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Amaro is a kind of Italian bitter liqueur that's often consumed as a digestif, and until recently was often buried among the lists of ingredients in cocktails. (An example that has been well-known for a while, even in the U.S., is Campari.) Amari are made with a dizzying array of secret ingredients that includes herbs, fruit, and a neutral base spirit; they were once prized for their medicinal qualities but eventually fell out of favor as the times changed and tastes evolved. They often have a herbaceous and bitter flavor profile that might take some getting used to, but once you start trying them, your curiosity will give way to the daring notes offered up by these liqueurs.
The cocktail scene in the past several years has happily shifted away from ubersweet cocktails to drinks featuring more complex notes, along with savory flavor profiles. Bartenders across the city and county have started to make use of more obscure brands of amaro. Unless you've tasted a particular amaro on its own, you probably wouldn't even realize the flavor it was adding to your glass.
Here's a list of several amari found at area bars, to help give you the courage you to explore this realm of beverages. Try them before and after your meals to add a whole new layer to your drinking and dining experience.
Cynar: A relative newcomer to the scene compared to some of it's counterparts that have been around for hundreds of years, this liqueur features bold herbaceous flavors. It can be consumed as both an aperitif or digestif, on it's own or topped with soda or OJ. Order up a Negroni made with this instead of Campari — it's called a Cin-Cyn — and it's a really delicious take on the classic cocktail (16.5 percent ABV).
Cocchi Americano: This is an Italian fortified wine flavored with cinchona bark, citrus peel, spices, and other botanicals, giving it a bitter bite. It is often used by bartenders as a substitute for Lillet in cocktails like the Corpse Reviver No. 2 (16.5 percent ABV).
Zucca: This bittersweet amaro's base ingredient is rhubarb. It was often prescribed as a digestive aid, and the rhubarb is said to be good for the liver (16 percent ABV).
Averna: A blend of herbs, roots, and citrus rinds, this sweet, thick liqueur has a gentle herbal bitterness and a higher alcohol content that makes it another great digestif to indulge in (29 percent ABV).
Ramazotti: Created in 1815 by Ausano Ramazzotti, this was Italy's first bitter liqueur. Its recipe of 33 carefully selected herbs and spices is known only to three people. The flavor profile includes notes of orange peel, cardamom, and cinnamon (30 percent ABV).
Fernet Branca: One of the trendiest amari around these days, select bars even dedicate a tap to this spirit. It's more sharply bitter than others, and drinking it straight requires a bit of practice.
Nardini: This luscious and full-bodied liqueur isinfused with peppermint and bitter orange. We recommend ordering this digestif during your dessert course if you're on a date; the peppermint really stands out and the flavor profile will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed (31 percent ABV).
Amaro Nonino: Grain alcohol is aged in oak barrels for five years and infused with herbs, ingredients for this amaro include caramelized sugar, bitter orange, liquorice, rhubarb, saffron, sweet orange, and tamarind, among others. It is served chilled as an aperitif with a slice of orange, or on it's own as a digestif (35 percent ABV).
— Swabreen Bakr, The Drink Nation
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High Life Decoded: A Beginner's Guide to Bitters and Amaro
When you belly up to most cocktail joints these days, one of the first things you’re likely to see is a bunch of strange, small bottles lined up proudly along the bar, with names such as Reagan’s and Peychaud’s. And behind the bar, alongside some familiar whiskeys and gins, the shelves are often dominated by hard-to-pronounce bottles that the bartenders seem to use for almost every drink.
Despite being in almost constant use, all of these ingredients—which fall under the family of bitter herbal liqueurs called amaro (literally Italian for bitter)—are among the least understood by drinkers. Whether it’s a few shakes of Angostura or a half ounce of Campari, they are the silent players that make cocktails work, adding depth, flavor, and balance to soften the edge of straight spirits. They are also at the heart of the current cocktail scene, which has veered away from cloying sweetness in favor of complex bitterness.
To gain a better understanding of the wide world of amari, we chatted up bartender and bitter aficionado Sother Teague. As beverage director at Amor y Amargo (443 E 6th St between Ave A and First Ave, 212-614-6817), he spends many nights behind the stick schooling patrons on all things bitter through side-by-side tastings and amaro-centric cocktails. There’s no shaking of mixers, no fruit juice to speak of, and no sugar added to anything. Amaro rules all at the East Village den aptly named love and bitters, which displays 30 tincture bottles on the bar up front and 90 amari behind that.
There’s no denying that this class of booze is intimidating—not least because most amari are often created with top-secret formulas that their creators refuse to share, leaving drinkers to do a lot of guesswork about what they’re even tasting. But it’s also an endlessly rewarding category, and one that will give you insight into what makes a lot of your favorite cocktails great, from Manhattans to Negronis.
