Mixology Monday XXXIX: Amaro

Mixology MondayAh yes, here we are again, staring down the loaded barrel of our favorite cocktail shaker.  What shall it be loaded with this time?  As host of this month’s Mixology Monday, local Los Angeles fellow and bon vivant Chuck Taggart (of the weblog Looka! found within his website The Gumbo Pages) has chosen Amaro to be stirred, shaken, whipped and consumed.  

Amari (plural of amaro) are generally considered bitter drinking liqueurs from Italy consisting of a multitude of herbs, spices, and sugars.  Medicinal in character, amari have long been considered to be wonderful digestivos, primed and ready to help you tackle the task of breaking down that 5 course meal you just jovially consumed.  Think Fernet Branca, Averna, Cynar (made with artichokes.  Artichokes!) and the like.  Those seem somewhat common to me at this point, but the more I gaze into the looking glass of amari, the longer the list becomes of handcrafted, secret family recipe liqueurs from all over the world.  This wonderful spirit is by no means locked down to Italy.  Europeans seem to love their bitter potables in many forms.  Whether it be Amaro, Amer, or Amergo, many cultures have long since known that quaffing the bitter stuff has numerous health benefits as well as providing a wonderful, warming buzz.  I like to think of a delicious Amaro as the thinking man’s Jagermeister 

My first encounter with drinking amari was back in ’06 while bartending at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, TX.  The then head bartender turned me on to chilled Fernet shots with a ginger ale back as a pre shift ritual.  My first shot had my palate turning somersaults in confusion.  “What the hell was that?” I thought to myself.  It was like getting punched in the mouth with a flying fist of herbs and mint.  For a while I liked the way the ginger ale tasted after the shot more than the shot itself.  As with anything Amaro Noninothough, the more exposure you have to it, the more you start to like it. Needless to say, I now love it.  Fernet is a pretty hardcore amaro to begin with.  Much like loving Lagavulin before any other scotch. (guilty as charged)  I guess if I’m going to love something for what it is, just give me the full flavored stuff and then I’ll branch out from there.  

For this month’s exercise I’ve decided to put the wonderful Amaro Nonino to the test. Amaro Nonino starts as a handcrafted grappa made with great care by Italy’s Nonino family.  The grapes and herbs used for this distillate come from the semi-mountainous region of Friuli, also known as Carnia.  Caramelized sugar, bitter orange, cinchona, gentian, quassia wood, licorice, rhubarb, saffron, sweet orange, and tamarind are just some of the herbs and spices used by Nonino.  This amaro is then aged for 5 years in oak barrels and is a bit less viscous than many other amari.  The bitterness has been tamed somewhat and is an absolutely amazing, delicious, and approachable amaro.  Having sipped it on many occasions, it’s layered fragrance and flavor, in my mind, makes it perfect for cocktails.  Let’s have some fun shall we?

First, I have the Friuli Fizz.  I was really happy with the way this one turned out as I got it to balance on the first try.  The Nonino is present, offering up a subtle solo to the rest of the ingredients backing.

Friuli FizzFriuli Fizz
2oz      Amaro Nonino
1/2oz  fresh lime juice
1/2oz  fresh Meyer lemon juice
3/4oz  lemon verbena simple syrup
1 Tbsp small fresh ginger chunks
Soda Water

Start by muddling verbena simple and ginger very well.  Next, add remainder of ingredients minus soda and dry shake (no ice) hard to whip.  Strain into collins glass over four large cubes of ice.  (I make my own cubes at the house using reverse osmosis filtered water and a special silicon ice tray)  Finally, top with soda and garnish with crystallized ginger wrapped in a Meyer lemon twist.  Enjoy!

Next up, the Nonino Sour.  I know, I know, I did a sour last time, but I can’t help it!  I’m a sucker for luxuriously silky cocktails. What can I say?  The chamomile here was a natural fit with the grappa base of this spirit.  

Nonino SourNonino Sour
1 1/2oz    Amaro Nonino
   1/2oz    Sazerac Rye
   3/4oz    fresh lemon juice
       1oz    chamomile demerara syrup
            1  egg white

Combine all ingredients and dry shake vigorously to emulsify egg white.  Add ice and shake again enough to chill properly.  Strain into sour glass and garnish by grating fresh orange zest onto surface of drink.  

Finally, we have the Marmalady.  With this one I wanted to step out of the comfort zone a bit and I’m sure glad that I did.  Amaro and smoky scotch?  Indeed, and the results were delicious.  Decide for yourself and make one if you dare.  

MarmaladyMarmalady
1 1/2oz   Amaro Nonino
      1oz   Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch
 1 Tbsp   St Dalfour Kumquat Marmalade
   1/2oz   fresh lemon juice
   1/2oz   fresh orange juice

Start by lightly muddling marmalade and juices enough to incorporate.  Next add Nonino and Lagavulin followed by ice and shake HARD for a good 10 – 15 seconds.  Strain into chilled coupe and garnish by expressing oils from long swath of orange peel and gently resting on edge of glass.

As you might be able to tell, I had a lot of fun with this month’s Mixology Monday.  I loved experimenting with such a versatile yet complex spirit.  I know this spirit is great in aromatic stirred cocktails but had never seen it soured or fizzed.  Big thanks again to Chuck Taggart for a challenging yet extremely satisfying exercise in cocktail craft.  I hope you take the time to try this wonderful amaro.

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~ by Chris Bostick on May 18, 2009.

2 Responses to “Mixology Monday XXXIX: Amaro”

  1. [...] this month flown right by.  I feel as if it were just a couple nights ago that I posted about my Amaro cocktails. Time flies right by when your settling in to a new job, and bartending at The Varnish in downtown [...]

  2. [...] 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 [...]

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