This year is shaping up to be an incredible one for both cocktail lovers and cocktail-book lovers. We'll finally get a chance to read Regarding Cocktails, written by the late Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey fame. There's Martin and Rebecca Cate's Smuggler's Cove, which, at first glance, looks like just another bar book, but turns out to be an eye-opening guide to rum that also delves into a misunderstood era in our country's drinking history. There's Robert Simonson's no-holds-barred story of the cocktail revival, warts and all; Lou Bustamante's techniques manual; and Southern Spirits, a fascinating deep dive into generations of drinking in the South from our own Robert Moss...and that's just the stack of books sitting closest to my whiskey collection.
We have a lot of drinking to do.
The fact that there are so many fantastic-sounding drinks in all these new books is only making matters drunker tougher for us cocktail nerds. Take Amaro, which just came out on October 11 from Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters (and a Serious Eats contributor from way back when). If you're a fan of Campari, Averna, Cynar, or other bittersweet liqueurs, this book will have your mouth watering and your liquor cabinet collapsing under its own weight.
Parsons clears up all the questions you have about amari and provides a guide to dozens of different bottles, but for me, the best feature of this book is the recipes, culled from some of the greatest bars in the world. Kick off your morning with The Brunch Box (made with Montenegro, grapefruit juice, and lager); follow up with the Amaro Sour (bourbon, your choice of amaro, lemon, and egg white); or go savory with a Safe Passage (Nardini, Aperol, lemon, Prosecco, and Castelvetrano olive brine). Since all the recipes follow the bitter theme, you'll likely find more than a handful of good uses for whatever amaro you buy.
My current favorite recipe is for the Italian Buck, created by Jamie Boudreau of Canon in Seattle. (Incidentally, there's also a Canon book out this fall.) At the bar, the cocktail is served bottled and carbonated, but it works wonderfully at home without any fancy equipment.
The Italian Buck is basically a Dark 'n Stormy for weirdos, a not-so-straightforward fizzy cocktail for those of us who like to drink a little off the beaten path. It's gingery-spicy, sweet-tart, and bracingly bitter. The base of the drink—the amaro element—comes from a mix of orangey Montenegro and vegetal Cynar. There's no strong spirit here, so it's ideal for sipping when you plan to have more than one cocktail. Besides the amaro, there's a good bit of fresh lime and a pour of ginger beer.
Note to the nerds: I also tried this drink with Cynar 70, the higher-proof, amped-up version of the artichoke-emblazoned amaro we know and love. To be honest, it's not as good. The 70 dominates the drink, and you lose the mellow complexity of the Montenegro.
Instead, I'd recommend that you do a little gut check when it comes to the ginger beer: Are you looking for an easy-drinking crowd-pleaser, or do you want to embrace your bitter side? (If you were considering Cynar 70, I'm talking to you.)
The original recipe calls for three ounces of ginger beer, which gives you a tasty but slightly pedestrian version of the drink. If you're making the Italian Buck for your whole family on Thanksgiving, the three-ounce version might be just right. But if it's for you alone, I'd recommend starting with two ounces of ginger beer instead and giving it a taste. For me, that's the ideal drink: bitter, spicy, unusual, refreshing.
Another half ounce works, too. Go with what you feel. It's your year, after all.