Here, amaro master Sother Teague guides us through the basics of bitters, breaks down the easiest ways to play with amari in classic cocktails, and explains why every home bar should have a bottle of Cynar in it.
What can I use as a Galliano substitute?
If you need to replace Galliano, then the best options are Sambuca, Herbsaint, Anesone, Ouzo, or Raki. Roiano is also an excellent alternative but it is hard to find outside of Italy. For anyone that needs an alcohol-free option, then use a licorice extract combined with a little vanilla.
Tip: Save yourself the trouble and get yourself a bottle of Galliano L’autentico 375 from Saucey for your next cocktail session. They deliver to most of the United States so check them out. We make a small commission if you decide to buy.
Sambuca is an Italian liqueur that has an anise flavor along with a herbaceous, berry-like undertone. The common variety of Sambuca is clear however, there are other types such as red sambuca which is a bright red shade, and black sambuca which is a dark blue color.
Sambuca’s aniseed flavor makes it an ideal replacement for Galliano. It can be served neat, in cocktails, or mixed with water or coffee. Sambuca doesn’t have that characteristic golden yellow color that you get from Galliano, so cocktails will have a different look to them.
Herbsaint is a liqueur that is heavy in star anise and is commonly used in mixology to add a crisp and sharp finish to cocktails. The brand originated in New Orleans back in 1934 to replace absinthe which contained an ingredient that was outlawed in the United States. Interestingly, the name “Herbsaint” is a near-anagram of the word absinthe.
Drink Herbsaint straight or mix it with other drinks of your choice. It is also delicious used as an ingredient in Oysters Rockefeller. Whatever you use a liqueur for, Herbsaint will work well as a substitute for Galliano.
If you’ve ever traveled to Greece or Cyprus, you won’t have been able to miss the locals sitting outside cafes and bars drinking ouzo. It is a dry aperitif with a dominant licorice flavor. Ouzo is a potent drink that is produced from rectified spirits that have been distilled with additional flavors.
Ouzo is usually added to water and then drunken, although it can also be added to cocktails and sweet dishes. It is a good option for replacing Galliano, but watch out for its alcohol content.
Anesone is another Italian liqueur that is clear with a dominant flavor of anise. The most common uses for this drink include diluting it with fresh water for a light refreshing beverage. It can also be mixed into coffee which helps to highlight its delicate fragrance.
If you can’t find Anesone at your local store or online, then you may want to try using Anisette. This product is also made from anise seeds it is less sweet and dryer than Anisette.
Whether you choose Anesone or Anisette, both of these will have a stronger taste of anise than what you get from Galliano. These replacements will also have less herbal taste.
Raki is a Turkish drink that is often compared to ouzo but is much higher in alcohol content. It can be up to 90% alcohol compared to ouzo which is generally 35-40%. Raki makes an excellent alternative to Galliano with its strong anise taste. If you decide to use it as a substitute, then use smaller quantities as it is a very powerful drink.
Roiano could well be the closest cousin of Galliano, mimicking the flavor and color closely. Its golden yellow shade with a flavor combination of anise and vanilla make it the perfect Galliano substitute, even though it is a little sweeter.
The reason Roiano doesn’t feature at the top of our list is that it is produced in Italy and isn’t exported to many parts of the world. It is very difficult to find in the United States, but if you do manage to source a supplier, then we suggest you get a bottle or two.
7. Licorice Extract
Not everyone enjoys alcohol and others can’t drink it for various reasons. If you’re looking for an alcohol-free option that resembles Galliano then you’re probably best to use licorice extract. This provides concentrated anise flavor and you’ll only need a few drops to flavor drinks, baked goods, candy, marinades, or even frosting. If you choose this option, then add some vanilla extract as well to get closer to the Galliano flavor profile.
What are the best amaro substitutes?
What are some useful substitutes for drambuie?
How can I replace grenadine in cocktails?
Is there a suitable tuaca alternative?
Cocktail Fun While It Lasts -- The One Night Stand
Many people have had a one night stand at some point. Are you thinking about one right now? Put aside your X-rated memories and focus on this cocktail creation from Brian Ireland and Demetri Karnessis. I discovered it in Chilled magazine.
2 ounces gin
.5 ounces Aperol
.5 ounces triple sec
Juice from 1/4 grapefruit
Combine in a shaker with ice, shake like (do you really need an analogy here?), and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel garnish optional.
Ireland and Karnessis use a particular brand of gin in the One Night Stand, but they don't call for a specific triple sec (a generic term for an orange liqueur). I like Cointreau, which I use in my Cancer Killer #1 and the Margarita. If you prefer a different triple sec, go for it. Aperol, a part of the Naked and Famous and my Venetian Kiss, is a lighter amaro. Combine all of these spirits with the grapefruit juice, and you'll get an undeniably pink drink. If you like the One Night Stand, you might like similarly themed drinks such as the Intense Ginger Sutra and the Hanky Panky.
Enjoy the One Night Stand, but recognize too many could lead to something bad -- a hangover or something a Penicillin won't cure. Cheers!
In the week leading up to October 18th, some shoppers in the US spent their money as if they were stocking luxe zombie apocalypse shelters. Except the living dead weren’t coming for us in the form of moaning, limping, flesh-eating corpses, but extra costs biting into our wallets. It was the latest fallout from a trade war that just won’t die, one that’s lasted more than 15 years between Europe and the US over government controlled aviation subsidies (Mark Gillespie at Whiskycast explains it rather well here). As the two air spaces fight over what the other sees as equitable control, ad valorem tariffs are placed on various items, mainly the ones innocent citizens consume in order to stay sane. Following a 25% retaliatory tariff placed on things like American whiskey overseas last year, the US responded in October by slapping that same amount on single malt Scotch any German, Spanish, UK and French still wine under 14.1% that is shipped in containers of 2 litres or less (which is quite a lot of it) northern Irish whiskey (but not those from the Republic) an astounding number of cheese from across Europe including parmesan and stilton Spanish olive oil and cashmere sweaters. It also affects Italian spirits, which include liqueurs like limoncello, aperitivo and amaro.
As wildfires burn across the earth, and other parts of it continue to fight real, devastating, perpetual wars, a price increase on these sorts of goods sounds like a livable hardship. Mainly it is.
But consider the people who make and import the goods. Yes, really big companies are affected by the tariffs in all categories, and most likely, they’ll be taking a hit. However, the majority of the producers whose products have been dinged, through no fault of their own, are small, family owned operations who could feel a much bigger impact if they lose overseas sales. And in many instances, the people who supply the agriculture, packaging and other necessary components to make those products are also small houses that rely on the sale of those goods to stay in business. Since American whiskey was caught in the fray last year, sales have plummeted as much as 21% in Europe within a year, as unpurchased stock sits in warehouses and distillers keep hoping for a reprieve.
West Hollywood Iced Tea with Meletti, courtesy Allbright, Los Angeles
How tariffs affect sales (and not by sheer expense)
Adding tariffs to imported Italian liqueur, which could cause some sellers to raise prices on them as much as 15%, doesn’t just mean the cost of our spritz habit will go up a bit and we have to make sacrifices at brunch. Well-read consumer magazines have sounded alarm bells, telling people what to buy instead of the products hit by tariffs. Consumers heed these warnings, but might not even be aware of the consequences, or even understand that making substitutions doesn’t necessarily translate to tangible savings. I’ve noticed that the majority of the recommended products, say, in the whisk(e)y category, cost pretty much in the same ballpark as the Scotch would with price increases.
The inflation will be most felt off premise. A few retailers, such as Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan have already posted signs indicating they would be raising prices on items affected by the tariffs.
You might not even notice it’s happening on premise
As of press time, most bars and restaurants I queried say they have not made tariff-based price tweaks (for instance, I recently ordered a tariffed Cotes du Rhône wine for only $10 a glass in an East Village bar), and they also say they have no plans to make substitutions. Venues often make seasonal price adjustments anyway to account for rent, fluctuations in the cost of fresh produce and other supplies, wages, etc.—not to mention typical cost modifications that go with the territory of having a liquor license. So in some instances, consumers will notice higher prices, but tariffed booze is not solely to blame. “Pricing fluctuations happen all the time in this market, usually because of distributors’ programming,” says beverage consultant Jen Gregory. “It gets built into the cocktail program pricing.” She says it’s “tragic” that amari have been hit by tariffs, but it won’t stop her from buying or recommending those liqueurs.
Amor y Amargo are bitters-based cocktail bars with two NYC-based locations—one in the East Village, Manhattan and one that recently opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Almost their entire business model relies on the availability of a large selection of Italian liqueurs with bitter flavor profiles. Beverage director Sother Teague says at the time of the tariff increase, the bars “flipped” to their autumn menus. Two of those items are perennial favorites that have been with AyA since the early years of the East Village location, which has operated since 2011—the Sharpie Mustache (recipe can be found here) and the 8 Amaro Sazerac. “These cocktails are the foundation of the menu at both locations. The 8 Amaro Sazerac represents our core concept of using amari in cocktails,” says Teague. Every cocktail at both locations costs the same, and this was true before the tariffs. “The jump in price would affect our profitability, but rather than raise prices, we’ll simply adjust the rest of the menu offerings to have stronger margins.”
