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Oct 26, 2011 12:25 PM

Looking for a Gift for a Cocktail Fiend: What 'Goes With' Whisky?

Hi all:

My SO is getting into at-home mixology. For his birthday, I got him the new PDT book and I want to get some kind of slightly-off-the-beaten path liquor that he might be able to use to make cocktails. He loves all branches of the whisky family and has been experimenting with cocktails using rye, bourbon, etc. I thought about looking through the PDT book and getting him everything to make a particular cocktail, but I'm worried about buying something that can only be used for that cocktail. I thought about Cointreau, but he hates sweet things and therefore, Manhattans, so I don't know how much it would be used. I've heard that Cynar plays well with whisky, so thought about that. Any thoughts on other things that play well with whisky and might be used in a range of cocktails? Bonus points if it also plays well with gin, the other spirit most often used in our house.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. If he hates sweet things it's going to be quite tricky. Most of the more obscure ingredients -- including Cynar -- are liqueurs, and are therefore at least somewhat sweet.

    Do I understand from your post that he also hates Manhattans? (No Cointreau in one of those, by the way.) What cocktails DOES he enjoy?

    7 Replies
    1. re: davis_sq_pro

      Thanks for the reply. His go-to drink is an Old Fashioned. When he's messing around, it's usually some kind of whisky mixed with some combination of bitters, citrus, and vermouth. We've been building our bar, but it's been a slow process since we are both students on a budget. I was going to buy him some nice vermouth, since ours was old and therefore probably going bad, but he just went and bought some himself. I guess what I'm looking for is something will add complexity to whisky drinks, but that isn't going to take over or up the sweet factor dramatically. For example, we recently went to Seattle and had a 30 Century Man at Tavern Law (Ardbeg, lemon, creme de cacao, cointreau, absinthe) and he can't stop talking about it. It was a really interesting and complex drink but it was still quite clearly a Scotch drink. I thought about getting him the ingredients for that drink (maybe that's why I had Cointreau stuck in my brain), but again am worried that they won't be very versatile. Is there something interesting within these parameters that might be a little more work horse-y?

      I may have muddled things even more, but hopefully someone will have some suggestions!

      1. re: Megbeck

        How about absinthe and Peychaud's bitters to make Sazeracs? They can also be used in many other cocktails so it won't be limiting.

        Alternatively, you could do selection of bitters. There are so many new and interesting ones out there these days.

        1. re: sku

          Thanks for the suggestions. We actually do make Sazeracs on occasion. I bought some absinthe because it goes so well with gin. I also should have mentioned that I'm not that interested in buying bitters. We already have Angostura, Peychaud's, blood orange, mint, and some mole-type thing that he bought from the people at Amor y Amargo in NYC (that bar is awesome!).

        2. re: Megbeck

          I'll stick my neck out and suggest getting him the fixings for a Paper Airplane: equal parts bourbon, Campari, Amaro Ramazzotti, and lemon. He probably already has the bourbon and Campari is very versatile. Ramazzotti has its uses too. It's a great drink.

          It is all in what you like. For example, I *still* don't have cacao on hand, and I rarely miss it. Cointreau (or another orange liqueur) goes in more cocktails than any other liqueur, I'd say.

          Ironically, an Old Fashioned is a sweet drink, I'd say. If he doesn't like Manhattans, I'd try a Perfect Manhattan, splitting the vermouth between sweet and dry. The Manhattan is a fabulous drink, and the source of inspiration for many, many variations.

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          1. re: EvergreenDan

            Thanks for the suggestions. The Paper Airplane sounds interesting. The SO has been talking about Amari (is that the plural?) lately, but I had no idea which would be a good investment. Having had some negative Negroni experience in the past, I probably have some sort of bias against Campari, but I'll look into it!

            1. re: EvergreenDan

              The Old Fashioned comment puzzled me as well, being that they're definitely sweet.

              I'd suggest a Vieux Carre (equal parts rye, cognac and sweet vermouth, dash Benedictine, 2 dashes Angostura and Peychaud). Yes, there's some sweetness, but much less sweet than an OF to my taste.

            2. re: Megbeck

              Oh if he likes Old-Fashioneds, get him a selection of various bitters. We use Fee Brothers's rhubarb bitters at the bar where I work and people go NUTS for 'em.

          2. Does he have a cocktail shaker or strainer? Or one of those implements to make lemon or orange peel twists. Or a jar of fancy cherries - which can be used to garnish a gin-based drink too (like a corpse reviver, my personal favorite recently).
            I like the idea of a variety of bitters too.
            All would go nicely with your bottle of fine whiskey.

            1. How about Luxardo Maraschino liqueur? Goes well with gin in an Aviation. Looks cool in its straw-covered bottle.

              I like my Manhattan a little drier. I had to hunt to find the recipe, but here's one that I've used a lot:


              I tend to make it slightly sweeter than this (a touch more sweet vermouth, a touch less dry vermouth). Note that it also uses maraschino liqueur to rinse the glass.

              4 Replies
              1. re: ted

                I love a Manhattan (rye), and have used the Luxardo cherries as a garnish. I'll have to try this recipe. I have avoided recipes calling for marachino liquer because I have a mental picture of marachino cherry juice (red supermarket variety). After reading this I'll have to get some of the Luxardo Liquer.

                1. re: pcdarnell

                  I'd go so far as to say that Maraschino liqueur tastes nothing like cherries. More like old sneakers. In a revolting-but-good way. ;)

                  If a Manhattan is too sweet, then I'd venture that a Vieux Carre will be too.

                  I do agree with SO: nearly every liqueur is sweetened far more than I would prefer. The solution for me is to get used to squeezing lemons and limes.

                  And, yes amari is the plural of amaro.

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                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    RE: Vieux

                    I know, but I stand by the old Fashioned comment. If that's nit too sweet...

              2. Maybe allspice dram (also referred to as pimento dram). It's made with a rum base and allspice berries and has the flavor of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It's used in a lot of rum based drinks, punches and mulled wines. It is also a key ingredient though in a really old bourbon cocktail called the lion's tale which is quite delicious:

                2 parts bourbon
                1/2 part fresh lime juice
                1/4 part allspice dram
                1/4 part simple syrup
                a couple dashes of angostura bitters

                I've also heard of it being used with rye but have never tried that. You could also get him a set of whisky stones or a subscription to Imbibe Magazine.

                1. You might consider Hella Bitters. It's an interesting artisan bitters concoction that you can find out more about here: