Amaro 104: Continuing Education
Amaro 104: Continuing Education
Bitter is the new black, and I for one am thrilled. As bartenders, chefs, and consumers continue their exploration of the bitter side of food and drink, the number of bitter liqueurs on offer is rising proportionally. For those of you familiar with Campari, Aperol, Fernet Branca and a few other amari, this article will introduce you to a nine more bitter liqueurs with which you may not be acquainted.
If you’re new to amari, you may want to go back and read the three preceding articles in this series:
Let’s get to it!
Most amari on the market today were created over a hundred years ago—their success owing to a combination of time-tested formulas and feelings of nostalgia that can span generations. But with the popularity of amari growing, a handful of new bitter liqueurs are once again breathing life into the category. One such amaro is Calisaya, made not in Italy, but Eugene, Oregon (by an Italian).
Calisaya creator Andrea Loreto was born in Firenze, but moved to Oregon in the late 1990’s. A chef by training, he became interested in making his own amari after discovering some recipes in his collection of historic cookbooks. Andrea’s experiments quickly evolved into a passion for making amari, and Calisaya represents the delicious fruit of his labor—a recreation of a historical amaro popular in pre-prohibition cocktails.
Speaking of fruit, orange is the primary flavor we note in Calisaya, but the fruit is quickly backed up with a healthy dose of its namesake bitterant (calisaya cinchona from Peru). The color is also something to note—the clear amber color sets it apart from other amari on the shelf. There is a pronounced sweetness that tastes like a mix of cane syrup and honey, after which comes a mix of spices and floral notes that include black pepper, chamomile, lemongrass, and a touch of cinnamon.
|Eugene , Oregon, USA||35||Cinchona Calisaya, Seville orange||Seville orange, mildly bitter bark, honey, white and black pepper, chamomile blossoms, lemon grass, cinnamon||$45|
1 oz Calisaya Liqueur
2 oz Rye Whiskey
2 dashes Orange Bitter
2 dashes acid phosphate (substitute lime or lemon juice)
Stir well in mixing glass with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve.
Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book 1935 via Calisaya.net
1½ ounces Calisaya Liqueur
1½ ounces Scotch whisky
Stir with ice in mixing glass, strain and serve with a cherry.
My Amaro by Lorenzo Inga
Amaro Mio or “My Amaro” by Lorenzo Inga is an amaro that I passed on for several months before purchasing. The name struck me as a bit egotistical, and because I had never heard of Lorenzo Inga, I didn’t give it much thought. But as it turns out, Lorenzo’s amaro is pretty darn tasty.
The Inga family began making grappa in 1832 in Noto, Sicily. Founder Gaetano Inga later moved to Piemonte, where he continued his craft. Over time, the company added additional products including aged grappa, limoncello, sambuca and this amaro.
My Amaro is an infusion of twenty herbs, roots and tree bark (one would assume this is cinchona). The infusion is rested for forty-five days before filtration and bottling.
My Amaro is a dark brown liquid with a non-astringent nose that evokes thoughts of caramel, coriander and bitter greens. The mildly bitter taste yields a hefty dose of melted caramel, roasted peppers, lemon zest, rhubarb, coriander and spearmint. Brilliant if not a tad sweet.
|Piedmont, Italy||30||None||caramel, coriander, bitter greens||$40|
My Amaro Cocktails
1 oz Bluecoat gin
1 oz Plymouth sloe gin
1/2 oz Amaro Mio
1 sprig lemon balm, for muddling
1 leaf lemon balm, for garnish
Measure liquid ingredients into mixing glass. Add lemon balm sprig. Muddle gently. (Lemon balm is in the mint family, and as with mint, if you over-muddle it, you’ll release unpleasant compounds into your cocktail.) Add ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and add garnish, if using.
Garnish the cocktail with the additional lemon balm leaf, and then serve immediately.
1 1/2 oz Amaro Mio
3 oz. cola (such as Boylan)
1 cube of frozen lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a glass, stir and serve.
To me, Lazzaroni is synonymous with cookies. My mom would pick up tins of the famous almond cookies when in New York, and we would devour them upon arrival at home. But the Lazzaroni name is not only associated with cookies, they’re also known for creating fine liqueurs since 1851. Among those liqueurs is Amaro Lazzaroni.
If the label on this amaro looks oddly familiar, it’s no accident. The bottle bears a striking resemblance to the Braulio amaro we discussed in Amaro 102. Like Braulio, Amaro Lazzaroni contains a variety of herbs found in the Italian Alps, but the flavor profile is quite different.
