good choice – its spices pair well with rum, so it should be your first choice if you intend to make tiki drinks and/or classic cocktails.
Cointreau $27.99 for a 750 ml; Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao $27.99 for a 750 ml
Campari, the bittersweet Italian
Strikingly red in color, Campari is a liqueur that starts sweet and ends bitter. It’s one of the more popular aperitifs, which is just a fancy way to say ‘served before dinner.’ Unlike something initially sweet and approachable like triple sec, Campari may require some time to appreciate – she can be an acquired taste, but she’ll grow on you. The Negroni and the Americano are two classic cocktails that allow the herbal+citrusy taste of Campari to shine. If you’re looking for a more complete listing of cocktails to make using this liqueur, check out Campari’s cocktail page.
Campari $22.97 for a 750 ml
Dry + Sweet Vermouth, you need them both.
Vermouths are not a liqueur, but rather a fortified and aromatic wine – fortifying red wine is the making of sweet vermouth, and fortifying white creates dry. Now is probably a good time to mention that you need to refrigerate vermouth after opening a bottle because it’s (basically) wine!! There’s a whole world of artisanal vermouths out there, but we’re going to stick to what we know: dry vermouth is more bitter, while sweet is … you guessed it, sweet! Dry vermouth is needed to execute a martini, which every bar cart should be able to offer. Sweet vermouth is an ingredient of a Manhattan and a Negroni, which is why it should be an automatic purchase if you’re getting Campari. These, too, may not be initial favorites. Try, try again!
Martini & Rossi Dry (or Sweet) Vermouth $7.29 for a 750 ml; Dolin Vermouth de Chambery Dry (or Rouge) $10.97 for a 750 ml; Nolly Prat Extra Dry (or Sweet) Vermouth $9.99 for a 750 ml
Once you’ve added these additions to your cabinet or cart, here are a few more classic cocktails you can make. Happy mixing!
- 2 oz. Blanco or Silver tequila
- 1 oz. Cointreau
- .75 oz. fresh lime juice, ~1 lime
- 2 tsp. simple syrup or agave nectar
- Don’t have either? 1 tsp. of sugar will do!
- Salt or sugar for rim
- Citrus for garnish (optional, but encouraged)
- A lowball glass
- Cut lime in half and use the wedge to wet half of the rim of a lowball glass. Dump a small portion of salt or sugar on a plate, then salt (or sweeten) the rim
- Fill a different, large glass halfway with ice cubes. Add tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and sweetener of choice
- Stir the ingredients violently for 15 seconds, shifting the ice up and down to give the effect of being ‘shaken’
- Strain the shaken ingredients into your prepared lowball glass filled with ice
- Add a slice or wedge of citrus garnish – your choice! Oranges and limes are both great
Just so you know:
- Margs are usually prepared with a cocktail shaker. If you have one, no need to use another glass. Simply add your ingredients and ice into the shaker (steps #2 and #3) and shake for the same amount of time, 15 seconds
Stirred Dirty Martini
- 2 oz. gin or vodka
- 1 oz. dry vermouth
- A splash – .25 oz. olive brine, depends how dirty you like it 😉
- An olive to garnish, or maybe three
- Martini or coupe glass
- Fill a large glass (not your serving glass) with ice; pour in gin or vodka, dry vermouth and olive brine
- Stir until outside of glass is cold to touch
- Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. For a ‘chill’ glass, simply stick your coupe or martini glass in your freezer for a few minutes prior
- Garnish with an olive on a toothpick
- Like a margarita, martinis can also be shaken. Same ingredients, just sub the mixing in a glass with a shake in your cocktail shaker. Try them both and determine your preference! Some prefer the stirred martini to shaken because it results in a less cloudy beverage that’s free of small ice shards
- 1 ½ oz. gin
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- An orange (for garnish and orange juice)
- A lowball glass
- Fill ¾ of a lowball glass with ice cubes
- Add gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Stir for 20 seconds, dissolving the ice
- Squeeze orange wedge over glass and rub the wedge around the edge of the glass
- Garnish with an orange slice or elevate your garnish game with a citrus ribbon – using a citrus channel knife is the only way to achieve a ‘grammable ribbon
You do you:
- The traditional Negroni recipe only calls for 1 oz. of Gin. Try that ratio out, if your prefer a less pronounced gin flavor!
- For additional orange flavor, you can drop the orange wedge into the glass (after step #3)
- Rather serve it up? Use any old glass to stir your ingredients with ice. Add another 10 seconds to stirring in step #2 and strain into a coupe or martini glass