Cocktail of the Day: The 1820

Jeez, where did June go? Where did 2009 go, for that matter?! It’s July already, Tales of the Cocktail is upon us in one week, and I’m so insanely busy getting ready for that and a wedding we’re taking part in on Saturday that I might just go supernova.

Today’s cocktail is outta da paper, rather than one I’ve had the time to research and make and photograph and such, but it looks like a terrific one I’ll try at my earliest convenience. Speaking of the Del Maguey mezcals above, Gary Regan has a Cocktailian article in the San Francisco Chronicle about his change of heart regarding mezcal, and his appreciation for a lovely cocktail using it that he got from Misty Kalkofen of Drink in Boston. Read about it and have a go!

The 1820
(by Misty Kalkofen, Drink, Boston)

1-3/4 ounces Bols Genever.
1/4 ounce Galliano l’Autentico.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/2 ounce Lavender Simple Syrup (see recipe in the article).
1 bar spoon Del Maguey Minero mezcal.
1 dash Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This one’s become a favorite at our place, and among friends as well.


the Brave

You may never have had a cocktail quite like “the Brave,” which is served at the superb Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, TX.  It’s the creating of co-owner and head bartender Bobby Heugel and it’s perhaps the most unusual cocktail on Anvil’s menu, one Bobby recommends people work their way up to, and which he describes as their most “intense.”

The Brave

the Brave
(by Bobby Heugel, Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston TX)

1 ounce Del Maguey Chichicapa Single Village Mezcal.
1 ounce Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata Sotol.
1/2 ounce Averna.
1 barspoon orange Curação.
3 dashes Angostura bitters.

Combine all ingredients in a large wine glass and swirl to combine. Garnish with a flamed orange peel and serve at room temperature. NO ICE.

Yep, you heard me. Room temperature. No ice. No chill, no dilution. Talk about intense. And it was … intensely delicious. Very, very unusual, and Bobby said he’d recently been fascinated with the idea of room temperature cocktails.

I absolutely adore all the Del Maguey mezcals, but I had never tried sotol before. It’s made from a wild plant native to Chihuahua, Mexico, called the “desert spoon,” or Dasylirion wheeleri, or simply the sotol plant, a relative of the blue agave. It’s really good, and very interesting stuff — smooth, herbal, a bit grassy and a bit smoky. I didn’t taste much of it on its own, but as of today I have my own bottle (Hacienda de Chihuahua is the brand, and they make a plata, reposado and añejo as with tequila). The smokiness of the mezcal, the herbal qualities of the sotol, the bitterness of the amaro … plus the wine glass increases the bouquet tremendously. Just a knockout.

UPDATE: It seems this may now be Anvil’s signature cocktail — in a recent Twitter post, Bobby promised he’d never take it off the menu.

The Southside Cocktail

A couple of weeks ago I got into a little online tête-à-tête with Chris Amirault of eGullet’s Fine Spirits and Cocktails Forum when he asked for suggestions for a mint cocktail he could have when he got home. “Don’t say ‘Mojito,’ please,” he added. I extended that to juleps too, since that’s a bit obvious, and started mulling over the idea of a smash, a rum smash in particular. More on that in a moment.

I have a difficult history with mint in cocktails. I have come to love mint in its fresh form, yet continue to find most if not all mint-based liqueurs to be revolting. I even used to find mint juleps to be revolting, but that was because it was many, many years before I’d ever had a good one, and on a number of occasions I’d tried it I’d been served very poor imposters made with mint syrup (but, thank all the forces in the Cosmos, never an abomination like this).

All it takes, though, is a good (or great) bartender to make you a proper mint julep, and the world of mint is your oyster. (Not only is this Cocktail of the Day, it’s also Mixed Metaphor of the Day.)

Chris ended up settling on the Southside Cocktail, one that oddly enough I’d never had, and specifically the version made by Toby Maloney of The Violet Hour in Chicago. There are a number of various recipes for this drink, some calling for lemon (although most bartenders seem to use lime), and Dale DeGroff even calls for it to be topped with soda.

