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5 Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Liquor

From gin on the rocks to a warm shot of bourbon, fine liquor is one of life’s simple pleasures. However, there isn’t a thing on earth—not even hooch—that can’t stand to be improved. If you’d like to put a twist on your favorite liquor, but lack the conviction for a full-blown cocktail, these five simple upgrades will hit the mark.

Gin + Angostura Bitters

In the dead of winter, a great gin is a blessing served neat (we recommend North Shore Distillery No. 11 if you can find it). However, all that juniper can be a little overwhelming, so try cutting your gin with a dash of Angostura to balance out the flavor. For a bit of manly precedent, we defer to Hemingway’s story The Butterfly and the Tank, set in a crowded Madrid bar during the Spanish Civil War:

"...You couldn't hear yourself talk for the singing and I ordered a Gin and Angostura and put it down against the rain."

Bourbon + Cherries

In most cases, this pairing recalls classic cocktails like a Manhattan, or a bourbon Old Fashioned. But if you're short the vermouth and bitters, a few Maraschino cherries can add a sweet-yet-subtle touch to your go-to sipping bourbon. This is especially helpful for the unseasoned drinker, who might have trouble with bourbon's back-of-the-palate kick. For another take on the combo, mix up the ratios with a batch of bourbon-soaked cherries.

Tequila + Jalapeño

Most homes have at least one bottle of tequila languishing on a shelf: a relic of margarita parties or Cinco de Mayos past. To give yours a fresh sense of purpose, try infusing it with a hearty dose of peppers (anything from jalapeños to habaneros will work). The flavor is intense, which means a much shorter infusion time than you'd see with fruit—between 5 and 24 hours, depending on your desired intensity. For a slightly smoky undertone, roast the peppers before popping them in.

Sambuca + Coffee Beans

This combo can apply to any anise-based liqueur: Sambuca, ouzo, and even absinthe all make fine candidates. Served straight, these spirits are tremendously sweet, but a few coffee beans (toss them right in) lend a smooth, subtle bitterness that really mellows out the flavor. A cultural note: The Italian name for this cocktail is sambuca con mosca, or "sambuca with flies." Knowing that, we're not sure if we like it more or less.

Campari + India Pale Ale

While Campari is a common sight in many cocktail cabinets—being a key component of a classic Negroni—its bitter flavor makes it hard to swallow neat. Thankfully, this combo serves as a stellar cocktail alternative, for those times when you’re too tired to break out the shaker and jigger. Just pair a shot of Campari with a half-bottle of IPA (the hoppier the better) and enjoy.

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