Fernet and Cynar, Negronis and Boulevardiers—bitter amari, and the cocktails that showcase them, are all the rage these days. But to drinkers unaccustomed to those powerfully bitter flavors, a first sip can be off-putting.
'amari' on Serious Eats
Are you into sherry and mezcal and aquavit? Will you take shots of Becherovka or Fernet? When you order a drink, is there one spirit or cocktail ingredient that's on your do-not-choose list?
BroVo has teamed up with bartenders all over the country to make small batches of customized amari. In Chicago, bartenders Stephen Cole (of Barrelhouse Flat) and Mike Ryan (of Sable) are among the chosen few.
Campari, Cynar, the ever-popular Fernet: bitter liqueurs have never been bigger. But which ones should you try? We asked some of our favorite bartenders about their favorites; here's what they had to say.
You might have experienced a cheese cart or a chocolate cart, but what about a tableside basket of after-dinner bitter liqueurs? At Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel in NYC, bar manager Erik Lombardo recently introduced amari service, including a 16-bottle list and a few digestif bottles offered tableside for post-dinner sipping. We asked Lombardo a bit about the program and his picks for amari novices, plus the weirdest bottles and his personal favorites.
Just like the bitter greens that start showing up at greenmarkets this time of year, Cynar is a delicious palate refresher. Although it's often consumed alone or with a splash of soda, it can also make cocktails much more interesting. Here are three great recipes to try.
It's hard to keep track of all the amari on the shelves at your local cocktail bar. Where once there was caramel-toned Averna and menthol-bright Fernet, there's now barely room for all the herbal tonics and digestifs. I love tasting them—the luscious, fruity grappa-based Nonino is a frequent after-dinner sipper in my house, and I'll try any cocktail with Cynar. But at a certain point you wonder: do I really need to buy all these bottles? Do they really each offer something different?
Let's get one thing straight: I am not a fan of Valentine's Day. Single, taken, it doesn't matter. So today strikes me as the perfect time to sample cocktails that make use of truly tasty bitter flavor combinations. Here are 6 great bitter drinks you can sip now in San Francisco.
This cocktail was created by Leo Robitschek of The Nomad and Eleven Madison Park in New York City. It spices up apple cider with rye and Amaro Abano, an amaro that's a bit more bitter than Averna, and a bit less mentholated-tasting than Fernet.
Thanksgiving evening. You push back from the table feeling satisfied but a little bloated. You know there's a beautiful pie waiting in the kitchen, but you can't look it in the pie eye, you just can't. You need a break, a walk around the block or the entire city, and possibly some Alka-Seltzer. Or, here's a thought: Try a digestive.
Fernet Branca is an acquired taste: that mentholated scent, the sweet richness. It's oddly bitter and syrupy, reminding some people of mouthwash (though for others, it's a celebrated secret handshake.) As Nate Cavalieri wrote in SF Weekly, this herbal Italian quaff "most often gets compared to Campari and Jägermeister, though by measure of accuracy, it's equally similar to Robitussin or Pennzoil." But Branca's just the most widely available brand of Fernet, and there are other options in this family of amari. We recently hit two other bottles to investigate.
Amaro is yet another item from behind the bar that started out as a way to cure what ailed us—it was once a treatment for everything from an upset stomach or colicky baby to cholera. Really, "amaro" (or amari, in the plural) is just a general name for a bitter, herbal liqueur.
Amaro is just a general name for a bitter, herbal liqueur traditionally served after a meal.
This refreshingly bitter aperitif cocktail from The Modern in NYC is a variation on the Americano. It calls for saffron-tinted Strega, an herbal liqueur produced in Benevento, Italy (for which this cocktail is named.)
Amaro adds rich, complex flavor and sweetness to this tangy cranberry cocktail. Be sure to use a less-sweet tonic water, like Q Tonic, for the best balance.
While you can't go out and buy a bottle of Big Star's own Kentucky Spirit, try making a High Time Manhattan at home using the Kentucky Spirit you find at your liquor store, or your favorite premium, high-proof bourbon.
The Bitter cocktail, from the Aviary in Chicago, is served in a glass that's been smoked over a piece of smoldering bourbon barrel stave, which is custom-cut by the cocktail lounge's industrial designer. Fear not—we love this cocktail with or without the touch of smokiness! But if you're feeling adventurous and want to truly re-create this drink at home, used small-format, seasoned barrels are available for purchase online from New York's Tuthilltown Spirits, makers of Hudson whiskey.
From the suburbs of Munich, bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck of The Bitter Truth have been creating various flavors of cocktail bitters since 2006. They've come a long way from the orange bitters that launched their product line. With the release of their E**X**R Kräuter Liqueur, they're branching out into the other kind of bitters—the digestive liqueurs Italians call amari.
Let's get this out of the way at the start: Cynar doesn't taste like artichokes. The edible thistle is only the most prominent name in an array of more than a dozen botanical ingredients that make this liqueur so memorable.
Unlike much of Europe, aperitifs have never fully caught on in America's restaurants and drinking establishments. With the debut of two new aperitif wines, and a newfound enthusiasm for aperitifs among craft bartenders and drink aficionados, the landscape of the preprandial tipple may be changing.