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I'm either one quarter or one eighth Irish, depending on which relative I consult. My family celebrated St. Patrick's Day with cabbage and corned beef, and now that I'm an adult, the bottle of Irish whiskey comes down from my shelf and I make a point of having a shot or two to celebrate that part of my heritage. But St. Patrick's isn't the only saint's day that March brings to my mind.
As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, I experienced another holiday when my Irish Catholic school burned down under suspicious circumstances (it wasn't that great of a part of town) and I transferred to an Italian parochial school. The Italians celebrated St. Joseph's Day, which is two days after St. Patrick's. Everyone ate zeppole (which were so, so good) and wore red and white to the Knights of Columbus parade. There were flowers and candles, an explosion of color.
That part of my childhood left me with a lasting love of both saint's day traditions (and a strange association between slow cooked, cured beef and fried pastries filled to the brim with sweetened cream). I had these two celebrations in mind when concocting this simple cocktail.
Everyone knows about Ireland's long tradition of making whiskey, but most of us are just starting to dig deeper into Italy's booze. Over the past few years I've fallen in love with the sweet and bitter amari that are wonderful after dinner and mixed into drinks. Often, they add just an accent of rich herbs and roots, but why stop at just an accent? To celebrate both cultures and holidays I've decided to make a cocktail that's an even split of Irish whiskey and Italian amaro.
I chose Bushmills 10 for the Irish whiskey. It's light in body and nothing like aggressive, making it a friendly whiskey for mixing, but it offers a lot of caramel and floral flavor that goes down smooth. I've paired it with Averna, a caramelly amaro that's spicy and rich, with a bitter finish that won't overwhelm newbies. The Averna anchors the Bushmills, giving the cocktail some bolder flavors while latching into the whiskey's toasted-sugar side. (Can't find Averna in your neighborhood? You can play around with other amari such as Cynar or Gran Classico Bitter; just be sure to give the mixture a taste, since it might need a little more sweetness to come into balance.) The drink highlights the contrast between the light and floral whiskey and the richer amaro, brightened by a punch of sour flavor from a little fresh lemon and sweetened with demerara sugar.
The whiskey's bite and the Averna's bitterness lingers wonderfully between sips. It's a cocktail that may have you vowing to always skip the green beer.