I'll admit, I tend to use some rather unusual ingredients in my drinks, things that are hard, if not impossible to find in stores because they're so obscure. Adding more esoteric ingredients keeps things from being too flat or boring, and can, when paired with other elements, bring out flavors you may have never expected. The only drawback is you've got to prep them ahead of time, so you have those unusual additions on hand to play with.
Take, for example, rye whiskey. It tends to be spicy, almost peppery, but still with that mellow flavor. Sometimes a caramel note hangs around. It's a great spirit for a winter evening (or fall, or spring) because it's got that warmth. But if you add a couple more elements to that, you can accentuate that warmth even more.
I wound up making a couple special ingredients for Thanksgiving last year, one of which was a Maple-Demerara Sugar syrup. Demerara sugar is a coarse, brown sugar usually made from raw sugar cane and left unbleached. It's got a less refined flavor, more molasses-y, and is great in coffee and baked goods. I just made a simple syrup with two cups of that and one cup of water, cooking it until reduced and thick, and then added about two ounces of maple syrup to it (the real stuff, none of that Log Cabin crap!), bottled it, and stuck it in the fridge.
After Thanksgiving, I had more than a little left over, so I started pondering what sorts of drinks I could make with them. Here's one that I came up with:
2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz apple cider
1/4 oz Maple-Demerara sugar syrup
dash Angostura bitters
Shake it all with ice and pour into a Double Old Fashioned glass.
The drink wound up being wonderfully balanced, the peppery nature of the rye being muted a little by the sweetness of the syrup and the tartness of the cider. It really is best as an autumn drink, but you can certainly see it's got enough appeal to have at any time.
You could also, if you wanted, make it without any alcohol at all (apart from what's in the bitters, though you use such a tiny volume of the stuff that it's pretty much moot) and just add the syrup to the cider (though I'd go for a really tart cider, maybe even a cherry or cranberry cider) and stir in the bitters. You'll have to stir it pretty well to get the syrup to dissolve into the cold cider, but if you wanted the drink hot, that'd make it a lot easier. You could also drizzle the Maple-Demerara sugar syrup over sweet rolls if you needed to use it up, or use it in place of honey with some buttermilk biscuits, add it to tea or coffee, pour it over sliced apples...
See? I'm willing to think about other things that just liquor!
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