This Valentine’s Day (as it is every year), the smart money is on staying in. Cooking an intimate dinner for your special someone beats paying too much for a mediocre prix fixe at a crowded restaurant.
And that also means you can try your hand a mixing up some special drinks! For a sweet treat for your Valentine, turn to a liqueur. These sugary concoctions come in dozens of different flavors, so you can customize a cocktail to fit your significant other’s tastes. (Keep in mind, however, that liqueurs are really sweet—by law, they must contain at least 2.5 percent sugar by weight—making them cocktail accents and not base spirits.)
GIFFARD BANANE DU BRÉSIL, $32
French distiller Giffard makes a whole rainbow of high-quality liqueurs. As the name suggests, it’s made from Brazilian bananas, and it has a much subtler (but more realistic) taste than anything with that artificial banana-candy flavor. Tropical and tiki drinks like a Piña Colada are an obvious choice for this one, but it also has a surprising affinity for gin. Banana Bee’s Knees, anyone?
DORDA DOUBLE CHOCOLATE LIQUEUR, $25
The recipe for this newly released liqueur couldn’t be more simple: Melt chocolate and add enough Chopin Rye Vodka so it stays liquid. The result is a lusciously thick and indulgent confection that’s still a hefty 38-proof. It’s way too intense to drink on its own, but try mixing into a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, or just drizzling over ice cream.
Though this liqueur has been around less than 10 years, it’s rapidly risen to ubiquity and can be now found behind most any cocktail-focused bar. It’s flavored with delicate elderflower blossoms from France, which give it a hard-to-describe fruity and floral flavor that’s somewhere between grape, honeydew and lavender. It goes well with almost anything, from Champagne to aged tequila. One unexpectedly delicious combo is St-Germain and bitter Campari: Try a Negroni with St-Germain replacing half the normal sweet vermouth.
ST. GEORGE NOLA COFFEE LIQUEUR, $35
Love the coffee in New Orleans? The secret is that it’s not all coffee; the Crescent City blends its beans with chicory, a bitter plant root used as a coffee substitute during the Civil War. Northern California distillery St. George Spirits embraces the Creole beverage with this coffee-, chicory- and vanilla liqueur that’s a bit like a trip to the Cafe du Monde in a bottle. It’s best with whiskey or dark rum, especially in something served hot.
PAMA POMEGRANATE LIQUEUR, $25
The key to a great cocktail is creating a balance of sweet and sour. Thankfully, Pama has done all the balancing for you. It’s tart, sugary and the perfect crimson color for a Valentine’s Day drink. Plus, it works nicely with any spirit. The easiest mixture is a basic highball: Mix two parts spirit and one part Pama over ice and fill with club soda. It can also work wonderfully in more complex cocktail creations, too—citrus and herbs are both natural pairs.
FRUITLAB GINGER LIQUEUR, $29
There are barely a handful of distilleries in Los Angeles, but one of them—Greenbar—claims it makes the largest portfolio of all-organic spirits in the world. Its Fruitlab line of liqueurs proves that organic produce has more flavor, and nowhere is that more obvious than in this spicy and intense ginger spirit. Sub Fruitlab Ginger and club soda for ginger ale in any Mule or Buck, and you’re in business.
BUFFALO TRACE BOURBON CREAM LIQUEUR, $22
Love Bailey’s? Try this all-American twist, made from the excellent Buffalo Trace Bourbon and real cream. It used to be available only at the distillery, but now you can find it around the country. (Distribution is limited, though, so it may take some searching.) A glass on the rocks is a nice after-dinner beverage, and it mixes well in any cocktail containing coffee. It’s also lovely added to a root beer float.
Scotch drinkers don’t seem like the kind of people who’d go for sweet liqueurs, but Drambuie puts the lie to that. Popular for more than a century, it’s a mix of aged Scotch, honey and herbs. You might be most familiar with it in a Rusty Nail—a one-to-one mix with Scotch on ice—but any kind of whiskey drink can benefit from a little nip, from a Hot Toddy to a Manhattan.