I don’t want soda in mine, and although it’s not part of the traditional recipe I really like the addition of a little dash of bitters in here as Toby suggests — for a standard Southside, just omit it. As fond of tart drinks as I am, I up the lime a bit, but if you want to stick to Toby’s version keep it at 3/4 ounce.

The Southside Cocktail
(version by Toby Maloney, The Violet Hour, Chicago)

2 ounces Beefeater gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura Bitters (optional).

As shown above, place a sheaf of mint into the shaker and barely bruise it for a few seconds. (Do NOT muddle or grind it, as you’ll end up getting the bitter, vegetal flavor of chlorophyll and ground leaves, and not the lovely aroma and flavor of the essential oils of the mint — this is probably the biggest mistake people make when muddling mint to make Mojitos and other mint-bearing cocktails.)

Add the rest of the ingredients plus cracked ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Double-strain to remove any particles of mint, into a chilled cocktail glass. Spank a handful of mint over the glass to release more essential oils, and garnish with a single floated mint leaf.

Toby participated in an excellent eGullet thread on the Southside a while back, where he explained the evolution of how he came to make the cocktail the way it is (including the non-traditional addition of bitters, which he quite rightly says goes with gin “like ham and eggs”). It’s still a good drink without bitters, but with … it is the yum!

Some recipes call for it with a splash of soda to top it off in a cocktail glass, others call for making it into a long drink, like a Collins with mint. One person on eGullet suggested making it from a fizz into a royale by topping it with Champagne instead of soda. Toby adds that if you do you use Champagne, “don’t forget to bump the simple about 1/2 ounce for every 2-3 ounces of Champers, as Champagne dries cocktails out.”

One of the eGulleters noted that this drink is a perfect way to get the ginphobic vodka crowd to drink a gin-bearing cocktail. I agree, and so did Toby — he noted that when he put it on The Violet Hour’s menu, they sold it as a “gateway” gin cocktail (which is exatly the term I like to use). He added, “Many times, when requested to make it with vodka the bartender or server would recommend that it be made with ‘this great botanical, citrus infused vodka we had.’ It would then be made with Plymouth gin. Always a hit.” (Hah! “Great botanical-and-citrus-infused vodka” … I am so stealing that.)

Here’s a food pairing idea: at the Spirited Dinner at The Rib Room at Tales of the Cocktail 2007 in New Orleans, bartenders Chad Solomon and Christy Pope paired this cocktail (sans bitters) with a seared porcini-crusted redfish filet with wilted spinach. Yum.

I got myself all distracted with this lovely cocktail and had forgotten completely about my own suggestion, which I tried the next night. It’s a variation on the venerable Whiskey Smash, with rum as the base and Créole Shrubb instead of cura¸ao, and is kind of a riff on Maks’ Creole Julep, the official cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail 2009.

St. Pierre Rum Smash
(just me messing around with rum and mint)

1-1/2 ounces Rhum Clément VSOP rhum agricole.
1/2 ounce Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum.
1/2 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
6 or 8 large mint leaves, no stems.

Bruise the mint gently in the shaker, then add the other ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds, then strain over ice into a large rocks glass. Garnish with a large sprig of mint.

Hmm, not bad!


Mixology Monday XXXIX: Amaro — The Roundup!

Another Mixology Monday has come and gone, and now it’s roundup time. Hoo, 35 36 drinks! I had a blast going through these, and now that I’ve gotten everyone together in one post I feel I can go back through everything again without speed-reading them. Great work all around, y’all — so many great new drinks, plus reminders of classics and old favorites. Let’s get going.

Mixology Monday

Amaro Twilight Paystyle at Umamimart was the first out the gate, bringing silver tequila (one of my favorite things) together with one of my favorite amari, Ramazzotti, with citrus, honey and herb for the Amaro Twilight, which looks to have a beautiful balance. Getting off to a great start already, and I can already see that my liver’s going to go through the wringer trying all of these.

Menta Amaro Tiare at A Mountain of Crushed Ice chimes in from Sweden with a drink in which she uses a mint version of Amaro Ramazzotti that I didn’t even know existed. Oh dear, that’s going to mean more expensive mail-ordering from Europe for me … yay! The Menta Amaro is a simple but terrific-looking digestivo with this unusual amaro plus a bit of one more, given that two is often better than one.

Dolce Milano and Zwack Morris Meaghan at Spirit Me Away offers us two drinks. First, a lovely “desserty” drink combining one of my favorite rums with Ramazzotti (lovin’ all the Ramazzotti mixing going on!), coffee liqueur and cream for the Dolce Milano. Next she offers one based on Zwack liqueur, a re-branded lighter version of Unicum, Hungary’s national drink and in its original version bitter as all get out. The newer “Zwack” (called “Unicum Next” in Europe” is a bitt less bitter with a cherry charateristic, and she combines that with Bourbon in the Zwack Morris (and was also apparently crushing on cute boys from “Saved by the Bell” back in her school days, apparently!).

Virginia Guilford, with whom I shared a lovely dinner at the home of Bistro 45′s chef Damon Bruner and his wife Edith a while back, doesn’t have a website of her own but was kind enough to contribute an original cocktail into the comments section. She created a Manhattan variation based on 3 whopping ounces of Woodford Reserve along with Amaro Montenegro, perhaps the gentlest amaro and what I’ve called a “gateway amaro,” good for beginners. This drink has a lovely, gentle herbal flavor with only a touch of bitterness, and knocked us on our butts on Mixology Monday eve. Voilà, the Amaro Manhattan.

Menta e Cioccolato Jacob, a Portland bartender who writes at at Liquidity Preference, was inspired by one of my favorite cold evening dessert drinks (hot chocolate with a goodly shot of green Chartreuse) to make Menta e Cioccolato, swapping in Branca Menta. Oh boy, can’t wait to try this one too!

Monteleone Cocktail entry from Steve Steve and Paul of Cocktail Buzz combined their MxMo drink with their entry for the Monteleone Hotel cocktail contest, striving to have it adopted as the hotel’s signature drink while bringing more amaro to the masses. (It’s a popular idea — several Montelone entries I’ve seen, including mine, contain some form of amaro). Cognac and citrus are spiked with a dash of Fernet for the Steve’s Monteleone contender.

Mandragoni Fred of Cocktail Virgin Slut wins the award for the most obscure amaro in the roundup, a Spanish product called Mandrágora based on mandrake root. (!) Some of its marketed properties (along the lines of pink elephants and making you a tiger in the sack) might be a bit exaggerated, but still … given that ingredient’s well-known magical properties, one has to wonder if the bottle screams when it’s pulled from the bar shelf. Fred’s offering is the Mandrágoni.

Aperol Flip Maria The Bubbly Girl offers one both frothy and fizzy based on Aperol, another great gateway bitter that I love to see cropping up in more and more cocktails. Among many others, her MxMo offering, The Aperol Flip, will be featured in her forthcoming book From The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion.

Italian Sunset Jeff at Undertaking the Bar found himself rapidly approaching the posting day without a big selection of amari in his bar, and went for what was on hand — our old friend Campari, which seems to be the bitter a lot of us discover first, and one that’s more of an aperitivo, slapping your palate to attention before dinner. In the Italian Sunset Jeff uses Campari to lend complexity to Cognac and citrus.

Walla Cocktail Dinah at goes right to the jugular of the obscure, with a smoky rhubarb-based amaro called Zucca Rarbarbaro. (Dammit, more expensive bottle shipping from the U.K. for me now, arrggh!) Fortunately she offers advice on how to approximate the flavor with another amaro tarted up with rhubarb bitters and liquid smoke (!), which might have to do for now. Her Walla Cocktail certainly seems worth the effort to either make the replica or find the real deal (and I’m likely to go for the latter, since I’m a “truly comical amaro nerd” too.)

Norma Jean My dear friend Marleigh of SLOSHED! goes for the Cynar, another amaro that never lasts long at our house, and shares with us an original recipe from one of our very favorite bartenders, the charming and talented Vincenzo Marianella. The Norma Jean is an amaro-spiked gin sour that’s really terrific. You can sample this and myriad other creations of Vincenzo and his crew at his new bar Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, a very dangerous mere 7 minutes from my place of employment.

