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Nov 1, 2011 05:45 AM

Trying new liqueurs

Lately, I've been trying to explore the wide world of liqueurs about which I know little other than some reading I've done. I'm very fond of ordering different cocktails from professionals, but sort of new to mixing my own beyond some standards. I'd like to expand both my cocktail-making repertoire and my tastes. To that end I took a tour of the liqueur section of the booze floor at my local grocery and found the following things that caught my eye:

Sapin Liqueur (Wolfberger) can't find much about this

Kummel Cristallise Guyot - can't find anything about this one exactly though creme de cassis comes up in searches but none are this bottle (could be a creme de cassis b/c folks are mad about that around here, but it wasn't shelved with the others, this bottle was with the liqueurs listed here)

Elixir D'Anvers

Fernet Branca Menta (I know of Fernet-Branca but thought I'd work my way up to it)



Liquore Strega

Among these can anyone recommend a favorite and/or drinks that would show case what it special about it? Of course I'd try anything on its own first to try to get to know it, but I'd also love to try mixing them. Or if any are duds, which to avoid?

Thanks for any input!

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  1. Picon is not commercially available in the US so I am jealous that you have it in Tokyo. Try it in a Hoskins cocktail , or a Nirvana http://spiritsandcocktails.wordpress....

    Averna is another favorite (in the same category as Punt e Mes or Nonino Amaro). Try it in a Haverna

    2 Replies
    1. re: barleywino

      Thanks, those look great! I wonder if I can scare up the Rittenhouse here? I'm familiar with Punt e Mes, but not Nonino Amaro. I'll keep an eye out. I've only begun to explore and only in one store (and a grocery at that) so far so who knows what I'll turn up.

      I'll definitely try the Picon first then if it's not available back home. Thanks for the tips!

      1. re: tokyopix

        Amaro Nonino and Averna are rather similar except that Nonino is pricier. In a pinch, they are interchangeable.

    2. Kummel is a caraway-driven liqueur that can have other spices to it like cumin or fennel. Some of my favorite drinks are:

      Kingston Heights
      1 1/2 oz Jamaican Rum
      1/2 oz Kümmel
      1/2 oz Orange Juice
      1 dash Pimento Dram
      Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

      Weekly Special
      1/3 Grapefruit Juice (1 oz)
      1/3 Gin (1 oz)
      1/6 Maraschino Liqueur (1/2 oz)
      1/6 Kümmel (1/2 oz)
      Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
      More about this drink:

      Spice Trade (from Beta Cocktails book
      )1 oz Kümmel
      1 oz Herbsaint Legendre
      3/4 oz Curaçao
      2 dash Angostura Bitters
      Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
      More about this drink:

      1. Averna is a very accessible Italian bitter liqueur. More rich and caramel than bitter, but with a lot of herbal notes. The best place to start is this one:

        Black Manhattan
        2 oz Rye Whiskey
        1 oz Averna
        1 dash Angostura Bitters
        Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

        Strega is an herbal liqueur that can best be compared to Yellow Chartreuse. There are more Yellow Chartreuse drinks out there. One recipe that uses it is the Eulogy (it can also be made with Yellow Chartreuse) from the Anvil in Houston:

        The Eulogy
        3/4 oz Batavia Arrack
        3/4 oz Stega or Yellow Chartreuse
        3/4 oz Falernum
        3/4 oz Lime Juice
        Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
        More about this drink:

        And one from Evan Harrison from Boston:
        1 1/2 oz Rye
        3/4 oz Punt e Mes
        3/4 oz Strega
        1 dash Angostura Bitters
        1 dash Orange Bitters
        Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a Marasca cherry.
        More about this drink:

        3 Replies
        1. re: yarm


          I recently opened a bottle of Punt e mes and was wondering what brand of rye or bourbon you would recommend to use with it in a Manhattan, and what ratios. I feel it needs special handling relative to other vermouths I have use - Noilly Pratt and M+R.

          I tried it with WT Rye and while it was interesting I felt like the spiciness in both the rye and vermouth clashed a bit.

          1. re: ncyankee101

            It isn't merely a sweet vermouth, but a vermouth mixed with an amaro such that it is almost a Vermouth Cocktail on its own. I feel that it needs a sweetener to complement it. These sweeteners include Yellow Chartreuse, Maraschino, and apricot liqueur in the Green Point, Red Hook, and Slope, respectively. I am not saying that you cannot or should not use it as a direct drop in for sweet vermouth, but it is a bit more challenging.

            For whiskey choice, looking through my recipes, I see everything from Old Overholt to Rittenhouse, Michter to Sazerac 6. Wild Turkey has a lot of heat to it as does Rittenhouse. Perhaps a softer whiskey to sooth the Punt e Mes?

          2. re: yarm

            Thank you, yarm! What great advice and recipes. I guess I'll skip the Strega then and grab the Yellow Chartreuse since you mention there are more drinks out there for it. I'm not a fan of caraway so I'll probably give that one a miss. There were so many things there I hadn't heard of before so lots to try!

          3. The Sapin is a fir tree liqueur. The better known facsimiles in the U.S. market are Clear Creek Distillery Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir (a drier version, no sugar added) and Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur. Gives a gin-like flavor to things. I can post recipes for these if you'd like, but it is probably not in my first tier of recommendations (which would be Picon and Averna).

            No clue about Elixir D'Anvers.

            3 Replies
            1. re: yarm

              Sapin sounds interesting. Thanks Mr Yarm for all the recipe ideas. You inspired me to dust off my bottle of Strega and make Adam Elmegirab's Ernst Happel.

              A bit of elaboration for those who haven't had them: While both Doug Fir EdV and Zirbenz share pine as a flavor, I find them to be very different. Doug Fir is all bright fresh pine flavors -- think tender new tips, bright snowy day. Zirbenz is earthy and dark -- think buried pine cone, dark foggy dusk. I like them both, but I think the Doug Fir is much more accessible.

              I agree that Punt e Mes is bitter enough that it is sort of a Sweet Vermouth and Amaro all in one. I love the stuff. I find that it benefits from acid rather than additional sweetness. Its both bitter and sweet on its own. In the interest of full disclosure, I like relatively few sweet cocktails. Punt e Mes and lemon is a lovely aperitivo. Add a bit of seltzer if it's too intense without. It also makes a nice Manhattan when used with a bold whiskey. If you like a drier Manhattan, it works well in a Perfect Manhattan because it contains so much flavor per unit volume.

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              1. re: yarm

                I thought that was what the Sapin might be as that's what I could find when googling (though not this brand). Thanks for your first tier recs. I'm going to do the Picon and the Averan first off. I see the Picon has had several changes made over the years. I'd like to try a punch with it.

                For the Elixir D'Anvers the most distinguishing info I can find is repeated mentions of giving it to horses for colic. Not sure if that recommends it, however...

                1. re: tokyopix

                  I don't think I've ever seen it used in a cocktail, but I have drunk Elixir d'Anvers and can advise that it makes a nice drink to have with some dark, bitter chocolate. I picked up my bottle in Antwerp itself, and that was the direction I was given there, at the source, so to speak.