11. Brandy

Brandy is a wine distillate that has played an incredibly important role in the history of cocktails in this country but now is mostly just mentioned in rap songs (i.e. Hennesey). While I do think that being the subject of a rap song is just about the highest honor one can bestow on a person or product, I don't think that means that we shouldn't also drink a little more brandy in our lives. Especially in cocktails. A rough approximation of where brandy fits in the world of spirits would be somewhere in between whiskey and aged rum. It's rounder and more delicately sweet than whiskey, but much more subtle about that than rum is. If Brandy follows a few more rules and hangs out in the right places it can be called Cognac or Armagnac. 

What to buy: 

I use Presedente at my apartment because I only really use it for mixing and it's fine for that. Hennesey V.S. is a little better and I have heard that Landy V.S. is alright too.

How to mix it:

Make a Sidecar. Then make a Vieux Carré. Then realize that a Vieux Carre is such a good drink that it all by itself justifies the purchasing of an entire bottle of brandy. Brandy was actually the original base spirit in a Sazerac, so try one with that. At the bar I work at we do equal parts rye and brandy as an homage to that history. It tastes great. There's a old classic called a Saratoga Brace Up which is in the running for the best combination of bad ass name and genuinely tasty beverage. 

12. Apple Brandy

Apples are jerks in that if you like a particular apple tree and then try to plant seeds from its fruit to make more apple trees like it, you'll end up with a ton of different apple trees whose fruit likely taste nothing like the parent. Meaning that back before we had science and/or just plain old grafting, every apple tree was a gamble. Maybe it'd be tasty, maybe it'd be tart and gross. Which is why there's that popular saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree...but that doesn't mean it won't taste entirely different." Gross apples were used to make booze way back in the colonial times in this country. This booze ended up being great and approved of by George Washington himself. Then it was mostly forgotten about. I suggest remembering it.

What to buy: 

I've tried all of three different apple brandies. I know, pretty extensive. Problem is not a lot of folks make it these days. Of the three types, Laird's makes two: Applejack and Bonded Apple Brandy. Definitely go for the bonded stuff as it tastes WAY better. In fact, it's just straight up great. Applejack just tastes cheap by comparison. Clear Creek distillery here in Portland makes an apple brandy that tastes sweeter and more strongly of apples. It's great if not a bit too distinctive sometimes. 

How to mix it: 

The best way to start mixing with apple brandy is to use it instead of whiskey. Then mix it with other spirits kinda like how I said to do with rum. There's a drink called an American Trilogy that uses that approach for a great old fashioned variation. A Corpse Reviver #1 is much less popular than it's successor, but I'll be damned if it isn't a great type of Manhattan. Applejack and gin are also great friends. So run with that.

13. Green Chartreuse 

Green Chartreuse is a French liqueur with something like 130 ingredients and manages to taste like every single one of them and none of them at the same time. File it next to Campari in the category of "Gross Until Good." You're not going to like this, but when you do, oh good god you're going to love this stuff. 

What to buy: 

Obvious buy green Chartreuse. Except it's crazy expensive. Like $60 to $70 a bottle. I know right. I once bought a smaller bottle of it for $35 and drank it the slowest ever. If you don't feel like shelling out $2 an ounce for the stuff, there is hope in the form of Genepy Des Alpes. It's made by the folks at Dolin that tastes a whole lot like Chartreuse. Is it just as good? Nope. Not at all. It has 15% less alcohol and its sweetness is way less refined. BUT, it's half the price and still makes a great Last Word. It's what I buy at my home bar. 

How to mix it: 

Always and in everything. More specifically, make a Last Word. Then swap out the gin for mezcal. Yep crazy good. Then make a Bijou. Realize that that drink is just a Negroni with the Campari swapped out for Chartreuse and then notice how it begins to dawn on you how cocktails work.  There's a drink called a Diamondback that's one part each Green Chartreuse and Apple Brandy and two parts rye. Make that.

14. Benedictine

Benedictine is another one of those things made in France by monks under the veil of secrecy. It's also really old. I think it tastes like a really sweet concentrate of chamomile tea and honey. It's not the cheapest but you never really use more than a quarter of an ounce at a time so your investment will go pretty far. Also, you need this to make a Vieux Carre, so you're gonna have to buy it at some point.

What to buy: 

Benedictine. That's it.

How to mix it: 

Key word: sparingly. A little goes a long way. Used more in stirred cocktails than shaken ones. It's great with brandy. Obviously make a Vieux Carre. There's a drink called a Poet's Dream that I think showcases how to use this stuff well. The recipe is 2oz gin. 3/4 oz dry vermouth. 1/4oz Benedictine. 2 dashes orange bitters. See what they did there? That's just a regular old martini but then you swap out a smidge of the vermouth with benedictine. Basically every benedictine cocktail works this way. 

15. Absinthe

Nothing is more annoying than listening to most people talking about absinthe. Except for Mitch Hedberg. He gets a pass. Point is, it's just a spirit. It doesn't make you hallucinate. It just makes you drunk. It tastes like licorice in a very real way. 99% of the time you use absinthe in a cocktail you're actually just rinsing the glass with it. It's contribution is entirely aromatic. Despite being used in such small quantities, it makes a huge difference in the final flavor of the drink. This is a great lesson in remembering that how things smell is actually how they taste, and is as useful for cocktails as it is for cooking. So learn it.  

What to buy: 

Pernod is solid. Lucid is apparently really good but I refuse to try it because the bottle looks stupid. Herbsaint is great for being cheap. The 100 proof stuff tastes better and is probably worth it since you'll likely buy a bottle of absinthe about twice a decade. I learned this after buying the cheaper Herbsaint. My bad. 

How to mix it: 

Make a Death in the Afternoon and then write a bunch of classic American novels. If you can't do that, then pour a dash in a glass and swirl it all around, then dump it out (optional: replace out with into your mouth). Or put it in a atomizer and spray the glass with it. Make a Sazerac. Corpse Reviver #2. Improved Whiskey Cocktail. Saratoga Brace Up. Spray it in the glass before adding your favorite cocktail and see what you think.