Amici Cattivi Blair, a.k.a. Trader Tiki, makes me seethe with envy for employing one of my most coveted Italian amari in his collection that has yet to make it into mine — Amaro Nardini. Not only that, but he combines it with two other Italian amari in a nice big chewy base in what looks like a really exciting cocktail I can’t wait to try, the Amici Cattivi (Bad Friends … heh). Fortunately Blair’s a very good friend, not the least of which for offering us this inky-dark, deliciously evil looking (in the best possible way) cocktail that’ll be tops on my list once I get up off my lazy butt and grab me some Nardini.

Nevermind the Bollocks Blair’s also hosting a conribution from his friend and fellow Portland bartender David Shenaut of The Teardrop Lounge, whose drinks I’ve enjoyed from afar thanks to his generous sharing of recipes. I hope to be warming a barstool in front of him in due time, as we’re OVERdue for a visit to Portland. David gives us the most entertaining drink name of the roundup, the tequila-based, Cynar-laced Nevermind the Bollocks with a couple more unusual ingredents I’m now gonna want to find.

Bitter Wood Mike from A Dash of Bitters tries one of the newest amari in my own collection, the one in the sexy slender bottle called Amaro Mio from Lorenzo Inga Distillery in Piemonte. Gin, sloe gin and some gorgeous-looking lemon balm come together in the Bitter Wood Cocktail, which might just win today’s award for prettiest garnish.

Berlioni Jay of Oh Gosh! checks in from across the pond with two drinks, one from one of his favorite bartenders and another from one of mine. Although so far I haven’t had the chance to see him in his home base of New York, I’ve gotten to spend some time with Chad Solomon in his visits to Los Angeles and to New Orleans during Tales and to enjoy his drinks as well. Jay shares one of Chad’s the we make frequently at home, the Bensonhurst, as well as the other cocktail that got Wes and me tanked on the evening of Mixology Monday. Jay’s featured several cocktails from Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro of Berlin, and his Negroni variation called the Berlioni is a Cynar-y delight.

Blimps Over Bangkok Craig, a.k.a. Dr. Bamboo, takes us on an exotic journey (and illustrates it with a guy in a blimp with goggles and a big moustache to help us feel the trip) with both Aperol and Cynar and a new (to me) Thai liqueur called Mekhong. I’d seen it in our local spirits emporium and was skeptical, thinking it a new marketing idea from a guy in a suit rather than a spirit that came organically from the culture, but I was wrong. There’s some history behind Mekhong — it’s been around since 1941. Upon further reading I was fascinated by its base being both cane and rice spirits; its flavor is described as “spicy toffee with citrus and vanilla.” Craig rather likes it, and bases his Blimps Over Bangkok with equal parts Mekhong and London dry gin. Sigh, more liquor to buy …

Santo Spirito Stevi of Two at the Most, whom I had the pleasure to meet and hang out with on our recent trip to Seattle (the first of many), reaches for one of my very favorite bitters, the Sicilian amaro called Averna (and the first Averna cocktail of the roundup!). This is a mid-range amaro, one to step up to after mastering Aperol or Montenegro, which you will most certainly enjoy as it helps lead you to the hard stuff (like Fernet). Her riff on the French 75 is called the Santo Spirito, a lovely name for a drink.

Bitter Bump Now that Stevi has primed the Averna pump, it begins to flow freely. Bruce of World Wide Drinks brings it out for a citrusy fizz whose name is inspired by the biggest event in his hometown, the Indianapolis 500. If you’re last in line to qualify and don’t have a good enough time, you’re “bumped.” Ah well, the driver can always console him- or herself with Bruce’s citrusy fizz called the Bitter Bump. (No permalink, but you shouldn’t have to scroll back too far unless months have gone by as you’re reading this …)

Fernet Cocktail variation My friend Andy at (dr)Ink Gorilla joins MxMo for the first time. Welcome, Andy! Watch out, it’s addictive. He offers us a variation on the Fernet Cocktail, varying the bitters and syrup, and winning the award for today’s heftiest dose of what’s probably the heftiest amaro of them all (at least the ones we see on these shores). This one’s for hardcore amaro-lovers.