Italian liqueurs that are unsubstitutable
after dinner Lucano Anniversario in Matera, photo by Amanda Schuster
Small, family-run distilleries are dotted throughout the Italian landscape, in both cities and small towns. While they fall under the umbrella of the Liqueur category, each has its own production methods and secret family recipes, which gives them unique character that can’t be replicated elsewhere. There’s nothing quite like traveling through the country and visiting them in person, but if you can’t get to places like Matero, Benevento, Veneto, Bologna, Alto Adige or the Amalfi coast, you can sip these low ABV spirits stateside. Many of the distilleries have been operating for more than a century, now with certain modern equipment upgrades, but mainly with the same methods and ingredients they’ve been using since the beginning.
Here are some from distilleries I recently visited in the south, but there are dozens more throughout the rest of the country (more on that later):
Location: Benevento, Campania
What it is: an earthy herbal liqueur with a sweet finish, and a striking goldenrod hue owing to the presence of saffron—one of some 70 ingredients in the mix, making for an ethereal sipping experience.
Use in: The liqueur adds heightened, herbal dimensions to stirred cocktails like Old Fashioneds,. When added to shaken, citrusy drinks like Daiquiris, Sidecars or Margaritas, it’s hard to go back to making them without a bit of Strega for that boost of flavor and color.
Location: Pisticci, Basilicata, Puglia (with separate tasting room in the ancient cave city of Matera)
What it is: a medium bitter amaro with a finish reminiscent of comforting baking spices
Use in: The spicy back notes make it particularly ideal to add to seasonal winter warmers like nogs, flips and hot cocoa, but it’s also delightful in refreshing spritz variations, and its flavor profile matches beautifully with junipery gins, making it ideal to add to sparkling wine in French 75 riffs.
Amalfi lemons for Pallini, photo by Amanda Schuster
What it is: a lemon liqueur from a recipe over a century old, made from an infusion of peels from organic, Amalfi coast-grown lemons. (Sure beats grocery store lemons left to sit in some Everclear!)
Use in: Add it to Prosecco with some Cynar (see below) for a refreshing variation on the spritz, pour it frozen into a Martini variation or add it to whipped cream for holiday desserts.
What it is: two amari—Sibilia (named for the surrounding mountain range and national park Mount Sibillini) and dell’Erborista, plus Moka coffee liqueur, anisetta (l’Anice Secco Speciale), punch and other liqueurs (including a rare, ultra oak-aged peach brandy), all still produced by the Varnelli family.
Martinis at Caffè Meletti, photo by Amanda Schuster
Use in: Sibilia and dell’Erborista are two of the more bracing examples of amari, but there’s simply nothing better than sipping them over a big rock with an orange twist after a meal. Fans like me love them for their inherent walnut and roasted spice flavors, with dell’Erborista carrying an extra bitter bite reminiscent of high quality 100% cocoa (dell’Erborista is also one of the main ingredients in Amor y Amargo’s aforementioned 8 Amaro Sazerac). The Moka also happens to be one of the most authentic-tasting coffee liqueurs out there, and speaking of coffee, try the l’Anice Secco in espresso as they do in the Marche!
Location: Ascoli Piceno, Marche
What it is: a wide range of exquisite liqueurs, most notably anisetta and amaro
Use in: Add some kick to a Martini with the anisetta, and serve it with fried olives, as they do in Caffè Meletti at home. The amaro gracefully dances the line between bitter and sweet, with a clean, slightly floral finish. All it really needs is a splash of soda, but it’s also terrific in Manhattans and other vermouth-centric recipes since it boosts the fruitiness of wine-based ingredients.
Another take: Bartender Brynn Smith at Allbright in Los Angeles says Meletti is the only amaro she will use in her West Hollywood Iced Tea, which also consists of lemon, honey syrup and brewed Yorkshire Tea served as a swizzle. “I choose Meletti Amaro for this drink because of all the beautiful tasting components in this amaro (rose, lavender, orange, saffron and anise),” Says Smith. “It really is the perfect match for Black Tea. It could not be a more beautiful flavor pairing.”
photo courtesy Amanda Schuster
Other unsubstitutable Italian liqueurs
Nardini Mandorla: infused with bitter almond and distilled cherry juice, this one-of-a-kind grappa-based liqueur has its imitators, but they can’t hold a candela to the original from the Veneto. It’s especially enjoyable to end a meal, and pairs magnificently a slice of fruit tart, crème brulée, pie or soft cheese.
Nonino Riserva range: Their Quintessentia amaro is one of my perennial go-tos in cocktails and with a splash of soda, but whenever I see one of the Nonino riserva grappas (the range includes those aged from 12 months to as much as 24 years, made from different grapes and matured in various types of casks), I know it’s going to be worth the treat. The non-riserva range from this Northern Italian distillery is also one of the best ways to explore how different wine grape varietals translate to grappa.
