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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Holiday cheers

By Mary Ann Anderson
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

With the holiday and entertaining season already gearing up, it's time to take a close look at your home bar. You have probably received or given a few gifts of spirits and wine over the years, but just how long does it last? First of all, alcohol doesn't spoil. That means no expiration date for most distilled spirits. As a matter of fact, you're probably going to expire and become a spirit long before that unopened bottle of good scotch or rum does. The rules are different when it comes to wine, champagne and liqueurs, though, and require a different way of thinking.

Alcohol is a preservative, so nothing icky can grow in it. Moreover, the higher the alcohol content, the longer the spirit will last, especially an unopened bottle. Unopened base liquors like scotch, tequila, vodka, gin and rum can be stored for years (just a thought, Scrooge: they can also be re-gifted).

If the cap is left off a bottle, the spirit will evaporate into the "angel's share," so the secret to longevity is to keep it tightly sealed and in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Heat and oxidation are the primary culprits for spirits gone bad.

Opened liquor can lose some of its flavor over time, but in any case, if your favorite vodka or whiskey becomes cloudy or the taste changes considerably, then toss it.

And no, Virginia, spirits do not continue to age or mature in the bottle. If you have a bottle of 12-year-old scotch, then it will always be a 12-year-old because that's how long it was aged in the cask. Keeping it for another ten years won't make it 22-year-old scotch, but on the same note that unopened bottle will taste the same as it would on the day it was bottled.

For some, it's just not the holidays without the bubbly. Champagne will last for years as long as it is stored on its side so that the cork doesn't dry out. As long as it has bubbles, it is pretty much good, but if you don't hear that "pop" when you uncork it, it's probably best to pour it down the drain. Once opened, drink it, because the bubbly will go bust fairly quickly.

Fruit, berry, and flower liqueurs and cordials like Chambord, PAMA and St. Germain contain sugar and other delicate ingredients that can spoil once the bottle is opened and the liquid is exposed to air, so just give them a few months or a year at the most. Cream and egg liqueurs like Bailey's Irish Cream and Amarula are based in dairy products, and even with their alcohol content, it's best to dump them after 15 to 18 months. Cognac and brandy age well in unopened bottles; but once you take that first sip, drink it within a year's time.

Wine is a bit more complex. High quality, high tannin reds like a rich cabernet or shiraz age well in an unopened bottle and can last for years. White wines and reds with low tannins like Grenache and pinot noir won't last as long. About five years is the maximum time limit, but why wait that long? Use it or lose it.

No matter the wine, if it's corked, store it on its side. If it's a screw-top, then it's fine standing at attention. The metal won't dry out like a cork does. White wine may keep a day or two in the refrigerator, and reds will, too, either in the 'fridge or out, but no matter the year, vintner, or variety, there really is just a simple rule to follow after a bottle is opened: just drink it until it's gone.

Whether you already have spirits on hand, receive them as a gift, or they're fast approaching the end of their shelf life, try serving them at you holiday soiree in these seasonal cocktails:

Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Indulgence

1 1/2 oz. Godiva Raspberry Indulgence liqueur

1/2oz. Godiva White Chocolate liqueur

3/4oz. Ciroc Vodka

1 oz. black raspberry liqueur

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a martini glass. Makes 1 drink.

The Wichita Eagle—11/13/09

Platino 96

1 1/2 oz. Jose Cuervo Platino

3/4oz. simple syrup

Dash of Angostura Bitters

3 oz. champagne (or sparkling wine, prosecco, or cava)

3 mint leaves

Combine simple syrup and two mint leaves in a mixing glass and muddle. Add Jose Cuervo Platino, Angostura Bitters, and ice. Shake and strain into a chilled flute or coupe glass. Top with champagne and garnish with remaining mint leaf. Makes 1 drink.

The Wichita Eagle—11/13/09

Cranberry Honey Punch

1 bottle (20 fluid oz.) green tea, chilled

2 cups cranberry juice cocktail, chilled

1 cup Jose Cuervo Gold Margarita, chilled

1/4cup honey

Fresh cranberries for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a 1 1/2- or 2-quart pitcher. Stir. Make swizzle sticks by lining skewers with cranberries. Serve over ice in chilled tall glasses with cranberry swizzles. Makes 10 servings.

The Wichita Eagle—11/13/09

Peppermint Patty

1 oz. Smirnoff Vodka

1 oz. peppermint schnapps

1 oz. Creme de Cacao

1 oz. light cream

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, and then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with red and green peppermint sticks. Makes 1 drink.

The Wichita Eagle—11/13/09

Spicy T&T

1 oz. Tanqueray London Dry Gin

Ginger beer

1/2oz. fresh lime juice

Tonic water

Muddle three sprigs of mint in the bottom of a highball glass. Pull the essential oils up around the side of the glass. Add the gin and lime juice. Top with ginger beer and a splash of tonic. Makes 1 drink.

The Wichita Eagle—11/13/09

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