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June 4th, 2012
For Everything Sweet In Life There Must Be A Balance
In Italy, bitter flavors seek to do more than give astringency to a before dinner quaff, they serve as a metaphor for life itself.
Hence the popularity of bitter liquors and digestives made from ingredients that alone are nearly unpalatable. But combined with citrus and sweeteners, the bitter herbs and spices are inarguably part of the thread of being Italian. Sure bitter liqueurs are made in places other than Italy, but the social significance of bitter to sweet goes further than just something to drink to quench the thirst. They are meaningful in the discovery of the self.
Aperol, Cynar, Campari, Averna, Fernet Branca are all brands that grace nearly every bar in America. Did you know that bitter herbs are powerful elixirs towards digestion and digestion, leading to the greater appreciation of food? Certainly this is so, but on a broader level, bitter liqueurs give a certain balance to life. How often have you yearned for a glass of sweet vermouth prior to a meal?
A short glass of Carpano Antica, made in the same style that history dictates does more than taste good, it stimulates the digestive system! A glass of Campari swirled with a bit of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a couple cubes of ice become a bitter/sweet reminder that eating (and drinking) is part of the social thread. It goes to show that the flavor driven Cynar- derived from artichokes actually helps digest a heavy meal.
And who could forget the seemingly magical properties of Fernet Branca when you’ve had a bit too much to drink (and eat) the night prior. Fernet Branca is powerful medicine. No, Fernet is not prescribed by your doctor, but you might find that this effective concentrate has the stuff for what ails you in a very concentrated format, served one small shot at a time. For anyone who has imbibed a bit too much, Fernet is very pleasurable.
Aperol is especially beguiling before a meal. It has about ½ the alcohol of Campari this is important if you are going to be drinking wine with your food because it doesn’t dull your sense of taste. Aperol, one of my favorite liquors has about 11% alcohol by volume, whereas the Campari is about 22% by volume making Aperol the perfect way to start your meal. Campari is perfectly lovely outside on a hot day in the summer (since it’s winter we can dream, right?) woven with Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral water (I prefer the Pink Grapefruit version) and a hunk of orange. This is Italy-in the summer, in your glass.
Averna, also from Italy has herbs, roots and citrus rinds that combine to make a sweet/sour/bitter flavored aperitif. I am rather fond of Averna because of the way it smoothes the way to the enjoyment of a meal. It’s easy to take a portion of Averna. Just add 2 oz. to a glass, top with seltzer water and squeeze a bit of lemon over the top. It’s Italy in every sip.
Cynar is a unique product in the litany of aperitif liquors from Italy. Derived from the artichoke, Cynar is built on a combination of thirteen bitter herbs, roots and spices. It stimulates the digestive glands in your body and somehow seems to make food taste better. I like Cynar with bitter lemon soda (always CANE sugar) and a squeeze of grilled blood orange. However you desire your Cynar, you can be sure that it will start a conversation between you and your friends. It’s very sophisticated stuff!
Whichever aperitif you choose from Italy, know in your heart (and stomach) that there is a rich history of healing digestives and aperitifs from this country where bitter and sweet are much more than just a drink. Each sip of these liqueurs are a visit to the very soul of Italy in your glass.
Experiment and let me know what you think!
Here is a simple way to mix any of the above mentioned liquors.
- 3 oz. Aperitif
- 6 oz. Seltzer Water
- Hand cut ice
- Pour the Aperitif into a Collins glass with one large cube of hand cut ice
- Top with the Perrier Sparkling Water of your choice
- Sip slowly and thoughtfully to the halcyon days by Lake Cuomo in Italy
Warren Bobrow Mixologist
Warren Bobrow is the cocktail writer for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista, Voda Magazine and the 501c3 not for profit Wild River Review/Wild Table, where he also serves as an editor. www.cocktailwhisperer.com
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