Amaro Ramazzotti: from Milan comes this aromatic bitter with a delightful finish of orange blossom and spice that’s not too sweet and not too bitter. If I don’t want to commit to opening a whole bottle of sweet vermouth for cocktails at home, I often sub it with Ramazzotti and a splash of liquid from preserved cherries. Speaking of cherries.
Luxardo Maraschino: Yes, other cherry liqueurs exist. No, none of them taste as good in a Last Word, Martinez, Aviation or Hemingway Daiquiri because this liqueur made from fruit harvested from family marasca cherry orchards in northeastern Italy is what was used to make them in the first place.
Cynar: This traditional dark liqueur from the Veneto made with artichoke leaves has imitators, and they’re good, but nothing like this OG to warm up a spritz or make a dreamy, brooding, stirred cocktail.
Amaro Sfumato: from the Cappelletti family in Trentino-Alto-Adige comes this slightly smoky, dark plummy, and wintergreen fresh liqueur made from an infusion of Chinese rhubarb and alpine herbs. It’s an essential ingredient for a smoky Manhattan!
Amaro Montenegro: I consider this a “gateway amaro” for its tangy, orange marmalade sweetness and versatility in a variety of cocktails. Though it’s been made in Bologna since 1885, this is a liqueur much beloved and lauded by the modern bartending community (Teague has used it in many cocktails on his menus). It’s presented as a bitter liqueur, but I often add it to drinks to add a hint of honey blossom texture to the mix.
Dear Miss Kopp
Author : Amy Stewart
Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release : 2021-01-12
ISBN : 0358093015
Language : En, Es, Fr & De
The indomitable Kopp sisters are tested at home and abroad in this warm and witty tale of wartime courage and camaraderie. The U.S. has finally entered World War I is and Constance is chasing down suspected German saboteurs and spies for the Bureau of Investigation while Fleurette is traveling across the country entertaining troops with song and dance. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location in France, Norma is overseeing her thwarted pigeon project for the Army Signal Corps. When Aggie, a nurse at the American field hospital, is accused of stealing essential medical supplies, the intrepid Norma is on the case to find the true culprit. The far-flung sisters—separated for the first time in their lives—correspond with news of their days. The world has irrevocably changed—will the sisters be content to return to the New Jersey farm when the war is over? Told through letters, Dear Miss Kopp weaves the stories of real life women into a rich fiction brimming with the historical detail and humor that are hallmarks of the series, proving once again that “any novel that features the Kopp Sisters is going to be a riotous, unforgettable adventure” (Bustle).
Nothing To Lose Drinking -- the Everything To GAIN
A new corporate client and a new original creation are auspicious signs. Late last year Government Marketing University asked me to present about successful branding, and design a signature cocktail for its GAIN 2020 conference. Guided by my previous experiences such as rocking the red carpet with Cognitio and a golden jubilee with Government Executive Media Group, the result was the unique Everything to GAIN.
2 ounces vodka
.5 ounces triple sec (I prefer Cointreau)
.5 ounces maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a positive feeling, and strain into a chilled glass.
I was delighted when the people at Government Marketing University requested I use vodka as a base spirit. Using vodka presents sort of a challenge. It can act as a blank canvas for a cocktail, so you really have to tinker with the other ingredients and the ratios. For the Everything to GAIN I added Cointreau to bring a hint of citrus. Maple syrup is an unusual sweetener in cocktails, but it works nicely here just as it does in drinks such as the Japanese Maple. Like every other ingredient in the Everything to GAIN, maple syrup is easily accessible.
Presenting at GAIN 2020 was a lot of fun even though it was different. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic (which is still around despite efforts towards the Flattening Curve), the presentation had to be pre-recorded, so there couldn't be any of the spontaneous give and take that I love so much.
When you have an Everything to GAIN, you have nothing to lose . except your worries.
Salt Lake Spirit: How Utah's Liquor Laws Foster Creativity Behind the Bar
The reclaimed wood bar at the High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City is scattered with the kinds of cool bitters, amari, and liqueurs that any decent cocktail spot in New York or San Francisco would have in spades—Campari, Fernet, Chartreuse. Except these particular bottles have a large yellow sticker slapped across them reading "Flavoring." And, when I order an Old Fashioned from bartender Steve Walton, he doesn't simply pour two ounces of whiskey over an Angostura-soaked sugar cube. Instead, he grabs a pourer-fitted bottle of rye and inserts its neck into a circular contraption connected by a coiling, landline phone–like cord to a slim box under the bar that kinda resembles a 1970s ham radio. This device is the Berg All-BottleTM 704 liquor control system, and it ensures that exactly one and a half ounces, and not a damn drop more, will be dispensed into my cocktail. The Big Brother–esque Berg (or a similar device) is mandatory in Utah bars, cataloging all pours for government eyes. And it's unintentionally forced the state's mixologists to become some of the most inventive in the country.
