Amaro/Amari Feed

Celebratory and Solemn -- The Ray's 619

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 (some Americans would write the date as 6/19). On that day enslaved people became legally free in Texas, so slavery became outlawed throughout the United States (permanently banning slavery, the 13th Amendment was ratified later). My close friend Doug asked me to create a Juneteenth cocktail in memory of his late colleague Ray, whom I did not know.

Ray's 6191.5 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Aperol
.75 ounces glorious grenadine
Juice from 1/4 lemon (.5 ounces)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the excitement you would feel as if you learned you were finally free, and strain into a chilled glass. Strawberry or other red fruit garnish optional.

Think of the Ray's 619 as an enhanced Whiskey Sour. Bourbon is the base because it is legally an American spirit. I used Aperol, which pairs nicely with bourbon in cocktails such as the Paper Plane, for two reasons. First, it is red. So what? Like many Americans, I largely was ignorant about Juneteenth until relatively recently. Among other things, I learned red is a big color for Juneteenth related food and drinks. It symbolizes the blood spilled during slavery, as well as African crops such as hibiscus. Second, Aperol's bittersweet taste fits right in with what the day is all about. Grenadine, which is dark red, brings some sweetness to the Ray's 619, and the lemon juice adds some tartness.

Raise a Ray's 619, and honor what (and who, if you knew the man) it represents.


Lively And Boozy -- The Pura Vida

"Pura vida" is a Spanish phrase that literally means "pure life." While Costa Rica uses the phrase as a national slogan to describe its culture, the Pura Vida cocktail comes from London. Riccardo Aletta at Holy Birds bar created it in 2016.

Pura Vida2 ounces mezcal
.75 ounces Averna
.5 ounces coffee liqueur (I used Mr. Black)
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with lively style, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel or amarena cherry garnish optional.

If smokiness can shine, mezcal does it here. It gives the Pura Vida a boozy base and a wonderful fragrance. As it does in drinks such as the Naked And Famous and the Good Cork, mezcal plays well with the other spirits. Averna, a Sicilian amaro used in the Peligroso, gives the Pura Vida some depth. So does the coffee liqueur. You don't have to use Mr. Black (its coffee amaro is a key part of the Blackjack), but the coffee liqueur you use will have an effect on the Pura Vida.

Pura vida -- it's not just a state of mind. It's also a fine cocktail.


CCRockin' Cocktail -- The Fogerty

Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) was a rock band with a unique sound that still resonates. John Fogerty was the lead singer of CCR during its brief history and prolific output (try to find a movie or TV show set during the Vietnam war era where "Fortunate Son" isn't played).  In 2010, 40 years after CCR's heyday, Ryan Fitzgerald in San Francisco created the Fogerty, and I discovered this adapted recipe in Difford's Guide.

Fogerty2 ounces rye
.5 ounces Campari
.25 ounces crème de cassis
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with forceful rhythm, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange twist garnish optional.

The Fogerty is a remarkably well balanced drink despite its unusual combination of ingredients. There's no doubt rye, a part of other American themed drinks such as the Roosevelt, and Campari, a part of drinks such as my Scandinavian Suntan,  are strong tasting spirits with a lasting impact (much like CCR's music), and they temper the rich and sweet crème de cassis, which you use in the classic Kir or my original Bourbon Renaissance. Fitzgerald's original used crème de cacao instead of crème de cassis. If you or your guest prefers a slightly sweeter Fogerty, use bourbon as the base instead of rye.

It doesn't matter if you're down on the corner waiting for Susie Q, or if you're looking at a green river with a bad moon rising, the Fogerty is a cocktail that will resonate.


A High Flying Drink -- The Paper Plane

You may have made and thrown one as a kid. As an adult, you can drink one. The Paper Plane flew onto the scene in 2008 when Sam Ross, the New York City bartender who created the Penicillin, created it for the opening of The Violet Hour bar in Chicago. Named for the M.I.A. song Paper Planes, it took off in Chicago and New York and made its way onto cocktail menus around the world.

Paper Plane.75 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Amaro Nonino
.75 ounces Aperol
Juice from 1/2 lemon (.75 ounces)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake to the theme from Rocky (the tune's title is "Gonna Fly Now"), and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a coupe. Lemon peel garnish optional.

Following the equal proportions of four ingredients format of the Last Word, the Paper Plane is easy to make (the same goes for the Naked and Famous). Bourbon and Aperol, used in cocktails such as the Venetian Kiss, are easy to acquire. Amaro Nonino, a bittersweet grappa based amaro from northern Italy, can be tougher to find, but thankfully we have the Internet. Originally the Paper Plane used Campari, but within days of unveiling it Ross changed his mind and used Aperol instead. The result is a really well balanced cocktail. In terms of balance and format, the Paper Plane more resembles the thematically similar Burnt Fuselage than the Aviation.

Looking to rack up some cocktail frequent flier miles? Then it's time to board the Paper Plane.