The aromas from this amaro include freshly flamed crème brulee, peppermint, chamomile and bitter greens. On the palate, we find a moderately bitter taste with notes of burnt sugar, peppermint, a touch of menthol, spearmint, black pepper and coriander.
|Saronno, Lombardia, Italy||25||None||Burnt sugar and crème brulee, peppermint, chamomile, bitter greens||$26|
Amaro Lazzaroni Cocktails
Travis Fourmont via Imbibe
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz Amaro Lazzaroni
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz burnt orange-peppercorn syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice cubes. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish.
To make the burnt orange-peppercorn syrup:
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. green peppercorns, whole
3 long peppers
1 Tbsp. Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 star anise
12 allspice berries, whole
1 cup fresh orange juice
Zest of 3 oranges
In a medium saucepan, wet sugar with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and caramelize to a deep amber caramel (it will smoke slightly). Turn off the heat and add the spices. Swirl for about 30 seconds, then add the orange juice and zest (it will seize and then boil like mad). Stir over low heat until the caramel has unseized. Strain into a clean glass jar and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
As noted in Amaro 101, Fernet Branca is a very popular drink in the San Francisco area, and when folks say “Fernet” here, they almost certainly mean Branca. But with Fernet Branca’s popularity rising, other fernet style amari are getting a chance to find their way onto back bars. (Incidentally, when asking for a fernet in Italy, remember to pronounce fernet like “FAIR-net” rather than “fur-NET”—I learned that one the hard way.)
Like their amaro, the Fernet Lazzaroni label looked strangely familiar to me upon first glance, and after a look around the bar I determined why. The background of their label is very similar to that of Fernet Branca.
With some Fernet Lazzaroni in the glass, we find a non-astringent nose with typical fernet notes including mint, menthol, and eucalyptus. On the palate, this fernet is thin and dry, with loads of mint and menthol, followed by eucalyptus, fresh grass, mustard greens and black pepper. The limited sugar addition here is a welcome respite from some of the overly sweet amari. As I pause to reflect on the taste, I realize Fernet Lazzaroni is more akin to Santa Maria al Monte than Branca.
|Saronno, Lombardia, Italy||40||None||Mint and menthol, eucalyptus, fresh grass, mustard greens and black pepper||$26|
Fernet Lazzaroni Cocktails
1.5 oz George Dickel Tennessee Whisky
.5 oz Rye, such as Rittenhouse
.5 oz Rabarbaro Zucca Amaro
.25 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum
1 barspoon Fernet Lazzaroni
1 barspoon Amaro Nardini
Dash Angostura Bitters
Dash Orange Bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with cocktail cherry.
1 1/2 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca (sub Fernet Lazzaroni)
Pour the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Fernet into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until outside of mixing glass is very cold to touch, about 15 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve.
From the folks who brought you the eponymous Maraschino comes another liqueur from their vast lineup. It’s called simply: Bitter. And while the color immediately made me think of Aperol, the flavors suggest it’s more along the lines of Campari. (Luxardo Bitter is far more bitter than Aperol, and not at all orangey.)
Luxardo Bitter’s aromas include bitter bark, pepper, cinnamon and a bit of grapefruit zest. On the palate we have bitter bark backed by loads of sweetness, black pepper, rhubarb, a hint of pine, and a healthy dose of cinnamon. The finish brings just a small dose of mint and thyme.
|Torreglia, Italy||25||Sweet and bitter oranges, rhubarb, marjoram,and thyme.||Gentian, black pepper, pine, rhubarb, cinnamon, thyme||$26|
Luxardo Bitter Cocktails
Esprit du Mezcalier
Rafa García Febles via Kindred Cocktails
3⁄4 oz Mezcal
3⁄4 oz Amaro, Luxardo Bitter
3⁄4 oz Grapefruit juice
3⁄4 oz Amaro, Nonino
Shake, strain, up, twist.
David Slape, PDT, via Kindred Cocktails
2 oz Rye, Rittenhouse 100
3⁄4 oz Amaro, Luxardo Bitter
3⁄4 oz Amaro, CioCiaro
Flamed orange peel
Stir, strain, one large cube in chilled rocks glass, garnish.
Amaro del Sole Vittone
Amaro del Sole has been around for a while, but only found US distribution in the summer of 2014. I wasn’t able to find any background on this tasty amaro other than the general Vittone company story as described below.
Amaro del Sole is a sweet, moderately bitter amaro bursting with flavors including pepper, rhubarb, a hint of eucalyptus, saffron, orange and lemon peel, vanilla, and cardamom. Mixing opportunities abound with this amaro, so I’m confident we’ll begin seeing this amaro on back bars around the states in short order.
|Lombardia, Italy||30||None||Black pepper, rhubarb, hint of eucalyptus, saffron, orange and lemon peel, vanilla, cardamom||$26|
Amaro del Sole Vittone Cocktails
1½ ounces Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye
½ ounce Fernet Vittone
½ ounce Amaro del Sole
2 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6
1 dash Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Combine in a mixing glass, add ice, stir for at least 30 seconds and strain over an ice sphere into a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a fat twist of fresh orange peel.
