It's summer time and the drinking is easy, so you've put away your whiskies and brandies in favor of gin and vodka. But you still want something with flavor enough to stand up to a good cigar. When tonic drinks and Martinis simply don't cut it, consider cocktails made with these sweet and spicy mixers.
Caravella Limoncello: A fine version of Italy's popular lemon-infused grain-spirit liqueur, it makes a wicked Gimlet (careful), but we suggest starting with the Caravella Citrus Tea-Ni, made with vanilla tea, orange-flavored rum and ginger. Visit www.bartonbrands.com/carlimoncello.html. Ricard Pastis: This aperitif succeeded absinthe as the anise-flavored drink of choice when the latter was outlawed. It's now France's favorite spirit. Use it sparingly in cocktails for its strong licorice notes. Try the rye-based Sazerac. Visit www.ricardpastis.com.
Campari: A tantalizing mix of orange peel and bitter flavors, this mild Italian liqueur has many uses, but our favorite is the classic Negroni, with gin and sweet vermouth. Visit www.campari.com. Aperol: An of-the-moment Italian aperitif with light alcohol content (22 proof), but plenty of flavor, it is a mix of sweet and bitter orange and pungent spices. Mixes well with lemon, especially in the Aperol Citrus Drop, a vodka Martini variation. Visit www.aperol.it.
Vermouths: So often underplayed in Martinis, vermouth needs to crow a little. What better way than an international liqueur summit between France's Noilly Prat sweet version and Martini & Rossi's extra dry vermouth in a Perfect Manhattan. Visit www.martinirossi.com and www.noillyprat.com. Pimm's No. 1 Cup: Really a drink on its own (when poured over ice and stuffed with plenty of fruit and cucumber), this is Great Britain's gift to mixology. Combines gin with liqueurs (probably sweet vermouth) and lots of savory spices. Can be served with soda water or ginger ale. Visit www.diageobrands.com.
Southern Comfort: Now popularly called SoCo, this whiskey-flavored (it actually doesn't contain Bourbon) liqueur from the nineteenth century is suddenly making a splash with the SoCo Lime Shot. The Slow & Comfortable makes a great Screwdriver variant. Visit www.southerncomfort.com. Cointreau: The original Triple Sec made from orange peels from the island of Curaçao, it's our favorite for making Margaritas, but the Side Car, made with brandy and lemon, is a good way to explore. Visit www.cointreau.com.