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I remembered, though, that a couple of years ago I tried a ginger liqueur made in Kansas City called the Big O that I really enjoyed. I started flipping through the little book of cocktail recipes with Domaine de Canton—and that's when I got excited about trying the liqueur. I love making cocktails, but I don't have a lot of specialized ingredients, and many of the recipes I come across are incredibly complex. These were simple. I have Angostura bitters, for example, and almost always keep lemons and limes on hand. I also have bourbon (rye, actually, but close enough) and Campari, and there was a tiny bottle of spiced rum in the Domaine de Canton package, presumably for the purposes of making the first recipe in the book. That meant I was set for four of the cocktails. So, of course, I made all of them.
First, though, I tasted the liqueur on its own. Like most liqueurs, it's too sweet for me to drink straight, but the flavor is lovely. At 56 proof, it's got nearly twice as much alcohol as the Big O, and it tastes bigger in every way: sweeter, more alcoholic, and with a much stronger ginger taste. When I interviewed the owners of the Big O they told me that they purposely toned down the gingery bite of their liqueur and lowered the alcohol content to make it more appealing for drinking on its own. My favorite thing about ginger is the spiciness it imparts, though, so I was happy to taste it in the Domaine de Canton. There's some honey flavor to it and a touch of vanilla (the liqueur is brewed with both), along with some floral notes, but it's mostly the ginger that comes through. (I should at least mention here that local distillery Koval makes its own ginger liqueur, but since I haven't tried it I can't compare it to the others.)
Fortunately, the other drinks were much better. The Bowery tempers Domaine de Canton's sweetness with lemon juice and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters. It was still a little syrupy for my taste; if I made it again I'd add a splash of tonic water to lighten it up, but this was the cocktail where the flavors of the liqueur came through most clearly. The Gold Rush, with bourbon and lemon juice, tastes like a sweeter whiskey sour with a ginger kick. What surprised me most, though, was how much I liked the Opening Act, which combines the liqueur with Campari and lime juice. I've never been much of a fan of Campari, but its bitterness perfectly balanced the sweetness of the Domaine de Canton and lingered in the back of my throat along with the bite of the ginger. It's a cocktail that would be dangerously easy to drink on a hot day.
All the cocktails and many more are available on the Domaine de Canton website, but I'm copying the recipe for my favorite below.
The Opening Act
2 oz Domaine de Canton
½ oz Campari
½ fresh lime juice
Shake and strain over ice in a tall glass. Garnish with mint leaves. Optional caramelized orange angostura bitters. Top with tonic. (Ed. note: I skipped the orange angostura bitters and tonic, though I'm sure they'd be good. I did add the mint garnish, but forgot about it until after I'd taken the photo.)
Julia Thiel writes about booze on Thursdays.