B and B Collins Amari and other drinking bitters all tend to have a similar formula — alcohol, some combination of herbs, sugar and caramel coloring (with a certain amount of color coming from the herbs themselves). There are of course countless variations in this formula, including the herbs which provide the bitter elements. Christian of Cocktailwelten decided to go for the herbal end rather than the bitter end, and offers us a B&B Collins. Sein Beitrag ist in Deutsch, so unless you read German you’ll need to run it through a translator.

Il Cane Nero Jake the Drinksnob at Liquor is Quicker went for a product I’ve read about but have yet to try. China Martini (“china” is pronounced “KEE-na”) is produced by Martini & Rossi and is a Calisaya-style bitters. Calisaya, china calissaia, cinchona … all different terms for quinine, which is what provides the bitterness here. As I understand it China Martini is a liqueur at 31%, rather than the quinine-infused wines known as quinquina or chinato. I’d love to get my hands on some of this stuff, especially now that I’m inspired by Jake’s purported hangover cure (which looks quite tasty) that he calls Il Cane Nero.

Ouroboros at Blotto, the Journal of the North American Booze Council (who sound as if they should be running the country) offers us yet another Portlander concoctaion using not one but two amari. Portland beckons me … I like how they do things up there. I due amari marry rye (because what the world needs now is more rye cocktails) for the Cryptic Memo, which comes to us from Kelley Swenson, the head bartender at Ten 01. (Note to self: Add to list of Portland bars to haunt.)

Black Manhattan variation Nat at The Alpha Cook offers an adaptation of the Black Manhattan, Averna-tinged Manhattan variation she first encountered at Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco. This version takes it a step further, spiced with Nat’s own housemade Apple-Clove Bitters. (And yep, you get to learn how to make that, too).
Amaro Amigo Craig at Colonel Tiki’s Drinks offers us his first drink using tequila, and it’s a great month to do so — I love how tequila marries with bitter ingredients. He’s combined two amari also and some lovely ingredients for yet another that I can’t wait to try, the Amaro Amigo. I’ve got a lovely cinnamon tincture at home (sticks of Indonesian, toasted and soaked in Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum for 3 weeks) that’s crying out to go into this drink, yum.

Picon Punch! Sonja of North Shore Distillery, who writes at Thinking of Drinking, is the only one to bring out the Amer Picon (yay!) and whips up two variations on a classic near and dear to my heart, the venerable Picon Punch, one of my most beloved bitter tipples, which is also incredibly refreshing. She uses the current version of authentic Amer Picon (the “Club” version, which is intended to be mixed with wine) as well as the American replica Torani Amer, recently reformulated to taste much like the original Amer Picon, before the proof was cut in half and the recipe changed into the Club and Bière versions.

The Astoria Sam (a.k.a. Vidiot) writes about cocktails at the group blog Cocktailians, where I am also a contributor but feel horribly guilty for not having contributed anything in a while. (Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa … *thump chest* … ow. Believe me, I’m wearing sackcloth in penance as I write (and promise to get my butt in gear and contribute again soon). I feel even guiltier for having foiled his plans to work with rye and mole bitters by posting my own such cocktail early. (I wasn’t emitting dastardly laughs, rubbing my hands or twirling my moustache, honestly. I don’t even have a moustache.) Fortunately this spiked Sam’s creativity and we get yet another lovely cocktail named for a New York neighborhood. The famous borough drinks, plus the Red Hook and Little Italy and Bensonhurst are now joined by The Astoria, with rye (yay!), Ramazzotti and three different fruit bitters by the dash. You knocked that one right out of Shea Stadium, Sam.