"As much as people groan, oh, Utah!, working here does make you more creative," Walton tells me with a big laugh. He's one of the most joyous and optimistic people I've ever met, traits perfect for bartending in a resort town where he has to explain the state's liquor laws to buzzed tourists umpteen times per night.
You probably don't need to read Utah's entire 268-page "Alcoholic Beverage Control General Provisions" to realize that the deeply religious, historically Mormon state has some pretty unusual liquor laws. For cocktail-makers like Walton, the most significant ones, courtesy of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC), include:
- Only one and a half ounces of "primary spirituous liquor" allowed per drink order.
- Only two and a half total ounces of "spirituous liquor" allowed per cocktail or mixed drink.
- This additional ounce is called (and must be labeled) "flavoring." It can be any spirit or liqueur, but it can't be the same type of spirit as the one-and-a-half-ounce primary spirituous liquor—so two different bourbons could not be used together, but bourbon and rye together are fine. Beer, wine, and fortified wine (vermouth) don't count as part of the two and a half ounces.
- Utah is also a control state, meaning that all bottles of booze must be purchased from government-run wholesalers. "Specialty" products (including stuff as common on the coasts as Chartreuse) have to be specially ordered. And who knows when they'll ever arrive.
"In Utah, you can't just throw ingredients into a shaker—we have parameters we have to legally deal with," Walton says. "So it really makes you think where you want to take each and every cocktail."
Let's go back to Walton's Old Fashioned. Since he can use only one and a half ounces of base spirit—in this case, rye whiskey—if he wants to beef up the cocktail, he needs to add that ounce of "flavoring." This is typically going to be an amaro or liqueur, which he is allowed to jigger sans Berg machine. But, for this cocktail, he adds another spirit altogether: bourbon. Thus, you get a two-and-a-half-ounce Old Fashioned made of two completely different whiskeys. Sure, "layering" and "splitting" spirits in a cocktail is becoming more commonplace nowadays, especially amongst the tiki cognoscenti who enjoy using multiple rums in a drink. But still, you're not that likely to see two different whiskeys in a simple Old Fashioned in, say, Seattle or Los Angeles. "In California, you would never have to do something like this," Walton says of his cocktail. "You could make a five-ounce bourbon Old Fashioned if you wanted!"
Walton had never bartended in another state before landing behind the stick in Utah. An expat from Essex, just outside of London, he was ski-bumming his way around America a decade ago when he fell in love with Park City. And a woman. Eventually, he got married, nabbed a work permit, and landed a bar job at the Waldorf Astoria.
His first step? Getting his Alcohol Server Training Program license, a requirement for all Utah bartenders, which must be renewed every three years to ensure that those who serve booze are up to date on the latest laws. Because of this, each and every Utah bartender is incredibly well versed on what he or she can and can't do, more so than perhaps any other state's bartenders. As you can imagine, math—or "maths," as the Brit Walton calls it—is crucial if you want to bartend in this state.
"Let's take the classic Manhattan. It's actually perfect for Utah's liquor laws. The typical Manhattan would have two ounces of whiskey to one ounce sweet vermouth. But a three-ounce cocktail is illegal here, right? So now you have to get your base liquor back to one and a half ounces and then bring everything else in line to match," Walton explains, noting that the sweet vermouth would now be cut to three-quarters of an ounce.
"Utah's unique liquor laws actually support properly made, well-balanced cocktails," says Dave Wallace, the beverage director at Burgers & Bourbon. "More booze doesn't necessarily mean a better drink, if ever, when it comes to mixing cocktails." His bar, in the Montage Deer Valley resort, has an array of intriguing offerings. Many of these he likes to top with an atypical beer or wine floater, a loophole that allows him to legally spike those two and a half ounces of spirits, and thus give his customers a little more bang for their buck. He cites his Ginger Barrel-Rita—made with the requisite one and a half ounces of bourbon and a half ounce of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, but then topped with three more ounces of hefeweizen—as a particular favorite.
"Going back through the history of mixing cocktails, the base has always been between one and one and a half ounces, with the tinctures, bitters, sweeteners, et cetera, comprising the rest," Wallace says. "The creative part for us is how to maximize the value for our guests." He does this by mixing different liquors and flavor profiles, hoping to produce a drink that is legitimately boozy, while still being balanced and delicious.
To be fair, a place like Park City—with "just" a 35% Mormon population and an economy built on well-heeled tourists—is a little looser than the rest of Utah. Thirty miles northwest, in Salt Lake City, the Mormon population still hovers over 50%. Oddly, though, the capital city has of late become quite a bit more liberal—some say that's due to millennials rejecting the long-held conservatism of the Mormon church—and it even has a newly bustling LGBT scene. The cocktail sphere is also flourishing, despite such comical restrictions as the so-called "Zion curtain," an opaque partition that separates bartenders preparing drinks from the customers who order them. The inhospitable barrier is a legal requirement under certain restaurant licenses, leading to amusing scenarios in which a customer orders a drink and the bartender then has to walk out of view to make it.
