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Hypnotic Russian Drinking -- The Bitter Rasputin

Grigori Rasputin was a self-anointed prophet during the the reign of Czar Nicholas II.  Nicknamed the "Mad Monk" even though he wasn't a monk, Rasputin was a charismatic figure. He insinuated himself into the Russian royal family after he supposedly cured the hemophilia of the Czar's only son (he actually may have hypnotized the boy).  Wary of his increasing influence, his enemies went to great lengths to murder him (cyanide poisoning, shooting, then drowning). Unlike its namesake, the Bitter Rasputin did not come out of early 20th century Russia. It's actually a 2014 creation from Jim Lindblad.

Bitter Rasputin2 ounces vodka
.75 ounces Campari
.5 ounces green Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a hypnotic motion, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

No doubt about it, the Bitter Rasputin is strong. Vodka is a natural base for a Russian themed cocktail, da? As with other drinks such as my original Venetian Kiss, vodka pairs well with Campari. Combined with orange bitters, the Campari is what makes the cocktail bitter. Green Chartreuse, a key part of drinks such as the Bijou and the Last Word, injects a little liquid power and a hint of herbal sweetness. Mesmerizing as the Bitter Rasputin is, be careful.  You don't want to end up like Rasputin.

Ready for a possible cocktail epiphany? Once you taste it, you'll fall under the spell of the Bitter Rasputin.


Stealing A Stylish Drink -- The Larceny And Old Lace

Not to be confused with the dark comedy movie Arsenic and Old Lace starring Cary Grant, the Larceny and Old Lace is a variation on the Manhattan. It was consumed in the movie The Great Gatsby (the remake with Leonardo DiCaprio, not the original with Robert Redford).  My fellow cocktailian Michael Bounds, who created the Ides of March, introduced me to the Larceny and Old Lace.

Larceny and Old Lace2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Cynar

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a suave and possibly criminal demeanor, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel or amarena cherry garnish optional.

Considering the name of this drink, you can use Larceny bourbon, featured in the A Thief In The Night and the Inside Job, but you don't have to. Use whatever bourbon you prefer. As always, the sweet vermouth should be reasonably fresh.  So what's Cynar (pronounced "chai-nar")?  It's an Italian artichoke flavored amaro.  If you're thinking "artichoke, that's disgusting," then you and Ms. Cocktail Den agree. But here's the thing -- she enjoyed Cynar.  If you like artichokes as I do, you'll definitely enjoy Cynar. The Cynar gives the Larceny and Old Lace a subtle vegetable undertone, which tastes much better than it sounds.

The Larceny and Old Lace can go on your Most Wanted list of criminal themed cocktails such as the Scofflaw, the Racketeer, and the Jack Rose. To paraphrase an old line, if you can make the time, do the Larceny and Old Lace as a cocktail crime.


Planting A Good Drink -- The Drop Seed

Crops and flowers bloom when it's warm, but with the seeds timing is important. The Drop Seed cocktail blooms in liquid glory year round. I discovered the Drop Seed on the Liquor.com website.

Drop Seed2 ounces dark rum
.5 ounces Averna
.25 ounces allspice dram

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the precision of planting seeds in the right place at the right time, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel or amarena cherry garnish optional.

The Drop Seed is a sultry looking, complex cocktail. Despite sharing a word in its name, it bears no resemblance in color or flavor to the delightful, refreshing, and unfairly maligned Lemon Drop. The Drop Seed has a closer cocktail genetic code to the Donna Maria, which also combines dark rum and allspice dram. Allspice dram is a rum based liqueur derived from the allspice berry. It's also known as pimento dram because the allspice berry grows on the pimento tree. A word of caution -- a little goes a long way. Averna, an amaro appearing in drinks such as the Lupara and the A Thief In The Night, complements the other spirits.  The original recipe calls for a very specific aged rum and uses slightly less of the other ingredients.  I adapted because I already had a different dark rum in my liquor cabinet, and I really like Averna and allspice dram.

If you're going to have to reap what you sow, a Drop Seed is a great way to do it.


A Cocktail "Cure" For COVID-19 -- The Flattening Curve

The COVID-19 causing coronavirus affects all of us. When there's a dangerous pandemic, it's natural to want a cocktail or two. "Flattening the curve" refers to the epidemiological model of trying to have infections over a longer period of time. This is a good thing. A flatter curve means less sickness and death because there's less stress on health care systems. Inspired by my Cancer Killer #1 and Cancer Killer #2, I give you another original creation, the Flattening Curve.

Flattening Curve1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Aperol or Campari
.25 ounces super simple syrup
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with resolute determination, and strain into a chilled glass.  Serve straight (get it?) up if you can.

The Flattening Curve will not cure COVID-19 or destroy the coronavirus. I wish it could. The amaro in the Flattening Curve is the variable. Aperol, used in drinks such as my Venetian Kiss and the Naked and Famous, is lighter than Campari, used in drinks such as my Scandinavian Suntan and the traditional Negroni. Which one you use depends on your personal preference and/or what you have in your home. Designed to have ingredients many people stuck at home might have, the Flattening Curve is sort of an amaro enhanced Old Fashioned.

