Martinique, meet Italy

So the other night—it was in point of fact Wednesday evening—it was my turn to mix. (We take turns at our house, as do civilized gentlemen everywhere.) I had a vague feeling that I wanted something Manhattan-esque, but Chuck had made superlative Manhattans just the previous evening, so that was right out. I felt that something original was called for, and this meant first thought, and then experimentation. “Brown, bitter and stirred” is always well received, so I decided to go in that general direction. In the end, what I came up with was not very brown, but it was nicely bitter, and I stirred it, so hey.

If there’s anything I like almost as much as rye, it’s rum. And if there’s anything I like more than a good amaro, it’s…actually, I don’t know what that is. This gave me the foundational idea I needed to get started. I’d like to say that next I went through some astonishing testing gyrations, or chemical flavor component analysis, or dug deeply into the Flavor Bible. Alas, I can make no such claims. What I did was, I pawed through the liquor stash in the rum and amaro sections and found one of each that (a) weren’t nearly empty and (2) seemed, very subjectively and unscientifically, i.e. all in my mind, like they would play well together.

I see a great deal of sense and logic in Gary Regan’s theory of cocktail and mixed-drink families, as outlined in his essential, eminently readable resource, The Joy of Mixology. Is there a “family name” for drinks following the formula rum + amaro modifier, or even base spirit + amaro modifier? Is it sufficiently original to warrant its own surname? Chuck helpfully pointed out that Cora, like most although not all amari, is not a fortified wine.  So, technically at least, this drink is something other than a Manhattan variation (and therefore not a member of Gary’s French-Italian cocktail family), even though that was certainly my inspiration. In the end, I decided that it didn’t really matter, and if someone decides that it does, they can work out the family tree with my blessing.

But what, oh what were the two bottles I selected? I can hear you wondering from here. I’ll just cut right to the chase. Without further ado:

Golden Dahlia cocktail

Golden Dahlia
created by Wesly Moore

2 ounces Rhum Neisson Agricole Élevé Sous Bois
1 ounces Amaro Cora
3-4 dashes Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Large lemon twist

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and squeeze a lemon twist to express its oils over the surface of the drink. You may choose to commit the delicious sacrilege of dropping the twist into the drink, or not, as you prefer.

[Note: Amaro Cora is hard to find, but you can mail order it without a problem. If you enjoy amari, you need this in your collection. Find it here via Mount Carmel Wines & Spirits in the Bronx, New York City, only $10 per bottle.]

As I mentioned, this cocktail is not terribly, or really even at all, brown—this Neisson is aged for but 18 months in French oak barrels, so the resulting pour is light in color, and Amaro Cora is far from the darkest of the amari I tend to prefer and enjoy. In the glass, the cocktail has a lovely blonde color, and who doesn’t admire a lovely blonde? (I myself thought of Veronica Lake—hence the name I’ve given the drink—although Scarlett Johansson will certainly do in a pinch.) But the flavor experience is somehow browner than that, delightfully complex and pleasantly but not overwhelmingly bitter. Neisson is an agricole rum from Martinique. I love how distinct, uniquely local flavors stand out in agricoles; here the drink has an underlying earthy/grassiness that is just beautiful. I have on occasion overheard Amaro Cora dismissed a bit more readily than I think is warranted, typically for being “not all that bitter”. It’s true: Cora is not as bitter as Cynar or Fernet Branca, but its flavor profile is just gorgeous—lovely notes of orange peel and cinnamon. Here it does play very well together indeed—the bitterness it provides is understated and mellow, but clear and clean. I’m a huge fan of the Bittermens line of bitters (in spite of their disappointing caps, which always seem to crack and split long before the bottle is anywhere near empty), and their Xocolatl Mole is one of my favorites. It’s such a distinctive flavor combination that of course it isn’t suitable for just any cocktail, but here it adds a spicy richness with notes of not-at-all-sweet chocolate that’s just right. I did play a bit with proportions before settling quite happily on the classic and successful 2:1.

And now the world opens up before us, a world of rums, amari and bitters, all with the potential to be combined in luxurious and near-infinite variation, no doubt with varying degrees of success, but all to the pleasure of our palates. Go forth and conquer. Please do post your own suggestions as a comment.


