Cheater Ingredients

The Count's Watch

Certain ingredients are simply better at fixing bad cocktails than others.

And this whole post is devoted to those mirages of flavor – ingredients that are occasionally esoteric but frequently simple, yet all able to mend nearly any cocktail mishap no matter how foul its ichor. If you’ve ever joined us for a Thursday Drink Night, you have no doubt seen these cheater ingredients sprinkled and doused on original cocktail attempts like kewpie mayonnaise on spicy Korean food.

Note: This post is not intended to convince you to make bad drinks and mask them with sludgy syrups, gallons of over-proof rum, or anything else that will only lead to volcanic intestinal fury. You’d be doing no better than … well, JMo does say it best.

So, You’ve Made a Bad Cocktail…

That extra 1/4oz of Zirbenz you thought would save your newest potion made it palatable to only Dr. Bamboo?

Simply add a full ounce of Cruzan Blackstrap and top with ginger beer. It’ll taste just like RumDood made it, and it’ll be drained into your mouth and not the sink.

You thought making a drink with more than 1/4oz of maraschino liqueur was a good idea and quickly discovered you weren’t Murray Stenson?

Try adding grapefruit juice or even some quality rye whiskey and see what happens.

Your version of a “dash” ended up being a 1/2oz of absinthe, utterly desecrating your otherwise perfect Sazerac?

Do as cocktailnerd would and add in a healthy glass of Carpano Antica. Ooh… a sazerac with Carpano does sound intriguing – or like a Manhattan.

Cheater Ingredients (and why they work)

Grapefruit Juice

Cocktail too boozy or just lacking balance? Add grapefruit juice.

Grapefruits are the Lady Gaga’s of the citrus world. At first, their not-too-sweet-not-too-tart vibe strikes you as blasé. “Why not just use a real fruit, like Journey limes?” you ask yourself. Well, even small doses of lime can drastically modify the tartness of your cocktail. Or if your potation needs some sweetness, just drop in some scissor sisters simple syrup. Well, as any aficianado or adamant dictator of the sazerac will tell you, even the slightest hand of simple can be too much.

So why grapefruit? Grapefruit juice contains approximately half1 the citric acid of lemon and lime juice, which allows you to apply it as one would add salt to pomme frite. A little too much only makes it tastier. So though you might not warm to grapefruit right away, I guarantee you’ll soon be applying its superstar tones with a heavy hand.

(All happy with my grapefruit/gaga analogy, I posed it to my good friend and composer/metal lover, Joel. Here is what he had to say: “Amusing, though to resurrect an overused word, I find Lady Gaga to be cloying and artificial.”)

The Count’s Watch

  • 1 1/2oz white rum (used Oronoco)
  • 1oz amaro Nonino
  • 1oz grapefruit juice
  • 1 dash orange bitters (used Bitter Truth)
  • 1/4oz high-proof whiskey (used George Stagg), floated
  • lemon twist, for garnish

Shake with delicate intensity, and strain into a fanciful cocktail glass. Float the bourbon (oh my it’s delicious), and garnish.

Rick from Kaiser Penguin

A creamy, white rum mixed with a fashionable amaro and dotted with orange bitters sounded delightful, though it fell flat like a Johnny Weir triple axel. But adding some Lady Gaga and a float of high-proof spirit made everything dandy. This romantic cocktail was named after Count Odette Philippe who brought grapefruits to Florida in 1823.

More to come…

Quickly realizing I could turn this post into a series and make my life easier, I have chosen to do just that. So expect more on cheater ingredients in the future, namely: Ginger Beer, Ting, high-proof spirits, Cruzan blackstrap, bitters, cinnamon syrup, and citrus twists.

KP Question

  • What are your favorite cheater ingredients?


20 Responses to “Cheater Ingredients”

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20 Comments to “ Cheater Ingredients”
  1. FredericNo Gravatar says:

    Here in Boston, we’ve gotten to love our Maraschino. I’m reminded of the fear of the stuff elsewhere when I post a recipe on TDN and get “good god — a half ounce?” when I have had tasty drinks with full ounces (such as a 2:1:1 where the Maraschino is paired up with Campari to make an Aperol like flavor).

  2. Colonel TikiNo Gravatar says:

    Speaking of grapefruit – I’m going to buy a ton of nice varietals before they go bye-bye for the season. Would you like a care package?

  3. RickNo Gravatar says:

    Fred – Totally agree, though more times than not, it ends up being a sticky mess.
    Craig – Care packages are always welcome!

  4. Matt RoboldNo Gravatar says:

    Hmm, cheaters.

    1. Cruzan Blackstrap or Coruba in a tiki drink. If you can’t make a tiki drink work, just float Blackstrap or Coruba in it. 75% of the time it works every time.

    2. Grapefruit juice. See Rick’s post.

    3. Lately I’ve found that an orange twist is practically a cheater ingredient. If I have a drink that just isn’t quite binding together the way I want, a great orange twist seems to just cement the whole thing.

    4. J. Wray & Nephew Overproof. Rick knows this. Actually I think everyone that’s spent any time in TDN knows this. You cannot go wrong with a drink comprised if JW&NOP, grapefruit, and a Blackstrap float. That’s like not even trying.