If the marketing materials are to be believed, Domenico Vittone (pronounced vi-TONE-ay) created the world’s first fernet amaro back in 1842. He’s also rumored to have employed Fratelli Branca founder Bernardino Branca prior to the inception of his company, but I haven’t seen evidence of this (Branca began in 1845).
Fernet Vittone is made from a blend of forty herbs and spices infused in neutral alcohol. Vittone has a very typical fernet aroma profile, and on the palate it delivers the bitterness straight away. The mint, pepper and eucalyptus menthol notes dominate. This one definitely has a thinner mouthfeel than Branca, owing to a sugar content that is noticeably lower.
|Lombardia, Italy||40||myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron||Bitter cinchona, black pepper, peppermint, cardamom, eucalyptus||$29|
Fernet Vittone Cocktails
1 1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Tanqueray gin
1/4 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Fernet Branca (sub Fernet Vittone)
1 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
15 drops orange bitters
Fill a mixing glass with ice, add Campari, Tanqueray, Cynar, Fernet, vermouth, and bitters. Stir until well chilled and strain into serving glass. Twist orange peel over drink to express oils and discard.
A classic cocktail (also called the Toronto) that first appeared in Cocktails- How to Mix Them by Robert Vermeire, in which he said “This cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto”. Via Martin’s New & Improved Index of Cocktails & Mixed Drinks for iOS.
1 oz Cognac or straight rye
1 ounce Fernet Branca (sub Fernet Vittone)
2 dashes gum syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail gloass and garnish with a lemon twist.
Menta Fernet Vittone
Keeping it in the family, let’s move on to Fernet Vittone’s more minty sibling, Menta Vittone. As we discovered in Amaro 103, Italians began adding mint syrup to their fernet in the 1960’s, so smart marketers took the hint and began offering mint-flavored amari.
Given that I’m not a huge fan of mint-flavored liqueurs, I didn’t expect too much from Menta Vittone. But when I opened the bottle and poured a glass, the aromas wafting up left me utterly delighted. As the smooth liquid washed over my palate, visions of boozy candy canes filled my head.
Whereas Branca drops the alcohol content and increases the sugar content, Vittone maintains the 40% alcohol and merely skews the formula to the peppermint side. It works amazingly well.
|Lombardia, Italy||40||None||Peppermint, candy cane, cane syrup, pine needles, eucalyptus||$29|
Menta Vittone Cocktails
1 ½ oz Bourbon, Maker’s Mark
1 ½ oz Branca Menta (sub Menta Vittone)
Stir with ice, strain over crushed ice in an Old Fashioned.
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
As we learned in Amaro 103, the Varnelli company was founded by Girolamo Varnelli in 1868. And like the Amaro Sibilla, their dell’Erborista is an amaro that defies comparison. Arriving in a flip-topped bottle, dell’Erborista’s unique look persists once in the glass. Light brown and turbid, this amaro looks like it was just decanted and ready for filtration. The lack of filtration of course is by design, and plays a part in dell’Erborista’s flavor profile and mouthfeel, yielding a rich, smoky foundation.
The smokiness of dell’Erborista comes from the roasting of the botanicals, which include cinnamon, rhubarb and clove. The other pronounced characteristic is the ample honey used as the sole sweetener. Beyond the smoke and honey, the nose carries a pronounced toothpaste note (original Colgate, to be specific). There is also a yeasty quality and the suggestion of overcooked greens.
On the palate, dell’Erborista is simultaneously sweet and watery (it is just 21% ABV, after all) with the toothpaste quality reigning supreme. After the Colgate come mustard and collard greens, dry mustard, spearmint, caramel and a dusty, woody note. Despite these odd qualities, dell’Erborista has its fans—you’ll have to try it to see if you are among them.
|Marche, Muccia, Italy||21||Honey, gentian, rhubarb, cinnamon, clove, orange peel, cinchona||Smoke, honey, toothpaste, mustard and collard greens, dry mustard, spearmint, caramel, dust||$65 (1L)|
Varnelli dell’Erborista Cocktails
1 oz. Amaro Dell’Erborista
4 oz. Prosecco
Grapefruit twist, for garnish
Pour Amaro Dell’Erborista into a chilled champagne flute. Top with prosecco; garnish with a grapefruit twist.
Well, there you have it, amici: another nine amari for you to discover and explore. That takes the total number of amari covered at Inu A Kena to thirty-three! Chances are there will be more discussed here in the not-too-distant future; every time I think I’ve exhausted the local supply, another pops up on the market. Until then, back to rum reviews!