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:
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.