We're all in this together, so have a Flattening Curve at home and flatten the curve together.


A Unique and Lovely Drink -- The Venetian Kiss

Venetian Kiss 1
Taste the glory of Venice in this cocktail.

Venice is a unique city. Nicknamed "La Serenissima" ("the most serene" in Italian), there are many reasons it is on many people's travel bucket lists. Having returned from a recent trip where Ms. Cocktail Den and I got caught in historic acqua alta (high water) and flooding, Venice is the inspiration for this original creation for the new year.

1.5 ounces Aperol
1 ounce vodka
.5 ounces Campari

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the serenity of watching life go by on the Grand Canal, and strain into a chilled glass.

Venetian Kiss 2
Ms. Cocktail Den in Venice. The photo is real, and there's no filter.

Aperol and Campari are Italian amari (bitter liqueurs), and bottles of them are in bars everywhere in Venice. Campari, an indispensable part of cocktails such as the classic Negroni and my original Cancer Killer #1, has a stronger taste and is more bitter than Aperol, featured in drinks such as the Naked and Famous. That's why the Venetian Kiss has more Aperol than Campari. So why does it have vodka?  There's nothing inherently Italian or Venetian about vodka.  I included vodka because the Russian word literally means "little water," and it is a tribute to the water that surrounds Venice and frequently floods the city.  In addition, it brings balance and subtle potency to the Venetian Kiss. 

The 3:2:1 ratio of the ingredients gives the Venetian Kiss elegance in its simplicity. Its name may remind of you of the Almost Red Lips Rye, and its color may remind you of pink drinks such as the Cosmopolitan and my original Italian Sunrise. Have a Venetian Kiss, and savor liquid serenissima!


Colorful French Monks -- Chartreuse

Char what? Chartreuse is an indispensable ingredient in famous drinks such as the Last Word, or lesser known but equally amazing drinks such as the Widow's Kiss, the Bijou, and the Diamondback. But what exactly is it? Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur made by the Carthusians, a small order of Catholic monks many of whom live in the French Alps.

ChartreuseThere are two types of Chartreuse -- yellow and green. Liqueurs have a higher sugar content, but that doesn't mean they're weak. Au contraire, as the French would say.  Yellow Chartreuse is 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof), which puts in on par with unflavored vodkas and lower end (in terms of strength, not quality) whiskies.  Green Chartreuse clocks in at a whopping 55% alcohol by volume (110 proof), which is stronger than all but a handful of whiskies.

So why is May 16 Chartreuse Day?  In 1605 a high ranking French military officer gave the Carthusians a manuscript containing a recipe for an elixir that became Chartreuse.  In the United States the shorthand for May 16 is 05/16, but in France, and much of the rest of the world, it is 16/05.

Yellow Chartreuse is slightly sweeter, and some say it has a bit of a honey flavor. Green Chartreuse has a more pronounced herbal taste to me. The colors are natural. Chartreuse's recipe is secret like any other herbal liqueur or amaro, as well as non-alcoholic libations such as Coca-Cola. Legend has it Chartreuse consists of a blend of 130 different ingredients, and at any one time only two monks know the entire recipe. So when should you use yellow Chartreuse or green Chartreuse?  It depends on your mood, what you're making, and even the background music (perhaps Chartreuse by ZZ Top?).  Or you could follow the advice I got from a guy working the door at an event at the great Jack Rose bar in Washington, D.C. -- yellow by day, green at night.

Just as Chartreuse doesn't pull any punches on your liver, I'm not going to pull a punch about its price.  It is expensive, at least in the United States. That being said, it is worth every penny, pound, euro, or whatever currency you use. A little bit of Chartreuse goes a long way. These French monks aren't wrong.


A Tempting Drink -- The Almost Red Lips Rye

Red lips can signify temptation, power, or seduction.  Scott Harris, a founder of Catoctin Creek distillery in my home state of Virginia, based the Almost Red Lips Rye on a drink in the cocktail book at the legendary American Bar. The bar is located in the high class Savoy Hotel in London. Even though Ms. Cocktail Den and I are not high class, we had drinks there when we heard London Calling. The people at the bar (the birthplace of the Hanky Panky) make great drinks, and Harris, whose distillery produces top notch spirits, made a great one here.

Almost Red Lips Rye2 ounces rye (Harris used Roundstone)
1 ounce port wine
1/3 ounce mirtillocello or Chambord or Cherry Heering
1/3 ounce aquavit
1/3 ounce Aperol or Campari
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with a sultry air, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Almost Red Lips Rye has a lot of ingredients, so you can manipulate them to suit your tastes and whatever is in your bar.  There are three variables that have an outsize impact on the cocktail.  Port, the first one, is the one about which I know the least. It's basically a fortified red wine that's sort of sweet and comes in either a ruby or tawny style. There are many books and blogs about port, so you may want to check them out for more information.

