We all have one or two leftover bottles at the back of the cupboard that are simply collecting dust. Maybe someone gifted you a bottle of brandy or you bought some banana liqueur because you really wanted to try the recipe on Instagram, or perhaps you tried a cocktail on holiday and decided to bring some random local bottle home but never got around to actually making anything with it.
My semi-unused collection includes cucamelon gin, which now actually seems appealing and I’m wondering why I have never used it and Tsipouro Tirnavou from a Greek holiday. I didn’t even remember what that one was and had to look it up… Turns out it is unaged brandy made from the local grape. This one is made without anise flavouring. And then I have a bottle of Bols Genever.
What is stored in the back of your cupboard?
In this article, I have listed some common leftover bottles and how you can use them to create delicious drinks and perhaps even enhance your cooking practices.
Strega, 40% ABV, is a bright yellow (natural colour) Italian liqueur made with over 70 aromatic herbs and spices, including saffron, vanilla, lavender, myrrh, star anise, citrus peel, juniper and cardamom. The spirit is aged in ash barrels.
Italians use Strega as a digestif served neat or on the rocks after a meal. The liqueur is very flavoursome, so it works well as a flavouring agent rather than as the main ingredient. I like to use it with aged spirits such as cognac, whisky and rum. Even aged gin would work. If you like Chartreuse but can’t always find it, use Strega as a substitute. I like pairing it with cherries in summer.
45ml Rum (I used Ron Colón Salvadoreño Over Proof Aged Rum)
30ml Fresh lime Juice
15ml Sugar syrup, optional (I skipped it)
Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel.
The Red Witch
40ml Hennessy Cognac
4 Ripe cherries (+ extra for garnish)
5ml Monin Falernum Syrup
15ml Fresh lemon juice
Remove the stones and muddle the cherries in the shaker. Add remaining ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into an ice-filled tumbler and garnish with extra cherries.
Sweet Strega O’ Mine
25ml Rum (I used Spytail Cognac Cask)
Stir all ingredients with ice and double strain into a cocktail glass or into an ice-filled tumbler.
Strega works well in both sweet and savoury dishes. You can use it as a marinade for your BBQ chicken or in recipes to replace wine. It will add plenty of flavour to a pasta dish. Strega is basically your ultimate spice mix in liquid form.
It also lends itself to many desserts. Add it to your cake or pancake mix, when making jam or chutney, or pour it over vanilla ice cream. It also pairs well with desserts with ricotta. See their website for many dessert suggestions.
Brandy & Cognac
Surprisingly, leftover brandy or cognac often ends up in the back of the cupboard, but it is actually a spirit that could be used in many ways.
Obviously, brandy is a great winter warmer served neat in a nice brandy glass. If the taste is too strong for you, make a cocktail instead. There are many classic cocktail recipes with brandy, such as Sidecar, Sazerac, Vieux Carre and Champagne Cocktail, or dessert drinks such as Tom & Jerry, Eggnog and Brandy Alexander. You can even substitute brandy for vodka in Espresso Martini. And as it is the season of hot toddies, why not use brandy instead of whisky or rum?
Lemon peel for garnish
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled tumbler. Garnish with lemon peel.
Brandy can be added to many desserts, Christmas cakes, mince pies (English Christmas dessert) or anything with chocolate. Make a brandy sauce for your steak or chicken. My husband makes a great Italian rabbit stew for which he soaks prunes in brandy for 24 hours.
Mead doesn’t actually last too long, so if it has been opened and stored in your cupboard for months, it may be safest to just use it in cooking like you would wine. Unopened bottles can easily last over two years if stored properly.
See my previous guide to mead for more information and recipe suggestions.
Akvavit (or Aquavit)
Akvavit is a popular spirit mainly enjoyed in the Nordic countries, where it is served neat during various events and family gatherings like midsummer or August crayfish parties. Drinking akvavit is often linked to drinking songs.
Most akvavit is flavoured with caraway and dill, but other spices such as fennel, anise, cumin or cinnamon can also be used. In Norway, akvavit is often aged in a barrel, while in Denmark they prefer theirs unaged.
it neat throughout a meal – it pairs especially well with seafood dishes. Swap gin into akvavit and serve with tonic water, make a Martini with unaged akvavit or use an aged one in a Manhattan or White Negroni. Try akvavit in a Sidecar instead of brandy.
Akvavit-cured salmon is a must for your Christmas table.
