Creating cocktails with strong, complex flavors can be a bit of a balancing act. Much like food pairings with wine, you have to make sure that if you plan to use strong flavors, those flavors need to stand equally on their own but also should not overpower or (especially) not be overpowered by another ingredient in the cocktail.
If you have followed us for a while, you’ll know that we enjoy our rye whiskey because it has a strong and complex flavor, and if you plan to make a cocktail with rye whiskey, the other ingredients need to be able to carry the strong flavor of rye without getting lost. So, anything you choose should enhance the base spirit. There are a lot of ways to enhance a strong base spirit like using sweet flavors to balance the pepperiness of rye whiskey, but another complementary flavor is bitter. Bitter flavors have a way of bringing the subtler flavors out of the base spirit. We use sweet and bitter flavors regularly to bring out more flavors from whiskey and other strong base spirits (like our take on the Revolver, or one of the ultimate classics, the Old Fashioned).
Some of our favorite bitter spirits come from Italy, where they long ago mastered the art of bitter spirits, known as aperitifs (traditionally served before a meal) and digestifs (traditionally served after a meal). These Italian herbal and bitter-infused spirits are in a family known collectively as Amari (or “Amaro”, for the singular). These Amari encompass a wide variety of flavors from lightly bitter with citrus notes, like Aperol or its more potent big brother Campari, to the more herbal-forward Amari like Cynar and Fernet Branca.
The Italian word “amaro” literally translates to “bitter” in English. You’ll find that a good Amaro can have a low alcohol content like Aperol at 22 Proof (11% alcohol), or it can have a bit more bite like Fernet Branca at 78 proof (39% alcohol). There are over 50 varieties of Amari in Italy alone, but other countries have their own takes on herbal-bitter combinations - consider the well-known Jägermeister from Germany (yep, that one). Jägermeister is in the same style as Amari liqueurs.
Enough history, let’s get to the cocktail. Some will find a particular Amaro they like better than others, and while we don’t like to pick favorites (it would be like picking a favorite child …okay, it’s probably Fernet Branca, but don’t tell the other children…uh, Amari…). Like we mentioned earlier, whatever you use with rye whiskey needs to have a backbone of its own, so it is not overpowered by the whiskey. We chose Averna Amaro for this cocktail because, while still providing complex flavors, it has a slightly softer flavor compared to some other Amari that makes it a great complimentary flavor in cocktails. It also adds some sweetness to the cocktail which helps round out one of the oldest cocktail formulas from the time when your grandfather’s grandfather drank cocktails (hint: a strong booze, something sweet and something bitter).
2 oz premium-quality rye whiskey (we like Bulleit Rye for the outstanding flavor and value, but any premium rye will do)
1 oz Averna Amaro
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
An Ice Ball from The Whiskey Ice Co. Spherical Ice Ball Maker
Assembling the cocktail:
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir to twenty stirs to the right and twenty stirs to the left to thoroughly chill. Place your ice ball in the double old fashioned glass and strain cocktail into the glass, pouring over the ice ball.
Enjoy (responsibly, please). Cheers.