This post originally appeared in the April 13, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
We’re out of rye. We’re out of bourbon. We’re out of rum. Red wine supplies are dipping dangerously low, not to mention vermouths. And I’m pretty sure the only beer we have in the house is left over from my husband’s last beer-league hockey game. But I’m not leaving the house to go to the liquor store anytime soon. It’s time to do something about that overstocked liquor cabinet my husband and I have been haphazardly contributing to over the past decade or so.
You know the bottles I’m talking about. The ones you bought for overly ambitious cocktails that you’ve made a total of twice. Green chartreuse. Yellow chartreuse. Luxardo maraschino liqueur. Benedictine. There are also the liquors that were trendy several years ago but have since settled toward the back of the cabinet. Domaine de Canton. St. Germain. X-Rated liqueur from a late-aughts bachelorette party. The bottles that were souvenirs or gifts: that ouzo your sister bought back from Greece; that Thai whiskey your friend brought back from Nepal (okay, maybe that one’s just me).
During quarantine, my move has been to embrace these bottles. Drinking through these more unusual spirits, instead of leaning toward your default classic cocktails or highballs, can take creativity; or, alternately, an appreciation for something a little simpler. If you decide to take this route, you can turn it into an opportunity to build community while everyone’s physically apart. I asked for suggestions in a cocktail-related Facebook group for yellow chartreuse applications, and it was fun to hear what others had in mind: I ended up making the Naked and Famous one night, and am eying the Laphroaig Project for another (I don’t own peach bitters, so I’ll have to improvise there). A group of friends and I plan to do a Zoom happy hour with the theme of “Liquor Cabinet Cobwebs” — people who attend are encouraged to bring a cocktail or cordial made with those underused ingredients.
I get a certain sense of resourcefulness, a pride in lack of wastefulness, from this approach. Without the ingredients for margaritas on hand, I can usually muster a riff on a Paloma with one of the mezcals I brought back from Oaxaca a couple of years ago, plus some leftover grapefruit soda from a party. We’ve thrown fancy amaro or Applejack into Manhattans instead of rye or vermouth. We’ve made a lot of basic sours and Scotch and sodas with the more unusual whiskeys in our cabinet. And I’ve been spiking my seltzer water with any random bottle of bitters I’ve come across (tip: grapefruit’s better than black walnut here).
I’m thinking of all this as a festive way to Marie Kondo our liquor cabinet. If there are bottles that remain untouched after this period of isolation, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to them for good. I’m hoping we’ll emerge from these next few months with not only a pared-down liquor cabinet, but many opportunities to revisit the memories that led to this collection of bottles. We may not be able to travel to Scotland right now, but we can at least reflect on the days we spent touring Islay when we dip into that whisky. I can think fondly of my in-laws as I sip the fancy Scotch they bought us for Christmas a few years back, or reminisce about my many trips to Pittsburgh with my sister as we break into our several bottles of Wigle products, from barrel-aged gin to rye finished in mezcal casks.
Do you have a bottle that you’ve been saving for a special occasion, whether it be a particularly old Scotch or a pricier-than-it-needs-to-be Japanese whisky? I’d say that being stuck inside for months probably qualifies as a special occasion. Drink it now, before it starts gathering (even more) dust.