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Skeleton Key Cocktail Recipe | Wine Enthusiast

Skeleton Key Cocktail Recipe | Wine Enthusiast

A skeleton key is a device that has been filed down to unlock multiple doors. It’s called such because it has been reduced to its essential parts. Not unlike the skeleton key cocktail, as it’s also been stripped of anything that might seem overly fussy or any unnecessary embellishment.

If you’re from Detroit, you might already be very familiar with the skeleton key as it’s one of the Motor City’s contributions to cocktail culture.

“In Michigan, this is a very well-known cocktail,” says Travis Fourmont, who in 2011 was the bar manager of Roast, a now-closed Michael Symon steakhouse. It was there in 2011, Fourmont says, that bartender Brian Volmer created the cocktail at his urging. Intended for a local Halloween cocktail competition (which it won), the drink went on to become a staple of bar menus in the region.

Fourmont is now the owner of Bar Pigalle in Detroit, which boasts not just the classic version of the skeleton key on its fall menu, but also a non-alcoholic one.

Boiled down to the basic elements of spirit, citrus, bitters and sweetness, the skeleton key is ready to haunt your Halloween gatherings. Delicate elderflower liqueur (Fourmont uses St. Germain) lends a subtle, tropically floral note and some sweetness. Ginger beer and bourbon contribute warm fall spice flavors, while the generous amount of finishing Angostura bitters, which float in the drink’s resulting orange haze, are appropriately eerie.


1 ¼ ounces bourbon

¾ ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur

½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 to 5 ounces Fever Tree ginger beer

6 to 8 (or 10, go nuts) dashes Angostura bitters

How to Make a Skeleton Key Cocktail

Pour bourbon into a Collins glass filled with ice, then add elderflower and lemon juice. Top with ginger beer. Give a few swirls with cocktail spoon to mingle ingredients but not mix completely. Add generous 6 to 8 dashes Angostura bitters on top and let them float down.

Published on October 26, 2022

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