Friuli Fizz Contending for the final entry at 11:59:50 on Monday night, my friend Chris, an L.A. bartender who also writes about his craft and obsession at Blueprint Cocktail, went nuts with one of my favorites, Amaro Nonino, and had a long night of cocktail-creating fun, offering us three Nonino cocktails — a tangy Friuli Fizz, a chamomile-scented, Nonino-spiked rye sour simply called the Nonino Sour and the Marmalady, which brings in a powerful smoky Scotch and kumquats … wow. Marmalady (Hmm, is it just coincidence or was Chris reading John Lennon’s poetry when naming that last one? “He is putting it lithely when he says / Quobble in the grass / Strab he down the soddieflays / Amo amat amass; / Amonk amink amnibus / A marmalaidie moon …” Sorry, my mind works in odd ways and that just popped out of it.)

But no, not to be outdone … Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles, the guy who got the wacky idea to start this whole MxMo thing, makes it in quite literally at the stroke of midnight as the bells were still chiming, and like Steve combines his MxMo entry with his entry into the Monteleone cocktail contest. It’s a superb-looking blend of rye, Aperol, vermouth, crème de cacao and Peychaud’s bitters that I also can’t wait to try, appropriately named the Two Birds, which is a great name for a drink (well, unless it ends up being called The Monteleone). He’s right indeed, I am a bitter man — well no, I’m a bitters man. I think you’re beginning to get the idea that this is a good thing.

Then after Paul finishes at midnight come the procrastinators … yes, my people!

The Bywater Cocktail My good friend Matt the Rumdood made it in at a respectable 12:18am on Mixology, um, Tuesday (and yes dude, I would indeed have teased you mercilessly had you not participated!) offers us a drink that was more than worth the 18-minute wait. Chris Hannah is one of the very best bartenders in the city of New Orleans, plying his art and craft at the French 75 Bar at the venerable Creole institution, Arnaud’s Restaurant. The Bywater is quite possibly my favorite of Chris’ drinks, for many reasons — it’s named after the old Ninth Ward neighborhood where my family is from, it’s based on aged rum (coming from Matt I’d expect no less), contains a healthy dose of my beloved Chartreuse as well as one of my favorite amari that reflects the city’s Sicilian population. All that and a pretty garnish too. I’m very glad Matt’s helping this drink get more attention.

Jasmine Mike of My Aching Head brings stumbled across a drink that seems to be longtime classic by its flavor — how could this combination of ingredients not have been around for decades? — and its popularity, but was in fact invented by Paul Harrington in the 1990s. Robert Hess was the first person I know of to begin popularizing this lovely tipple, the Campari-based Jasmine. Harrington’s added some kind of magic to this drink too, an undefinable, non-tangible bit of something that makes it taste like it’s been around for decades.

Eagle Rock Finally, a brief re-mention of my own contribution, the Eagle Rock Cocktail, based on rye and featuring Amaro Borsci San Marzano with the forthcoming (July!) Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters. It’s deep and dark and bitter and just slightly sweet with hints of dried fruit, cherry, spice and chocolate. I kinda like it.

Aaaaaand … that’s it! I think. Gabriel is threatening to add a post, although I haven’t yet received it and don’t think my title of God Emperor of Procrastination is in any danger. Well, actually … I got this Gargantuan roundup posted only two days later. I might end up being a mere Sandtrout of Procrastination. Sigh.

Upward Dog

[UPDATE on Mixology Wednesday!] Gabriel came through first thing this morning. We have a new God Emperor, and soon his entire skin will be covered with tipsy, hiccupping sandtrout. Unsurprisingly, it was worth the wait. Gabe, in weary traveller mode, wandered into San Francisco’s Heaven’s Dog, where bartender Erik Ellestad (whom I’m glad to see in this roundup, even indirectly) was asked to make something with Nonino, yet dry and refreshing. The resulting Upward Dog pleased him immensely, and sounds like one we’ll return to at home.

Again, thanks a million to everyone who participated. I’ve got a frakload of drinks to make now.


