Have you got a special or unusual or underused bottle on your bar, but you haven’t had the occasion to open it? This is your sign to Open That Bottle!

Open That Bottle Night, celebrated on the last Saturday of February, is a holiday created in 2000 by Wall Street Journal Tastings columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. They created it in the spirit of seize the day, encouraging people to open that special bottle of wine right now rather than saving it for an undetermined day in the future. It has since expanded to include finding ways to use the underused and unusual ingredients on your bar. It is a night for sharing something special for no special reason.

I love art made with creative constraints: modern retellings of classics, or novels written without using the letter e, or an artist’s limited colour palette, or quilts made from fabric scraps, or prints made from manhole covers. Constraints fuel creativity. The constraint of using ingredients I already have to make a new cocktail is something I relish.

With enormous thanks to the team at Grand Marnier for pointing me to this holiday, here are some ideas for how to use the bottles on your bar.

Swap Out an Ingredient

Take a cocktail you know and love, and swap out the hero ingredient, or swap out simple syrup for a liqueur.  

When I attended a master class with Grand Marnier, we had a chance to sample an Old Fashioned made with Grand Marnier rather than simple syrup.  Brilliant!  Grand Marnier adds all kinds of complexity with its woody and orange characteristics, and it replaces the syrup.  Simple and delicious.  I like to chill mine in a mixing glass before pouring it into my glass, but you can just stir and chill it right in the glass you’re drinking from if you want to skip that step.  

Grand Marnier Old Fashioned
Grand Marnier Old Fashioned

Grand Marnier Old Fashioned

1 oz Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge

1 oz bourbon

3 dashes of Angustora bitters

orange twist for garnish

Combine Grand Marnier, bourbon and bitters in a mixing glass with ice.  Stir until well-chilled.  Strain into a rocks glass with a large cube.  Express the orange oil over the drink and run the orange peel around the rim of the glass.  Garnish with the orange peel.  

Limit Your Palette

If your constraint is to make a cocktail from an underused bottle on your bar, try making a 3-ingredient cocktail so that it gets a chance to shine. Robert Simonson’s 3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon is a great resource. There are loads of recipes for cocktails made with brandy and cognac, for example. I was especially grateful to find a recipe for a Cynar Negroni, my favourite cocktail made with an underused bottle on my bar.  

Pot Luck Experiment

Invite friends over with their own bottles that they want to use up, and set up your experiments!

Instead of a cookie exchange during the holidays, I did a cocktail fixings exchange. Guests brought all kinds of cocktail fixings–dehydrated lime wheels, syrups, infused booze–and we all went home with fixings to use over the holidays. It inspired creativity, but most importantly, it was a chance to gather and have fun. That’s what this night is all about.

Ask the Experts

Look up the maker of what you want to drink and see what they make with it.  Almost all brands have a section on their websites with recipes.  Or just plug your bottle into your search engine and see what appeals! Some great resources for cocktail recipes are Punch and Liquor. Their archives are deep and delicious.

For more cocktail ideas, check out our round up of new spirits.

And for more fun drink-themed holidays, check out this list!