    5. Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes.

    6. El Dorado 15 Year Old. It’s just not right. Stop it. It’s mean to the other ingredients on your shelf.

  5. Matt RoboldNo Gravatar says:

    I should probably add a few non-rums, like Russel’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye. $22 bucks and amazing in any drink that calls for rye. Just not right.

  6. PantagruelNo Gravatar says:

    Definitely a good call including Ginger Beer and Ting, they are no-brainers for your topic. JWray too. I’m curious what you’ll have to say about bitters, a dash or two of ango or peychaud’s, or even mole certainly can save a drink but I’m not sure I’d consider it crossing the line into cheating, almost everything should have some bitters! How can a proper Manhattan (some might call carpano cheating, harder to argue against) or Martini (dash of Regan’s orange bitters please) be cheating? Basic, elemental grade school stuff perhaps, but an outright cheat…?

    So once you enumerate the final list, you angling for a “No Cheating” TDN? Could be interesting. Or perhaps only cheating allowed, that could be a completely different type of disaster.

    And if you are grading I might cheat with fernet, chartreuse might be my weakness.

  7. RowenNo Gravatar says:

    Well, tonight’s answer was cherry brandy, anyway.

  8. Sunny&RummyNo Gravatar says:

    JWray, Ting, ginger beer, and cinnamon syrup are all very good calls. I’ve also been very happy most times adding a bit of passionfruit juice to balance certain rum drinks that don’t quite come together. Usually just an ounce or less, save for one unbalanced Jamaican rum and sweet vermouth cocktail from one of Adam Rocke’s hit-and-(mostly)miss drink books — two ounce of passionfruit juice and two dashes of bitters and this becomes a totally redeemed and wonderful cocktail.

  9. TiareNo Gravatar says:

    Well you know me..JWray, Ting..also Ginger Beer, ONO Cajun Spiced paired in equal parts with El Dorado 12.That last one used to be my very own secret..not so secret anymore.
    Nice garnish!

  10. SwankyNo Gravatar says:

    Grapefruit juice is one of my secret weapons. But, in general, if a drink goes bad, just make it sweet. For the average person. put some pineapple juice, and a nutmeg sprinkle in it and they will think it’s great. Judge the amount and you can either keep your original flavor in there somewhere, or bury it. Get fancy and do a honey syrup or other sweetener. If it is a true mixologist across from you, you’re on your own…

    Other secret: Licor 43…

  11. The obvious: Dolin Blanc and Carpano. These contain more awesome than can be overcome by any but the most obtuse drink maker.

    Side note: A lot of bartenders seem to think St. Germain is a universal solution to all cocktail quandaries, but I tire of it rapidly.

    Secret weapons: Barsol Pisco and Clément Première Canne. You can’t just dump these in one of Gabe’s absinthe-and-more-absinthe monstrosities and expect it to be drinkable, but when used as a starting point with virtually any fruit juice, your tiki drink is on a nigh unshakeable trajectory towards boozy bliss.

  12. The ConciergeNo Gravatar says:

    Adding to the above, if its too sour, just add Aperol, the Magician’s Amaro!

  13. JimmyNo Gravatar says:

    Cane syrup!

  14. StephanieNo Gravatar says:

    Rick, I hope the Johnny Weir reference was on purpose with relation to Lady Gaga. Hehe. He skated to “Poker Face” at a NY Fashion Week event last year.

  15. RickNo Gravatar says:

    Stephanie – nice catch, the reference was quite intentional, and I’m not really sure what that says about me. :)

  16. […] my trusty Hanschells Falernum, which has saved me on more than one occasion. (quick side note, read this blog entry from Kaiser Penguin for more cocktail saving […]

  17. […] ever made a bad drink, you probably tried to fix it. Seeing as it’s all about balance, here are some great suggestions for reviving dead-on-arrival cocktails. Ginger beer is so easy but I agree with the bitters […]

  18. […] series on cheater ingredients started off with grapefruit. Cinnamon is another tool in our veritable MacGyver toolkit for fixing cocktails and one that, […]

  19. DaveNo Gravatar says:

    How about this for a winter warmer (I know it’s no longer winter, officially, but this is ‘a little something’ to give you a nice rosy glow):

    (1) Take a long, straight-sided glass, half-filled with crushed ice.
    (2) Very slowly, pour in one measure of Drambuie
    (3) Again, v. slowly pour in one measure of Scotch
    (4) Repeat steps (2) and (3) in that order
    (5) Slowly top up glass with soda water

    And there you have it, “A Long Rusty Nail”

  20. ReubenNo Gravatar says:

    yep sure could of used this post last weekend. good call on the grapefruit! my overzealous nature got the best of me when i realized the lunchbox was really only good with bud light, shot of amaretto, and dash of orange juice(if you can dash a liquid?)…like the recipe says. oh well, experimentation spices things up.

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Kaiser Penguin is a cocktail blog featuring original recipes, homemade ingredients, classic cocktails, and tiki drinks.

Why on Earth did you name your blog “Kaiser Penguin?”

It is a well-known fact that penguins are members of high society and enjoy fine cocktails. Our very own kaiser penguin would like me to mention that he also enjoys various treats from the sea.