Amy Eldredge, the bar GM at Current Fish & Oyster in Salt Lake City, was mentored on classic cocktails by the legendary Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey) when he helped open the Ranstead Room in Philadelphia in 2012. When she decided to open her own bar, Eldredge headed back to her hometown of Salt Lake City, seeing it as an untapped market in need of some cocktail culture. "There are ways to make proper drinks in Utah, and many classic recipes do not need to be altered," she says, citing The Last Word, the Sidecar, and the Margarita specifically.
Flexing her creativity, Eldredge experiments with unique 1:1 ratios that she would have never tried on the East Coast, thus creating new twists on traditional drinks. For instance, in her Daiquiri—which she humbly considers more "Daiquiri-ish"—she uses both a light and an aged rum, in a move similar to how Walton makes his Old Fashioned. (And yes, you're not alone in wondering why light and aged rum are considered completely different spirits in the eye of the law, but two different bourbons aren't. Thus goes Utah's no-rhyme, no-reason liquor logic.)
"I've discovered some lovely combos. Light rum and blanco tequila with passion fruit. Bourbon and apple brandy with St-Germain. " She says she's proudest of a drink that has quickly become Current's most popular offering, The Siren. Inspired by The Pink Lady, it's a 1:1 ratio of an herbaceous absinthe and a floral local gin, mixed with lemon and shaken with egg white. "The best part, in terms of a 'Utah' cocktail, is that it is a 100-proof absinthe and 90-proof gin—so, yeah, you can drink in Utah!" she tells me with a big smile.
And it seems like if people in Utah like to drink, they like to drink well while they're at it.
Before Current, Eldredge worked at Bar X, Salt Lake City's first-ever cocktail bar, and still its most famous. Co-owners (and brothers-in-law) Richard Noel and Duncan Burrell bought the long-standing joint in 2010 after cutting their teeth at the famed Rob Roy in Seattle.
"Bar X was only a Bud/Bud Light bar when we bought it. Maybe there was Pabst," Noel says of his spot, which had been what he calls a "charming dive" since literally the day after Prohibition ended in 1933. Salt Lake City in 2010 was completely lacking in cocktail bars. "If people drank mixed drinks, they drank club drinks. There was a martini bar in town, but it was, you know, Cosmos, Appletinis, very '90s-style cocktails."
Bar X opened with a menu of classic cocktails: Sazeracs, Pimm's Cups, Moscow Mules, and the like. The owners were nervous—not only had most Utahns not had these drinks before, they weren't used to paying the $9 these cocktails would cost, either. Luckily, Bar X was a massive hit right out of the gate. Yet it took another two years before Noel and Burrell had the courage to make a menu exclusively of their own creations.
"At the time, I was going through a kick where I was drinking a lot of Manhattans," Noel says. "So I made a bunch of takes on that—some got pretty boozy." One variant he produced using Carpano Antica vermouth and walnut liqueur, the Rip-a-trois, was especially popular.
Noel, Burrell, and their almost 100% homegrown bartending staff were soon making the kinds of drinks that had never been made in Utah before. So creative, so inventive, so obscure that suddenly they were the ones having to explain to government inspectors what, say, tinctures were. Or the fact that bitters were nothing more than a food product, available at most grocery stores.
"When we first opened, we asked [the DABC] a bunch of questions about what we could and couldn't do—and we got back a lot of answers that we didn't want to hear!" Noel jokes. "So we quit asking those questions."
Questions or not, the state's alcohol laws are slowly changing. Things were relaxed somewhat for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics—cocktail sizes got larger, and bars were now allowed to be open till 1 a.m. In 2009, then-governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a Mormon no less, ended an antiquated system in which potential drinkers had to pay fees to become "members" of private bars. But even if Utah drinkers surely want the state's liquor laws improved, you can't help but wonder whether these longtime handicaps have inadvertently created a cocktail Galápagos Islands, forced to evolve differently from everywhere else.
"I'm so immersed in Utah, I don't think of what we do as being crazy," Walton says. "It's just part of our creative process."
When I drank with him in late March of this year, Walton was preparing for the southwest regional finals of World Class, an international bartending competition sponsored by Diageo. He was one of 75 bartenders still remaining from thousands who had entered months earlier. In mid-April, he would be competing against bartenders from Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and Oklahoma in hopes of making this country's finals. He would also be not just allowed but pretty much forced to create non-Utah-legal drinks.
"The whole time I was competing, I was thinking, 'Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself.'"