Metaxa is a spirit made by distilling Muscat wine from Samos and wine distillates from sun-dried grapes. These are aged separately before being blended in Limousine oak casks. The aged spirit is then infused with a secret mix of botanicals before being left in the casks for another year. The only known botanical is rose petal.
Metaxa is made to be enjoyed similar to brandy and cognac and as an after-dinner drink. Love a Cosmopolitan? Try using Metaxa instead of vodka. Or a Manhattan. Make a long drink with ginger ale. Metaxa also works well with apple so a Hot Apple Toddy will keep you warm this winter.
Also see the previous brandy section for suggestions.
Metaxa sauce is popular in Greece – serve it with homemade gyros. You can also use it in many desserts similar to brandy or even Drambuie.
There are several types of amaro varying in their unique botanical combinations and levels of bitterness. The main purpose of amaro is to be enjoyed as a digestif to help settle your stomach and ease that feeling of fullness.
I recommend you read my previous article on Amaro and how to serve it.
Drambuie is a famous whisky liqueur, 40% ABV, made with scotch whisky, heather honey, herbs and spices.
It can be served neat or on the rocks or mixed with ginger ale. Rusty Nail is probably the most popular drink made with Drambuie and scotch. I’ve also seen a twist with Mezcal instead of scotch. Drambuie works well in coffee cocktails from Espresso Martinis to a Scotch version of Irish Coffee or even in iced coffee. The liqueur also pairs well with pink grapefruit.
20ml Dry Vermouth
15ml London Dry Gin
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled tumbler. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Use in cheesecakes, apple pie, trifles, Christmas cake or pretty much in most desserts. You can also infuse cherries or other berries with Drambuie and serve them on top of a cake or with ice cream.
Grappa is a spirit made using what is left from pressing wine. This is basically a blend of grape skins, seeds, any left-over pulp and stems, known as pomace, or vinaccia as Italians call it. However, when I visited the Nonino family, Antonella stressed that they do not use the stalks in their grappa production, and it seems many distilleries use specific machinery to remove all the unwanted fragments.
Traditional grappa is made using vinaccia from both white and red grapes. Today, there is a range of grappas made from a single grape variety.
The most common way to serve grappa is neat, after a meal, as it works well as a digestif. Mix grappa with premium tonic water, fresh lemon and plenty of ice to create an alternative G&T. Of course, it can also be used in a range of cocktails.
If you have a sweet tooth, blend together grappa, coffee liqueur, cacao liqueur, a shot of espresso and vanilla ice cream for an Affogato cocktail. Another coffee cocktail mixes grappa with amaretto, sugar syrup and espresso. Replace gin in Last Word with grappa and add a touch of chocolate bitters. Or make a Grapparita using grappa, limoncello, lemon juice and egg white. The cocktail list really is endless.
In Italy, grappa is often served with espresso, either on the side or mixed in with the coffee (caffé corretto). Or as an ammazzacaffé (coffee killer/slayer), where the coffee, often with sugar, is finished first, after which the grappa is poured in the coffee cup to rinse it and then taken as a shot.
Have a bottle of smoked grappa? See my previous article on how to serve it.
Cook it: Various grappas can be used to replace wine in cooking. You can also pair them with foods like you would sherry, for example. Some of the great classic pairings are usually with desserts such as fresh fruit (peaches, pears, pineapple) and berries, a simple crostata or other cakes. Aromatic grappa goes well with cheese, and older ones with chocolate or poured over gelato.
Of course, there are several other bottles such as liqueurs of all flavours – banana, hazelnut, peach… even Riga Black Balsam, which is a rather unusual drink and maybe not the easiest to use (I gifted mine forward…). Luckily, most liqueurs can be used in baking, in jams or even chutneys. And there are definitely a few easy cocktail recipes for every liqueur. Make a flavoured Margarita or a Daiquiri, for example. Use them in a sour with vodka, gin or whatever base spirit you have at home, even that grappa mentioned above.
If you like entertaining guests, take the opportunity to use up all your excess spirits and liqueurs. Use them in cooking, desserts or create a nice welcome cocktail.
The key is not to be too shy when it comes to experimenting with different spirits and liqueurs. Most work well in cooking and several desserts so it really is hard to go wrong. Cocktails may be a bit more complex, but if you learn a few recipes, they can become your go-to serves at home. Or take your favourite cocktail and see if you can tweak it by using the alternative ingredients.
If everything else fails, you can always clean the sink or polish the jewellery with it.
Which leftover bottles are collecting dust in your cupboard? Which bottles should I add in this list? Do you have any recipe suggestions for specific random bottles?
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