The second variable is the fruit liqueur.  It boils down to this -- do you prefer blueberry (mirtillocello), raspberry (Chambord), or cherry (Heering)?  Keep in mind there's a wide range in proofs of these three different liqueurs. The third big variable is the amari -- Aperol or Campari.  The difference isn't in the proofs, but the taste. Aperol, which you use in drinks such as the Naked and Famous and the Ides of March, has a lighter orange taste than Campari, which you use in drinks such as the Cancer Killer #1 and the Scandinavian Suntan. You're not going to wrong with any combination of the Almost Red Lips Rye, but one using a ruby port, Chambord, and Aperol is going to taste a lot different than one using a tawny port, Cherry Heering, and Campari. 

Is the Almost Red Lips Rye more complex than most drinks in the Den?  Yes.  Is the extra effort worth it?  Yes.  Are you tempted?


Lively, Strong, And Pink -- The Scandinavian Suntan

Scandinavian Suntan 1After spending a few days in Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm, I got a pleasant surprise -- a suntan.  Ok, I really turned more of a darker shade of pale, but for me that's a suntan. Just as the unusually sunny weather in those cities gave my skin a pinkish color, trying aquavit in its native countries gave my taste buds some fun.  The Scandinavian Suntan evokes memories of the fun Ms. Cocktail Den and I had during our journey. It is inspired by a drink I had at Ruby bar in Copenhagen.

1.5 ounces aquavit
1 ounce Campari
.5 ounces super simple syrup
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the joy of a Scandinavian who's able to experience almost constant daylight during the summer, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

Nyhaven district in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 As aquavit is a quintessential Scandinavian spirit, it had to be the base of this drink. It literally means the "water of life," and the Scandinavian Suntan is a lively cocktail.  If you want a true pink color that resembles my idea of a suntan, use clear aquavit; I used Aalborg Taffel in the pictured drink.  Campari, a widely available Italian amaro, isn't from Scandinavia, but its sharp citrus flavors complement the aquavit nicely. While in Copenhagen I noticed the Danes seem to love all things Italian, so it actually makes sense to use Campari in the drink.

The combination of aquavit and Campari makes the Scandinavian Suntan undeniably pink, and the fresh grapefruit juice enhances the color and flavor. Don't let the color fool you.  The Scandinavian Suntan is a pretty strong drink, but the super simple syrup keeps it from knocking you into the Baltic Sea (metaphorically speaking, I swear).

So who's up for some liquid fun from the Scandinavian sun?


Bloody Refreshing -- The Sanguinella

Sanguinella Sanguine is an odd word in the English language.  Even though it derives from the Latin word for "blood," it means positive or confident.  The Sanguinella is the brainchild of the Villa Massa distillery.  The Sanguinella is not far removed from the Italian Sunrise, one of my first original creations, and I slightly adapted the original recipe.

1 ounce Lupo limoncello
1 ounce Campari
.5 ounces super simple syrup
Juice from 1/8 lemon
Juice from 1/4 orange

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with confidence, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon or orange garnish optional.

The original Sanguinella calls for much more citrus juice. However, I didn't want the acidity of the lemon and orange juices to dominate the drink.  The Lupo limoncello and Campari already bring those flavors to this refreshing liquid party, so I cut back on the juices.  Speaking of parties, I suspect the Sanguinella would be a very good drink to serve at them, especially in warm weather.

Have a Sanguinella, and have a bloody good time.


A Sesame Street Cocktail -- The Negroni

The Negroni is a quintessential classic cocktail. What does it have to do with Sesame Street, the popular long running American educational television show for kids? As a proud Sesame Street "graduate," I can tell you the Count was one of my favorite characters on the show. The Negroni's history also involves a Count. In 1919 Count Camillo Negroni, an Italian nobleman (unlike the Count, he was not modeled off of Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Count Dracula in the movies) asked Franco Scarselli, his bartender, to strengthen his favorite cocktail.  The result became famous around the world.

Negroni1 ounce gin (I used the Botanist)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (ciao Carpano Antica)

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with Italian flair and grace (or the Count's deliberate cadence), and strain into a chilled glass or a glass with ice. Orange peel garnish optional.

The Negroni is a great gateway cocktail for people who haven't experienced gin or an amaro (bitter liqueur).  Campari, an indispensable ingredient, is a widely available amaro with a vague orange taste. One of the great features of the traditional Negroni is how easy it is to make.  Three ingredients, equal proportions. If you like one ingredient more than the others, you always can adjust the ratio. Although in modern times one typically serves the Negroni in a rocks glass, at the time of its creation it's more likely one would serve it in a smaller, more delicate glass. Unfortunately for Scarselli, Negroni got the credit.

The Negroni lends itself to all sorts of variations.  Substitute bourbon for the gin?  Now you have a Boulevardier.  Reduce and switch the Campari for Fernet Branca?  Now you have a Hanky Panky.  The cocktail can be like what I imagine the Count (the one from Florence, not Sesame Street) was like in real life -- sophisticated, elegant, and powerful.

So how many Negronis will you have? Start counting like the Count from Sesame Street ... one ... two ... ha ha ha ha.