12 Secret Cocktail Ingredients Only Bartenders Know About
Unleash your inner bartender with these secret cocktail ingredients.
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Regan’s orange bitters
Angostura Bitters is one of the most classic cocktail ingredients, but why not shake things up a little? “If you want to add a little complexity to a Manhattan or just brighten up a drink, these orange bitters are the right thing,” explains Ian Cliffe, a seasoned bartender who has worked in both New York City and Milwaukee.
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Luxardo maraschino cherries
When you’ve perfected your drink making game, adding these secret cocktail ingredients could be the answer. “These are not your kiddie cocktail cherries, these are for the big kids,” says Cliffe. “Real cherries in a thick syrup, no dyes or bright red stems.” Introducing both flavor and a chic je ne sais quois to your drink couldn’t be easier.
Can’t find them at your local grocer? You can get them here.
Fresh citrus juice
Making a zesty cocktail? “Skip the reconstituted lemon and lime, the key to many great cocktails like margaritas and daiquiris is simply fresh lime juice,” explans Cliffe. “If you are making for a group, grab a citrus reamer and get going.”
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Don’t bother buying syrup in the store, make your own from scratch! “Combine equal parts boiling water and sugar, stir until dissolved and chill,” says Cliffe. “When using fresh juices, this simple mixture can be the difference between a good-tart margarita and a perfectly balanced one.”
You’ll want this ingredient on hand—it’s a component of many classic cocktails.
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Creme de cafe
Do you have something of a sweet tooth? Dessert cocktails are gaining popularity right now and we can totally see why. Adding some creme de cafe to an otherwise subtle drink could be the way to go. Not sure which to choose? De Kuyper is a great place to start.
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St. Germain elderflower liqueur
Looking for something to give your next cocktail a little pizazz? “This hit the market years ago and we started calling this ‘bartender’s ketchup.'” says Cliffe. He explains that when a cocktail is close to perfection adding “a dash or a half ounce of this could usually make it right.”
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Making a citrus twist is pretty easy to master. Cut a thin strip of the lemon (or lime or orange!) peel (but avoid the white pith) and twist it over the cocktail. The oils should release just before you drop the twist, adding some extra flavor.
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Garnishing your cocktail well should be as much about the visual experience as it is the taste. Taking a simple cocktail to new heights could be as straightforward as adding a few edible flowers on top of the drink. Pick out colors that complement the tones in the drink for a stunning aesthetic.
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“I think of this liquor every summer. It has notes of orange and rhubarb and a mild bitterness,” says Cliffe. You can even swap this ingredient out in some recipes. “Lighten a cocktail that calls for Campari or other bitter liquors with this slightly-less bitter relative. Or just make a spritzer and enjoy.”
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“Sure, Triple Sec is the ‘go to,’ but a little Grand Marnier is even better,” says Cliffe. He explains that deciding which orange liqueur to use all comes down to the main alcohol component in your drink. “If I’m using brandy or whiskey the Gran Marnier is the best bet.”
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Similarly, if you’re making a subtler drink, you might want to consider looking for an orange liqueur that offers a milder flavor. “I like to use Cointreau with lighter bases like vodka or blanco tequila,” says Cliffe. Experiment until you figure out what works.
Dolin Blanc vermouth
And now for one of those cocktail ingredients that works just as well on its own as it does in a drink. “It’s not your traditional sweet vermouth or dry,” says Cliffe. “This vermouth is sweet and clear with mild herbal tones. I’ve played around with this one many times and always return to it.”