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Why Bitter Drinks Are Your Best Friends During the Chillier Months

Image: Tim Nusog

Summer might be spritz season, but fall just may be the best time of the year to put a full repertoire of amari and bitter liqueurs to use. The deep and complex flavors of amari work wonders as the temperature starts dropping and also happen to pair perfectly with many traditional fall flavors and ingredients.

“I find the flavors associated with amari to belong more in the colder seasons here in New York City, when you’re looking for warmer flavors,” says Sofia Present, the head bartender at Brooklyn’s August Laura.

Sofia Present and her Brooklyn bar, August Laura.

Present developed a lineup of fall cocktails highlighting that concept, working amari and bitter liqueurs into fall themed libations. “What I’ve tried to do here is to take the classic flavors that we’re used to and let them introduce to you a flavor you might not be equally familiar with,” says Present.

For instance, her Carciofi Shandy incorporates Cynar with apple cider, cinnamon syrup and ginger beer, transforming a summertime special into something more appropriately autumnal. “Just like with any spirit, I’d like to highlight or compliment what’s already there,” says Present. “To keep it simple is what I’m striving for. Very often, less is more, especially with an amaro where so much is going on already.”

Carciofi Shandy. Tim Nusog

Her Italian Bird is built around the comfortable confines of aged rum and Campari but then is taken into a new direction and layered with fino sherry, honey water and salt.

Elsewhere, her Fall Into Italy brings Averna amaro to life with cognac, Appleton Estate rum, lemon juice, simply syrup and chocolate bitters. “With amari, you have these amazing flavor combinations of so many herbs, roots, fruits and spices that you’d never be able to incorporate them all from scratch in a cocktail yourself,” says Present.

Italian Bird. Tim Nusog

In that way, using a single amaro offers a depth of flavor that many other ingredients don’t match, making life easier for any home bartender. On the other hand, you have to be judicious and balance out those bold flavors.

“When you finally nail it and you’ve created something that works well, it’s always going to be more interesting than what you could’ve made on your own,” says Present. “That’s always the case with a good amaro or a beautiful spirit.”

Fall Into Italy. Tim Nusog

Francesco Amodeo, the founder of Washington, D.C.’s Don Ciccio & Figli, an artisanal amaro and liqueur producer, has just unveiled a series of bottled cocktails he’s selling in the D.C. market that showcases a full range of his amari.

“We took five cocktails that we thought would be nice for this weather,” he says of the initial Bar Sirenis Cocktail Lab collection. And while he thinks several of the cocktails would work all year long, the idea was to begin transitioning into those heartier fall flavors drinkers expect.

Francesco Amodeo. Jake Emen

“My favorite is definitely the Vecchia Passione,” says Amodeo. “We took the inspiration from Amor y Amargo in New York, when they make their 8 Amaro Sazerac.” The Vecchia Passione is an eight-ingredient, highly amplified riff on an Old Fashioned, incorporating five bottles from the Don Ciccio & Figli lineup and several additional ingredients. “It’s so good, because you can taste all the ingredients, but together they work very well,” says Amodeo.

Vecchia Passione. Tim Nusog

Another of the new bottled cocktails from Don Ciccio is the Rye Bandit, in the vein of a Boulevardier, with bourbon, and Don Ciccio & Figli’s Luna Amara bitter and Amaro Delle Sirene. “It just screams fall,” says Amodeo. “We call it the Rye Bandit because the bandit stole the rye kind-of-thing, so it’s Boulevardier-ish, and instead of vermouth and Campari, we use the Luna and Sirene.”

That proves to be a favorite starting point for Amodeo when he’s working with amari and bitter liqueurs, whether or not they’re his own. “If you take just a classic cocktail and change an ingredient ... we’re not really doing much with creativity, we’re not making life difficult,” he says. “We’re just using classic, delicious cocktails made with different ingredients. That’s our concept; we don’t like it too complicated.”

Rye Bandit. Tim Nusog

He wants people to try them in their pre-batched form but then to be able to easily recreate them from the home bar or mess around to make their own variations. “Drinking is not supposed to be difficult,” says Amodeo. “It’s something you should enjoy. Don’t stress too much about it.”

That’s worth a salute—with a bitter fall cocktail in hand, of course.