12 Responses to “Martinique, meet Italy”

  1. Chuck said:

    Jun 06, 11 at 8:03 pm

    I love me a three-ingredient cocktail. Especially when it’s this good. We’ve been quaffing these all week!

  2. Tim Armstrong said:

    Jun 07, 11 at 12:55 am

    Bravo! And REALLY well-written, I could taste that drink!

  3. Chuck said:

    Jun 07, 11 at 1:33 pm

    Yes! Can we please get some popular demand for Wesly to write more posts, ’cause he’s so damn good at it?

  4. Matt R. said:

    Jun 07, 11 at 1:47 pm

    Ho-ly crap. That looks delicious.

    I’ve been on a big rum + amaro kick lately too, doing a lot of stuff with Smith & Cross and Cynar, but nothing quite as elegant as this looks. This is more in the Bywater Cocktail camp to my eyes.

    OK, gotta get me some Cora apparently.

    Also, I second the calls for more Wesly posts. It’s a moral imperative!

  5. Garth Lobban said:

    Jun 07, 11 at 9:47 pm

    …and, though not before, I am thirsty.

  6. Mike S. said:

    Jun 08, 11 at 2:21 pm

    Awesome. How I wish I could get my wife to share mixing duties, but since she doesn’t really drink that’s probably not going to happen. In all events I’m definitely going to try this. Thoughts on subing St. James Royal Ambre for the Neisson? Both are “Élevé Sous Bois” but the similarities probably end there. I also don’t have Cora but think I know where I can find it. Cheers and well done!

  7. Mike S. said:

    Jun 08, 11 at 2:31 pm

    Oh, and here’s your popular demand for Wesly to write more posts, ’cause he’s so damn good at it: Wesly, please write more posts, ’cause you’re so damn good at it.

  8. Wesly said:

    Jun 08, 11 at 9:51 pm

    @ Mike S. – I’ve not yet tried St. James Royal Ambre, but from some of the tasting/flavor notes it sounds not entirely dissimilar, so that sub might be worth a try. As time allows, I hope to try other variations on this particular theme (rum + amaro modifier), just to see what other combinations work well, or at all. The answer may well be “not many, really”.

    @ GL – Yes, that will happen. Prepare to be favored with one of these next time you’re over.

  9. Mike S. said:

    Jun 10, 11 at 6:05 pm

    Royal Ambre *seemed* to work fine, but I was unable to find Amaro Cora and so played around a bit with Ramazzotti, which is very nice but probably darker and more bitter than Cora. The Royal Amber was lost in the Ramazzotti it seemed to me, but when I made the drink again with Saint James Extra Old that seemed to fair much better. Tonight perhaps Depaz and Averna? 🙂

  10. Mike S. said:

    Jun 10, 11 at 8:39 pm

    Ok, so Depaz and Averna not so good (perhaps not surprising). Key seems to be a darker, richer rhum with the deeper, more intense/bitter Amari (which makes sense). My guess is that Depaz would be a nice option in your original recipe with the Cora, and one I hope to try. My best so far is Clement VSOP and CioCiaro (dialed down to 3/4 oz) with a Meyer Lemon twist (not by design; just what I could steal from my neighbor’s porch citrus pots). Delicious, but my guess is that’s it’s a profoundly different drink that your original. It’s as dark, and perhaps darker, than any Manhattan I’ve ever mixed and I think deeper in flavor profile overall. Amazing, really. This is a fabulous combo with which to experiment; thanks much for sharing your inspiration!

  11. Wesly said:

    Jun 12, 11 at 6:25 pm

    @ Mike S. – That’s the beauty of a “formula” like this: it’s so much fun to play around with it. The variation we’re sipping right now (even as I type) is Chauffe-Coeur Dark with Amaro Meletti, 2:1, and Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters. This is decidedly darker in color, definitely brown rather than golden, and the overall flavor profile is consequently more aggressive, although not necessarily more complex. Chuck really likes this one, and I do too, although I think I still prefer the original “golden” formulation.

  12. Wesly said:

    Jun 12, 11 at 7:17 pm

    @ Matt R. – Thank you, sir, for your kind words. I take “elegant” as high praise indeed, coming from The Dood. I think the variation I made tonight (see just above) is earthy rather than elegant, but it’s not like I’d kick it out of bed for leaving cracker crumbs.