Mixology Monday XXXIX: Amaro (The Eagle Rock Cocktail)

Greetings, felicitations and welcome to MxMo 39! Entries are beginning to trickle in, and I expect a veritable flood of them as the day goes on. Besides posting your entry on your own blog, please post a comment to this topic (and as a backup, email me at mr.sazerac at gmail dot com), and please try to do so by midnight tonight — well, at least in your time zone. I won’t start doing the roundup until tomorrow, and I hope to have it up by Wednesday.

In case you missed the announcement post here or, the theme for this month is amaro — bitter liqueurs generally intended to consume after a meal as a digestive, typical of but certainly not limited to Italy, and the use of those bitters in cocktails. Why did I choose this topic? Because over the last several years I have become an amaro freak.

It’s been a long journey since 2000, when I took my first sip of Fernet Branca — such a baptism of fire for my first experience with amaro! Sadly, no camera was present to capture the look on my face after taking my first sip, nor was a recorder running to note what was certainly some choice language. In the ensuing years, after samplng more gentle amari and working my way up, I finally had my amaro epiphany, which was the day when I started drinking Fernet Branca not strictly for medicinal purposes after overindulging my tummy, but for pleasure and enjoyment. Now my amaro collection is pretty decent, if I do say so myself (and ripe for expansion): Amaro Abano, Amaro Cora, Amaro Meletti, Amaro Mio Lorenzo Inga, Amaro Montenegro, Amaro Nonino, Amaro Ramazzotti, Amaro di Santa Maria al Monte di Nicola Uignale, Amer Boudreau, Amer Picon Club, Aperol, Averna, Campari, Cynar, Fernet Branca, Gammel Dansk, Jeppson’s Malört, Maraska Pelinkovac, Suze, Torani Amer, Underberg and Zwack Unicum … plus one more which is my most recent acquisition.

Borsci Elisir San MarzanoBorsci Elisir San Marzano was one I’d seen passing references to but had never tried until a few bottles showed up at The Wine House, one of my two major spirits emporia and where a significant chunk of my paycheck is deposited every other week. I took it home, poured some into our nice little amaro sipping glasses, and lit up. It’s on the milder end of the amaro spectrum, more hefty than Montenegro, which is my mildest, but one that I thought might be appealing to amaro newbies. The bitter herbs and sweetness are in perfect balance, but there’s a lot more going on in this liqueur — dried fruits, especially figs and plums, touches of chocolate and coffee as well. The liqueur’s been around since 1840, developed in Puglia, Italy by Giuseppe Borsci in the tradition of herbal liqueurs developed by European monks.

I looked it up and found interesting recipes on Borsci’s website, although none for cocktails, oddly enough. The first recipe (which I also found in its listing on LeNell’s website was to soak fresh cherries in it, which sounds fantastic. Grapes were recommended for soaking in a simliar fashion, and there was a fascinating procedure for layering almond-stuffed dried figs with chocolate flakes in a jar, then filling with Borsci amaro. There was Borsci tiramisù, Borsci birthday cake, Borsci over strawberries and even over ice cream. All looked good, yet still no cocktails. I seem to have stumbled across my first dessert amaro.

However, it’s recommended chilled or in long drinks as an aperitivo, plus at room temperature as an excellent digestivo, which after several such after-dinner tipplages I can assure you it is, although not as powerfully medicinal as some other amari. After my first sips, though, I started thinking about how I’d use this in a cocktail.

The first thing that came to me was a Manhattan variation. There are several such variations out there that feature various amari (The Red Hook and Little Italy, both favorites, to name two), but it seemed to me that this amaro would work particularly well with a powerful rye base. The hints of chocolate in the this amaro’s flavor base led me to want to pair it with something similar, but by no means did I want this drink to be too sweet, or gods forbid, something desserty. Flavors that would lend itself to an after-meal cocktail, sure, or a lead-in to dessert, but not a “dessert cocktail” per se. Crème de cacao, even the less cloyingly sweet version from Marie Brizard, would be right out, and the only ingredient that seemed right was, oddly enough, something I had never tasted.

