Like a good cocktail, sometimes even the most accomplished bartending repertoires need to be shaken up. For the pros, that might mean sea-foam bitters from a shiny new molecular restabilizer, or ion-free glacial ice blocks prepared by the crushinator. For the rest of us, the answers are probably already in your kitchen, assuming you remembered to buy groceries sometime in the past month. That half a jar of pickle juice in the fridge with one pickle sitting in it? That'll deliciously dirty up a wide range of run-of-the-mill cocktails. That last egg in the carton (because what man eats just one egg?) and the unfinished half-and-half? Shake up a frothy gin fizz. That moldy piece of cheese? That goes in the garbage. Read on for five kitchen staples that will kick up your cocktails.
Pickle Juice: The Picklet
Green beans, okra, peppers: just about any foods that are pickled have been a trendy and welcome addition to cocktail bars over the past 10 years, but there's no denying the original (i.e. cucumber). Martini fans are well-acquainted with pickled olive juice, which provides the "dirty," but for a touch sweeter, crisper, sour martini, add some pickle juice from your fridge. Or go for a pickleback: a shot of whiskey chased with a shot of pickle juice. Mixologist Jason Littrell at Brooklyn's Dram bar created the picklet, which starts with two ounces of gin, a half-ounce each of lime juice and simple syrup and about one ounce of pickle brine. Shake them all together with ice, and serve on the rocks. Garnish with a kosher dill pickle and a lime.
Honey: The Bee's Knees and/or the Accidental Tourist
Somewhere in your pantry is probably a crusty, bear-shaped jar of honey that only gets used on the rare occasion that someone is making hot tea. But honey has so much more to offer than mere herbal tea (or hot toddy) sweetener. The old-time classic honey cocktail is the bee's knees, which combines gin with honey and lemon juice. At San Francisco's popular Slanted Door restaurant, bar manager Erik Adkins whips up a modern take on the bee's knees: Combine half a shot of fresh lemon juice with a half-shot of honey syrup (mix equal parts hot water and honey, then chill) and two ounces of Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength London Dry Gin (90 proof). Combine the three in a shaker with ice, then strain into a chilled glass.
Honey complements a fair number of spirits, however, so don't feel restricted to the classics. It pairs well with vodka, rum and whiskey, and Dram bartender Jason Littrell puts it together with tequila in his accidental tourist: Combine one dash of bitters (Littrell recommends Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters, which are acacia-honey-based), a quarter-ounce of honey, a half-ounce of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, half a shot of lime juice, a half-ounce of mezcal and an ounce of Reposado tequila. (Just pour a little heavier with the tequila if you don't have access to mezcal.) Shake it all together with ice, then strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lime wheel.
Egg: Ramos Gin Fizz
We admit the first time someone told us they were going to dump a raw egg white in our cocktail, we were skeptical, but eggnog has been around forever, right? (And we'll always be grateful to New York's Pegu Club for opening our eyes to the wonders that happen when drink meets egg.) A well-shaken egg white adds a fancy, tasty froth to the right cocktail, and you can put any fears of salmonella to rest if you be sure to make your cocktails good and strong (or just use pasteurized eggs, though those don't froth as well as fresh eggs). Some cocktails call for a raw, blended egg, taking a creamy, full-bodied texture from the addition of the yolk. And then of course there's the prairie oyster, a hangover cure consisting of one raw egg -- yolk intact -- with a dash of Worcestshire and Tabasco sauces, salt and pepper. Adding a shot of vodka is optional, but recommended.
For the Ramos gin fizz, however, we opt for just a simple egg white. Call it the "gateway egg cocktail." A New Orleans classic, fizzes of all varieties have been around since the late 19th century. This version is adapted from Rob Chirico's "Field Guide to Cocktails." In a cocktail shaker, combine two ounces gin with a half-ounce each of lemon and lime juice, an egg white, an ounce of heavy cream, two teaspoons of sugar (preferably caster) and a dash of orange flower water to taste. (A dash of orange juice won't be the same, but will work in a pinch.) Shake the ingredients vigorously before adding the ice, until the egg white is fully frothed. Then add ice, shake until chilled, and pour into a Champagne flute or highball glass. Top with club or citrus soda.
Peppers and Seasonings: Absolut Chocolate Chili Martini
Spice is always nice with a strong beverage, and jalapenos and other peppers can transform just about any ordinary cocktail into a spicy party in your mouth. Jalapenos are probably the easiest to manage, usually by just tossing a few wheels of the mildly spicy green pepper into your favorite beverage, which is highly recommended for margaritas, for example. And try rimming that margarita with a mixture or cayenne and salt for added kick.
This adaptation of Absolut's chocolate chili martini ups this drink on the Scofield heat scale with the help of our little fiery friend, the habanero (but feel free to stick with a jalapeno if you're heat averse). Combine one shot of Absolut Peppar vodka with a shot of chocolate liqueur (creme de cacao), a pinch of brown sugar and one habanero pepper in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass garnished with the pepper. To get that habanero kick in every sip, slice it and rub it around the rim of the glass.
Next: 11 Refreshing Beer Cocktails
Ice Cream/Heavy Cream: Grasshopper Ice Cream Cocktail
As in the previously mentioned Ramos Gin Fizz, heavy cream can be a valuable tool for a wide range of drinks, though it adds a certain weight as well, not always welcome in the dog days of summer. Ice cream, on the other hand, makes for a great summer cocktail base. Spiked milkshakes can be made with virtually any spirit-and-ice-cream combo you can imagine. The minty-green grasshopper calls for one shot each of creme de menthe and creme de cacao paired with two scoops of ice cream. Vanilla is the most versatile of the ice creams, obviously, but try experimenting with mint chocolate chip for this one. Combine the ice cream and liqueurs in a blender until creamy and pour into your favorite soda-fountain glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.