Of course, he couldn't exactly be himself, because he would never dare make a three-ounce cocktail at High West. Still, competing in three different disciplines—a speed challenge, inventing a cocktail inspired by an American historical figure, and a dealer's choice round—Walton performed admirably, though didn't quite pull out the victory.
"When creating cocktails, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't," Walton notes, good-humored. "I'm thankful for the challenges of Utah, though, because it truly improves your skills as a bartender."
So, is there any drink Walton doesn't think can be creatively made in Utah?
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The European tradition of making bittersweet liqueurs--called amari in Italian--has been around for centuries. But it is only recently that these herbaceous digestifs have moved from the dusty back bar to center stage in the United States, and become a key ingredient on cocktail lists in the country’s best bars and restaurants. Lucky for us, today there is a dizzying range of amaro available—from familiar favorites like Averna and Fernet-Branca, to the growing category of regional, American-made amaro.
Starting with a rip-roaring tour of bars, cafés, and distilleries in Italy, amaro’s spiritual home, Brad Thomas Parsons—author of the James Beard and IACP Award–winner Bitters—will open your eyes to the rich history and vibrant culture of amaro today. With more than 100 recipes for amaro-centric cocktails, DIY amaro, and even amaro-spiked desserts, you’ll be living (and drinking) la dolce vita.
Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar. A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring in bartenders and their thirsty patrons a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. And few ingredients have as rich a history or serve as fundamental a role in our beverage heritage as bitters.
Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world’s most storied elixir, from its earliest “snake oil” days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a beloved (and at times obsessed-over) ingredient on the contemporary bar scene. Parsons writes from the front lines of the bitters boom, where he has access to the best and boldest new brands and flavors, the most innovative artisanal producers, and insider knowledge of the bitters-making process.
Whether you’re a professional looking to take your game to the next level or just a DIY-type interested in homemade potables, Bitters has a dozen recipes for customized blends--ranging from Apple to Coffee-Pecan to Root Beer bitters--as well as tips on sourcing ingredients and step-by-step instructions fit for amateur and seasoned food crafters alike.
Also featured are more than seventy cocktail recipes that showcase bitters’ diversity and versatility: classics like the Manhattan (if you ever get one without bitters, send it back), old-guard favorites like the Martinez, contemporary drinks from Parsons’s own repertoire like the Shady Lane, plus one-of-a-kind libations from the country’s most pioneering bartenders. Last but not least, there is a full chapter on cooking with bitters, with a dozen recipes for sweet and savory bitters-infused dishes.
Part recipe book, part project guide, part barman’s manifesto, Bitters is a celebration of good cocktails made well, and of the once-forgotten but blessedly rediscovered virtues of bitters.
From the James Beard Award-winning author of Bitters and Amaro comes this poignant, funny, and often elegiac exploration of the question, What is the last thing you'd want to drink before you die?, with bartender profiles, portraits, and cocktail recipes.
JAMES BEARD AWARD FINALIST • WINNER OF THE TALES OF THE COCKTAIL SPIRITED AWARD® • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Everyone knows the parlor game question asked of every chef and food personality in countless interviews: What is the last meal you'd want to eat before you die? But what does it look like when you pose the question to bartenders? In Last Call, James Beard Award-winning author Brad Thomas Parsons gathers the intriguing responses from a diverse range of bartenders around the country, including Guido Martelli at the Palizzi Social Club in Philadelphia (he chooses an extra-dry Martini), Joseph Stinchcomb at Saint Leo in Oxford, Mississippi (he picks the Last Word, a pre-Prohibition-era cocktail that's now a cult favorite), and Natasha David at Nitecap in New York City (she would be sipping an extra-salty Margarita). The resulting interviews and essays reveal a personal portrait of some of the country's top bartenders and their favorite drinks, while over 40 cocktail recipes and stunning photography make this a keepsake for barflies and cocktail enthusiasts of all stripes.
Praise for Last Call
“[Parsons] captures the people and places through stunning photographs and prose. Like a perfectly balanced cocktail, it is equal parts cocktail recipes, travelogue and mixtape.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Measure equal parts travelogue, tell-all, discography, and cocktail companion—in service of an obituary of all patrons—and you have Last Call Brad Thomas Parsons’s best book yet. Through soulful photos and gritty interviews, he and photographer Ed Anderson capture the rawness, vulnerability, and ecstasy of the metamorphosis between the end of a guest’s night and the beginning of a bartender’s.”—Jim Meehan, author of Meehan’s Bartender Manual and The PDT Cocktail Book
“This book is a delight. Last Call shows us the sense of community evoked by bartenders across the country, whose wisdom and tenderness are captured here both in words and beautiful photographs. It made me—an erstwhile bartender and faithful customer—happy to remember that we all have nights when we unexpectedly hear the words ‘last call,’ and that noble and fascinating bartenders are out there waiting to share it with us.”—Alan Cumming