Those of us who are bitters fanatics have been waiting with bated breath for the eventual release of the products being developed and produced by the one of the newer cocktail bitters companies, Bittermens. They’d been working on a tantalizing and exciting range of products ranging from “tiki” bitters to hop/grapefruit to pecan bitters, but the one that got my scalp tingling in anticipation was their “Xocolatl Mole” chocolate spice bitters. As they described them: “Inspired by the classic Mexican chocolate mole sauce, this bitters recipe highlights tequila, aged rum and whiskey cocktails. Try substituting these bitters in a Manhattan, or adding to a Margarita.” Holy crapola. I was tremendously excited to hear about this, and disappointed to hear of delay after delay due, oddly enough, not to difficulties vetting them with the TTB, but with local and state health and production permits. And after tasting the Borsci, even though I had never tasted Bittermens Mole Bitters, I knew this was just what my tentative Borsci cocktail needed. (Unless I was completely wrong.)

To add to my frustration, Bittermens sent out a number of samples to bartenders (naturally) and to a few cocktail writers, none of which included me. (Well, other folks to get higher readership, so it made perfect sense.) That didn’t help my writhing jealousy as I read my friend Paul Clarke’s glowing review of his sample of these bitters a year ago January. I was Chartreuse with envy, but knew I just had to wait. Once my taste of Borsci came along, I must confess I grew more impatient — this stuff would go great with Borsci in a cocktail, I just knew it. Bittermens posted periodic updates, and it looked as if we’d finally be able to get our hands on a fully released product a bit later this year … but not in time for my idea for a drink that would be perfect for the MxMo topic I suggested for my turn to host.

Well, all ended well with Wes’ and my long-overdue visit to see all our friends in Seattle in April, and Paul very graciously and generously offered me a small sample from his sample bottle of bitters so I could see if my idea would work. Y’know what? It worked. I’m just a lucky so-and-so … thanks a million, Paul!

I was pretty happy with the drink as I had conceived it, but thought it needed one more little boost, just a tad of Cherry Heering to offer that compementary cherry flavor, I hope without making it too sweet — we get more than enough of that from the amaro itself, and the vermouth. I first tried it with Carpano and while the flavor was good the sweetness was a bit past the line for me. I was much happier with Punt E Mes and its more bitter edge. I also took some advice from bartender Don Lee, who offered this bit of advice regarding another amaro-based drink I was working on — add a tiny pinch of salt. Bingo.

I’m pretty happy with this, and as the Manhattan got to be named after a borough in New York, and as I was lucky enough to get to create a drink named for part of Los Angeles a while back, I wanted to have one named after my own neighborhood.

Use a big rye for this. We’re deeply, madly in love with the bonded 100 proof Rittenhouse rye, which is a fantastic product, priced between $16-18 $21-23 and without a doubt the best rye value on the market. After that try Wild Turkey 101 rye, and we’re even tempted to give this one a go with Thomas Handy.

Since I first came up with this, I’ve become fond of a cherry liqueur that I like better than Cherry Heering in many applications, including this one — Luxardo Morlacco cherry liqueur. It has a purer cherry flavor that for me worked a bit better with the Borsci. Heering will still work as a substitute, though.

The Eagle Rock Cocktail

The Eagle Rock Cocktail

2 ounces Rittenhouse 100 proof bonded rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce Punt E Mes.
1/2 ounce Amaro Borsci San Marzano.
1 scant barspoon Cherry Heering.
2-3 goodly dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters.
Tiny pinch of salt.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo cherry.

I love one of these after work, and I also liked it after dinner, leading into a big chocolate dessert — I thought it was a lovely transition. Then again, as I write, I’m enjoying one before dinner too. I hope you enjoy it too. If you have a hard time finding Bittermens bitters locally you can mail-order them from a variety of sources; the Google is your friend.

To all the participants in MxMo Amaro, thanks for all your entries so far! We tried a couple last nigiht and got luxuriously toasted. Everyone else, please get your entries posted on your own sites with a comment here by midnight tonight, and I’ll get to work on the roundup.

[N.B. - This post has been revised since its original publication. When this post was first written, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters hadn't been released yet, and I was working from a sample. It is now, to the joy of cocktailians everywhere, widely available.]


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