A Winning Cocktail -- The Blackjack

Celebrating my 21st wedding anniversary with Ms. Cocktail Den is a great reason to look for a themed drink. I discovered the Blackjack, which naturally made me think of the card game, in which 21 is a winning hand. This version of the Blackjack comes from Steve the Bartender in Australia.

Blackjack1.5 ounces brandy or cognac
.5 ounces Cherry Heering
.5 ounces Mr. Black Coffee Amaro
1 ounce cold brew coffee

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the confidence that comes when you see you have a jack and the ace of spades, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel and/or amarena cherry garnish optional.

The Blackjack is dark and delicious. Brandy, your first cocktail "card," brings a solid foundation. Even though it's all torched Dutch grapes, all cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac (a key part of my 24601). As in a Royal Blood, a hint of Cherry Heering goes a long way. Mr. Black is from Australia, and it's very good. We had to acquire it via the Internet. Kahlua could be a substitute, but it doesn't have the same depth, so the resulting Blackjack will be a little different. Do you want to stack the deck, libationally (I made up this word) speaking? Add some coffee or molé bitters, just as you would in a 43 Up or Left Hand.

A word of caution -- have too many Blackjacks, and you might end up with the Charlie Sheen version of "winning!" (Google it). So do you have a winning cocktail hand?


Not Sober As A Judge -- The Scales Of Justice

Due to a recent job change, a few people asked if I would create a cocktail with a judicial theme. Ms. Cocktail Den cleverly suggested I create a 50-50 cocktail -- two spirits in equal proportions (and sometimes bitters). Just as a judge has to balance the competing interests of parties in court, a 50-50 cocktail has to balance the competing flavors, strengths, and sweetness of its spirits. After deliberating over a lot of different combinations, I ruled in favor of the Scales of Justice.

Scales of Justice1.5 ounces light rum
1.5 ounces Averna
2 dashes orange bitters (optional)

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with authoritative and knowledgeable precision, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel or amarena cherry garnish optional.

Rum gives the Scales of Justice some strength and a hint of sweetness. Averna, an amaro used in other drinks such as the A Thief In The Night and the Sicilian Manhattan, adds complex and rich flavors. If the combination of rum and Averna intrigues you, try a Drop Seed. So why add bitters? When a judge rules, usually someone is bitter about the result. In the Scales of Justice orange bitters nicely complement the Averna, and as we see in drinks such as the When Ernest Met Mary, citrus and rum go well together.

Have a Scales of Justice, and answer this question -- what's your verdict?


Dangerously Drinkable -- The Peligroso

Peligroso is the Spanish word for dangerous. The Peligroso comes from the excellent La Factoría bar in San Juan. Ms. Cocktail Den and I visited La Factoria many times when we went to Puerto Rico for part one and part two of Tales of La Isla del Encanto. Like the original Peligroso, the danger in my minor adaptation only lies in its smoothness.

Peligroso1.5 ounces light rum (I like Don Q)
.5 ounces Campari
.5 ounces Averna
.25 ounces allspice dram
Juice from 1/2 lime
.5 ounces super simple syrup 
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you're a dangerously good bartender, and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a coupe. Lime peel garnish optional.

The Peligroso is creative and complex. Combining rum with amari (bittersweet liqueurs) might seem odd, but it's not. After all, the classic Jungle Bird has rum and Campari, a part of drinks such as the Bitter Rasputin. Incorporating Averna, used in drinks such as the Midnight Train, and allspice dram give the Peligroso a hint of richness. La Factoría's Peligroso uses spiced syrup with allspice berries and sugar. My easy workaround includes allspice dram, part of my Les Bon Temps Roulé, and super simple syrup.

Do you want to bring some good danger into your life? Have a Peligroso.


A Sharp Olympic Drink -- The Lucien Gaudin

Hailing from France, Lucien Gaudin was an Olympic champion fencer in the 1920s.  Fencing as in trying to stab someone with one of three blade types.  Unlike the clear record of Gaudin's victories in three different Olympics (I'm a huge fan of the movie Chariots of Fire, part of which takes place at the 1924 Olympics in Paris), the origin of the Lucien Gaudin cocktail is hazy.

Lucien Gaudin1 ounce gin (bonjour Botanist)
.5 ounces Cointreau (c'est français comme Monsieur Gaudin)
.5 ounces Campari (mon ami italien)
.5 ounces dry vermouth (je t'aime Noilly Prat)

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the strategic precision of a fencer, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

Some people describe the Lucien Gaudin as a variation on the classic Negroni. To me it's more Negroni adjacent. A true variation would have equal proportions of three spirits and some crossover. The Bijou and the Luck of the Irish are good examples. I know this is a fine point (pun intended). Cocktail technicalities aside, the Lucien Gaudin is lighter than a Negroni and is very pink. Do you like French themed cocktails? Try a Champs Elysees or a Burnt Fuselage.  Want something more on point (sorry, I can't help myself)?  Try an Ides of March or a Stiletto.

Have a Lucien Gaudin, cue the Chariots of Fire theme, and be victorious!


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.

One Night Stand2 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!


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.