You bought a spirit or liqueur because a cocktail recipe called for a very minute amount. Now you’re stuck with the remaining 9/10ths of the bottle and what to do with it. No worries. Thrifty bartenders weigh in with tips and recipes for getting every last drop out of an underutilized ingredient so it doesn’t gather dust on your bar shelf.
Midori might just have the best opening night story in the history of booze. The Japanese melon liqueur was launched in 1978 at famed New York City discotheque Studio 54 during a cast party for “Saturday Night Fever.” Yup, turns out disco king Tony Manero was one of the first people to sample the liquid with the neon green hue in the frosted bottle. It was sipped that night with tonic on that iconic dance floor.
You may have procured a bottle of the sweet liqueur—flavored with funky indigenous melon varieties including muskmelon and Yubari—to whip up the occasional retro round of Midori Sours and now consider it to be as outdated as the Bee Gees’ falsetto or white polyester suits. But we have some good news. Since Japanese spirit giant Suntory retooled its formula a few years ago, removing some of the sugar and infusing it with more natural flavors, Midori has had a revival of sorts among bartenders as both a cocktail base and modifier.
“Considering Midori in the same way you’d think of maraschino liqueur is generally a good approach,” says Matt Catchpole, the general manager of Terra in Columbia, S.C. “I’ve played around several times with taking some old classic ratios and improving them with just a small measure of Midori.” Catchpole likes to add a quarter-ounce to a Tom Collins or dress up rum and white vermouthManhattan riffs with a bar spoon of Midori.
“I always like to pair bright melon flavors with savory and salinic notes—ingredients such as sesame seed, sesame oil, salts and different spice blends,” says Will Lee, the beverage director of Grey Ghost and Second Best in Detroit. Herbaceous botanical gins, grassy vegetal tequilas or funky rums all allow Midori’s unique profile to shine as brightly as its color.
A.J. Johnson, the head bartender at Antica Pesa in Brooklyn, also stands by Midori’s affinity for briny flavors like salt water, as well as earthy beet juice and bright citrus. He also hails its ability to temper spices like cayenne or cinnamon. “Given that Midori is more robust and layered than a lot of other fruit liqueurs, it lends the opportunity to be paired with a larger variety of flavors across the spectrum.”
In fact, the two traits that cause its critics to question its place on the backbar might just be Midori’s biggest assets, says Brock Schulte, the bar director at The Monarch in Kansas City, Mo. “[Its] best attributes are its color and ability to play well with others,” he says. This might explain why, 40 years later, Midori is still stayin’ alive.
“[Midori] lends itself to all kinds of infusions and plays well with herbs, spices [and] heat like cayenne,” says Schulte. “I like to use it with cilantro and jalapeño for interesting Margarita-style variations,” as in his Conflict & Compromise.
Lee is a big fan of pairing Midori with white grassy spirits like herbaceous gins and blanco tequilas, as well as salty ingredients, as in his Horn of the Bulls. As for the green liqueur’s propensity for sweetness, he says, “As long as you’re able to balance those flavors, it can be a great complementary component to use in any cocktail.”
“Midori’s best attributes are its flavor—sweet but also incredibly balanced out into something round and drinkable,” says Johnson. “And the bright, neon aspect is so fun to have on a shelf or build around.” It more than holds its own as the base in an effervescent cocktail like his Cobra Verde.