Fruit liqueurs have gotten a bad rap as of late—largely because there are some terrible, cloyingly sweet, flavor-challenged fruit liqueurs out there. But crème de cassis is a major exception. First created in Burgundy more than 150 years ago, it’s made from macerated black currants, giving it a rich, layered dark-berry flavor balanced by the tannins and tartness you might associate with blackberries.
Cassis can be quite sweet, and it’s easy to go overboard. But used judiciously, it can add layers of rounded fruit flavor to cocktails, from simple sparklers to complex whiskey drinks. Here are three of our favorites—none of which require more than crème de cassis and a few staple liquors.
Easy: Kir Royale
This is the classic cassis cocktail, and it’s easy to see why. Just a sparing splash of the liqueur stains sparkling wine a beautiful hue of purple, and adds a faint, fruity note: classier than a mimosa any day. We prefer to keep a light hand with cassis here, to keep things on the drier side, but feel free to up the proportions should you so choose.
Instructions: Pour a ¼ ounce of cassis into a Champagne flute, and fill with sparkling wine (about 5 ounces). Garnish with a lemon twist.
Intermediate: El Diablo
Here’s another classic, in which the sharpness of lime and tequila and the distinctive spice of ginger beer balance the sweet cassis. In a cocktail bar, we’d consider using fresh muddled ginger. But at home it’s best to keep things simpler by using ginger beer. The vivid, spicy flavor still comes through.
Instructions: To a cocktail shaker with ice, add 1½ ounces of silver tequila (we’re fans of Don Julio here), ¾ ounce of fresh lime juice, ½ ounce of cassis and a ¼ ounce of simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water). Shake it all up and strain it into a glass with fresh ice. Add 2 ounces of ginger beer to top it off. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Advanced: Auld Alliance
Scotch, cassis and an egg white—we know, we know, it sounds bizarre. But using egg whites in cocktails isn’t about flavor, it’s about texture, and when it’s done right, it results in a lightly creamy sipper that displays flavors beautifully. Here, the rich Scotch deepens the dark-fruit flavors of the cassis, for a sophisticated cocktail that’s just faintly fruity. And how gorgeous is that opaque shade of purple?
Use the Scotch of your choice here, but we’d particularly recommend Cutty Sark Prohibition for this one—its chocolately undertones are a perfect match for the dark currants of cassis.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine 2 ounces of Scotch, 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice, ¾ ounce of cassis, ½ ounce of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) and a dash of orange bitters, if you have them. Add the white from one egg, being careful not to get any yolk in there.
Here, you’re doing what bartenders call a “dry shake.” Shake the cocktail without ice for about 30 seconds—that starts to whip up the egg white. You’ll know you’ve shaken enough when the shaker almost pops itself apart. Then add ice and shake again. (That’s the “wet shake,” natch.) Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with dark fruit: We used brandied cherries, but a blackberry would look lovely, too.