Alright, so, here's the story: When I buy liquor to drink at home, I keep what I have pretty simple. I'll have a bottle of gin, a bottle of bourbon (and though I don't always get the same thing, it'll usually be one bottle at a time), some sweet and dry vermouth, occasionally some rum, and that's pretty much it most of the time.
Part of the reason is that in general I'm usually on a budget, part of the reason is that I don't entertain guests too often, maybe it's habit, but fundamentally, that's what I keep at home/drink regularly.
Anyhow, despite how simple that is, I know there are a tremendous number of interesting and exciting liqueurs out there, some of which I've tried or had in cocktails but never bought a full bottle of, plenty of which I've never tried, and I'm sure plenty of which I've never even heard of. So I'm thinking that whenever I get around to restocking, I'll try to pick up a bottle or two of something different.
So, I suppose I'm asking for recommendations/suggestions. I'm sure I'll be using whatever I get to make cocktails, so ideally I'm looking for something that can work with gin, whiskey and vermouth (and occasionally rum?) in some capacity. And I guess versatility would be good (I know, it's a bit much to ask for given how little I actually have to work with, but at the same time, I wouldn't want to get the kind of liqueur that can be used to make only 2 drinks in the whole world, with of them also requiring aquavit, applejack, chambord, and some sort of syrup that hasn't been sold in America for the past 50 years.)
Also, I'm not opposed to liqueurs that can be consumed straight.
In terms of flavors and such, I'm not too picky; I think herbal is a good property, although I like lots of things. I'm comfortable with bitter liqueurs too (like Campari, Italian aperitifs, etc.), but there isn't any particular type of liqueur I'd rule out, other than overly sweet or candy-like ones (I can even enjoy those, although that's really not what I'm looking for right now).
So, since I'll be thinking about this for a while before I buy anything, are there any suggestions anyone can offer? Any advice would be appreciated.
The best way to build up your bottle collection is figure out which recipes you want to make, determine which bottles you would need, and how many recipes that bottle appears in.
When we started our bar way back when, we were using Duffy, Vic, and a few other 1940-1990s books. Besides a bottle of Cointreau, we opted for Benedictine for it appeared in many of the drinks that I was curious about or had out (such as many of the New Orleans drinks). With Benedictine, we could make Caprice, Vieux Carre, Preakness, Cornell Special, and other drinks. We added bottles slowly using the two hand rule -- unless we were in a distant Mecca of booze, we limited it to 2 bottles where generally one was a staple like rye or vermouth.
In terms of overall value, triple sec/Cointreau, Benedictine, absinthe/pastis, Campari, and apricot liqueur get a lot of mileage in our house.
If you're ever traveling to the Pyrenees, I understand that Andorra is basically one big duty-free shop. My daughter bought a bottle of Green Chartreuse there last week for $ 15.70 (12 euros). Even in Voiron, it's more like 32 dollars (25 euros). I've briefed all my European liquor mules.
+1 for yarm.
That said, I adore Campari and use it much more than other things. It is very flexible. With your vermouths, gin and bourbon, you can now make a Negroni, Boulevardier, gin / Campari / soda, Campari / soda, and (if you like this sort of thing) Campari / orange juice. And of course all the things you can already make.
I made a Ward 8 variant last night with Bourbon, orange juice, lemon juice and Campari instead of Grenadine. Loved it.
Orange liqueur is certainly the most called-for and essential liqueur. If you want to maximize the cocktail that you can make, Cointreau would be a good purchase in the next bottle or two. If you are on a budge, look for Luxardo Triplum, which is slightly cheaper and also really great.
I do feel you pain about not being able to make things without a big liquor cabinet. Like spices, a good selection of bottles will great expand what you can make.
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I was under the impression that Benedictine also had some honey? (Not sure if that's what you were implying since you said they're similar.)
I haven't tried Drambuie for several years, since an unfortunate Rusty Nail incident, but if you say it's that good I'll buy a bottle next time I'm at a liquor store...
I really love St. Germain. An Elderberry Liquor that works great with both Gin and Whiskey as well as with soda, lemonade, and even straight. Great stuff!