I’m reading Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson. It started slow, but has picked up steam. Quite a few interesting cocktail recipes and entire chapters devoted to arcane spirits that until now I merely gazed at and wondered… “did the world really need an artichoke-based digestif?”


So I ventured forth in search of a class of spirit termed the Italian Bitter, or Amaro. When one goes in search of Amaro, it turns out you end up having to try a bunch of related goodies that are not quite Amaro, but are “part of the experience.” The things I do in the name of learning…


First up is the classic Averna, an Amaro Siciliano that was actually quite nice. Sweet with a Mocha-Coffee flavor that was smooth and balanced. I could see sipping this and relaxing after a nice bowl of Tripe, or Gnocchi Bolognese. And there are a pair of really nice cocktails that use Averna:




Black Manhattan


2 oz. Rye


3/4 oz. Averna


1 d Angostura Bitters


1 d Orange Bitters






1-1/2 oz. Cognac


1 oz. Averna


1/2 oz. Maraschino Liqueur




Both recipes involve shaking the ingredients with crushed ice and straining into a cocktail glass.




Next up is something a little more unusual – Santa Maria Al Monte Amaro… In Sushi restaurants sea urchin is considered “challenging.” Well, this amaro is the sea urchin equivalent of the spirit world – Elements of pine sap with an extremely bitter finish – eye-opening is a good description. I could not find any cocktail recipes that would use this spirit and sipping as a digestif would be an acquired taste for sure…


Next we tasted Cynar – an artichoke-based (Cynara Scolymus) liqueur that was quite interesting. Sweet with herbaceous bitterness, almost like a richer version of Campari. I found a cocktail that is quite refreshing, ala Satan’s Whiskers…






1 oz. London Dry Gin


1 oz. Sweet Vermouth


1 oz. Cynar


1 d Orange Bitters


2 Orange Wedges


Shake the spirits and the juice of one orange wedge with crushed ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and toss in the remaining orange wedge.




Next up, Fernet-Branca a bitter spirit made with neutral grape spirit as the base. Whoa is the only word I can use to describe the experience… Menthol, mint and extremely bitter – takes some getting used to…


Last up – Punt e Mes Vermouth – Punt e Mes literally means “point and a half” in Piedmontese. It has been said that it owes its name to a sudden raise of the stock market (naturally, of a point and a half) which greatly benefitted the Carpano distilleries, which then created the vermouth brand to commemorate the occasion. Alternatively it may refer to the flavor being characterised as one ”point” of sweetness and half a point of bitterness. Punt e Mes can be used interchangeably with any other Rosso Vermouth, or in a cocktail of its own design.




Red Hook


2 oz. Rye


1/2 oz. Punt e Mes


1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur


Shake with crushed ice and strain into a cocktail glass.




So ends the journey for now… The moral of the story is to always keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.

(Originally posted on Facebook: June 25, 2011)