Episode 013 - Intro to Amaro

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What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast. I’m your host, Eric Kozlik, and today, we’ve got a really excellent and timely episode for your listening enjoyment.

This is airing on August 24, 2017, and we are in the midst of Amaro Week. As some of you may know, an Amaro is a bitter, Italian-style liqueur, and this particular category has really been taking off in the last few years.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to enjoy this resurgence with the help of a really strong, local amaro company here in Washington, D.C. called Don Ciccio e Figli (@donciccioefigli on Instagram). They’ve got a really fantastic product line, and in this episode, I sit down with portfolio manager Jonathan Fasano, who schools me in the nuances of amari, aperitivi, and cordials.

Featured Cocktail: The Negroni

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Now, before we jump into the interview, I’m going to share with you my favorite drink to make with a bitter liqueur, and that beverage is the notorious Negroni. If you’ve been experimenting with cocktails for a while, you may have run across this cocktail in the past, and it has the reputation for being either something you love, or something you’re not into at all. But so many times, people who are initially skeptical of the flavor profile end up coming back and really loving the negroni once they’ve had a bit more experience.

It’s a simple cocktail to make, but all of its components are boozy, so it packs a punch. And as I mention later in this episode, the Negroni is an extremely batchable cocktail, which makes it great for entertaining guests in your home.

So, if you want to make one, fill your mixing glass with ice, and combine equal parts Gin, Campari (which is an Italian aperitivo) and Sweet Vermouth. The traditional amount per cocktail is one ounce of each of those three ingredients, but you can always double that if you’re mixing for two and if you have a big enough mixing glass.

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You stir that up, get it all chilled down, and either strain it into a coupe glass, or conversely, into a rocks glass over a single large rock. Then you garnish with an expressed orange peel, like so many of the great cocktails out there, and enjoy.

When I’m mixing up a negroni at home, I also throw in a few dashes of Embitterment Orange Bitters, which you can pick up on modernbarcart.com. This is our best-selling bitters flavor, and it’s absolutely packed with essential orange oils extracted straight from the peels of our organic oranges. You can either add these bitters to the mixing glass with the other negroni ingredients, or do like I do and float them right on top of the final drink for a really great fragrant pop each time you take a sip.

Episode Preview

Some of the topics we cover in this episode include:

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  • The difference between Amari, Aperitivi, and Cordials
  • The history of herbs and spices in the Mediterranean
  • How an earthquake in Italy eventually led to an American amaro company
  • The best cocktails to make with your favorite bitter liqueurs
  • And much, much more

I had a great time talking with Jonathan, who happens to be a good friend of mine, and I know you’re eager to listen and learn, so I’m gonna get out of the way here and let you enjoy this fascinating discussion with Jonathan Fasano of Don Ciccio e Figli.

Show Notes

Don Ciccio e Figli is an amaro company based in Washington, D.C., but inspired by a family-owned company that operated on the Amalfi Coast of Italy from the late 1800s to the mid-1980s.

They produce a number of liqueurs, including amari, aperitivi, and cordials.

Amari vs. Aperitivi vs. Cordials

As Jonathan explains, all of these products are liqueurs, which involve alcohol, sugar, water, and one or more flavor components. 

Amari are a category of bitter liqueurs, and they are characterized by the presence of ancient medicinal bitter roots and herbs, as well as spices.

Aperitivi are less bitter than Amari, generally contain fewer ingredients, and often incorporate citrus as a primary flavor note.

Cordials rarely bitter and very often focus in on a single flavor note--usually a fruit or a vegetable. Limoncello is a very popular Italian cordial.

When to Drink Amari & Aperitivi

According to Jonathan, it's common wisdom that you should "let the sun guide you" when deciding what to drink. 

Many aperitivi have a red, or rosy color. As such, they should be enjoyed toward the end of the day when the sun is setting. An aperitivo is excellent for preparing the stomach to recieve food because the gentle bitterness activates beneficial gastric juices.

Most amari, on the other hand, are dusky brown to midnight black. They are meant to be enjoyed at the very end of the day--kind of like an Italian version of Nyquil.

Amari and Cocktails we Mention in this Episode

Some of the commercially available amari we mention in this episode are (in no particular order):

Some of the amaro-inspired cocktails we discuss in this episode are:

The Black Manhattan

  • 2 oz rye or Bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz amaro
  • Several dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel garnish

The Negroni

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • Orange peel garnish

The Boulevardier

  • 1 oz rye or Bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • Orange peel garnish

The Hanky Panky

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 1.5 oz sweet vermouth
  • .25oz - .5oz of amaro
  • Orange peel garnish

The Americano

  • 1.5 oz Campari
  • 1.5 oz sweet vermouth
  • Top with soda water
  • Orange peel garnish

Lightning Round Questions

What is your favorite cocktail?

An Americano - Campari and sweet vermouth topped with soda water. It's an extremely sessionable drink that won't knock you over with its alcohol content.

What is your favorite spirit?

In general, a good rye whiskey. In particular, the 100% agave gin from Gracias a Dios.

If you could have a cocktail with anyone, past or present, who would it be?

My grandfather. He was born in Shanghai, so I would probably enjoy a Black Manhattan with him when he was in his 20s to learn more about his life and where he grew up.

Are there any cocktail books you'd recommend?

What advice do you have for someone who is just getting started with cocktails?

  • If you're trying to make your own liqueurs or amari, don't be discouraged by your first batch.
  • If you're tasting an amaro or liqueur, take some time to process it. It takes a while, especially with bitter products, to pick up on the full flavor experience.