While amari are frequently used as a cocktail ingredient, they’re often included as a way to bolster or highlight a base spirit, especially darker ones like whiskey or brandy. However, in the Thistle—a cold weather cocktail from Chicago bartender Paul McGee, co-owner of the Tiki bar Lost Lake—the amaro takes center stage, and is paired with rye whiskey and calvados, a French apple brandy.
The particular amaro McGee uses also gives the drink its name: Cadamaro is a wine-based Italian digestif flavored with blessed thistle and cardoon. While an amaro, it shares many similarities with vermouth, and has a less pronounced bitterness than many other amari. Its gentle botanical quality means it won’t ever overwhelm a drink, even when using 1 1/2 ounces of it.
Cardamaro’s spice and nuttiness are perfect complements to the fresh apple flavor of the calvados and warming spice of the rye whiskey. While won’t be an exact match for calvados, another apple brandy—such as Laird’s from New Jersey or Clear Creek from Oregon—could stand in, if that’s what you have on hand. For the rye, whichever brand you best prefer in your Manhattan or Boulevardier will very likely work well here, too.
Additionally, the drink gets a half ounce of pedro ximénez sherry; this fortified wine is richer and sweeter than many other styles of sherry, and is responsible for the majority of the drink’s sweetness. A few dashes of Angostura bitters ups the complexity and depth of the drink, as well as adds some additional botanicals, while a small splash of lemon juice lends it some brightness and acidity. While the general rule is to always shake a cocktail with citrus juice in it, the minor amount of lemon and the fact that everything else in the drink is a dark spirit means you should treat it like any other spirits-based drink and stir it.
- 1 1/2 ounces Cardamaro amaro
- 1/2 ounce calvados
- 1/2 ounce rye whiskey
- 1/2 ounce pedro ximénez sherry
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1/8 ounce Lemon juice
Add the Cardamaro, calvados, rye whiskey, sherry, Angostura bitters and lemon juice to a mixing glass with ice.
Stir until chilled then strain into a footed rocks glass.