BITTERS ARE HERE TO STAY
At every turn a new reddish gold or burnt orange bottle presents us with another opportunity to stimulate the appetite, and I for one am here to live that spritz life. Campari and Aperol have paved the way for an entire class of spirits to thrive and inspire our cocktails. Let’s take a closer look at some of these exciting options.
Looking for a winning White Negroni variation? This is *the* bitter for you, my friend. It packs a surprising punch, sharing many of the same infusions of bitter herbs, aromatic plants and citrus fruits found in its sibling, the classic Ferrari red Luxardo Bitter. One of the key differences: before the blending takes place, these infusions are distilled, effectively removing the color that sets in during the infusions. Not only does it leave you with a transparent final product, but it also affects the overall flavor profile. The final touch is an infusion of wormwood added at the end to enhance the bitter taste, giving a light ivory color to the bitter. Luxardo Bianco $26. Shop online HERE
Sirene Canto Amaro
This liqueur was created by Elisa Carta, a trained sommelier and olive oil taster, who also happens to be a passionate herbalist. Her bittersweet aperitivo is made from 23 botanicals, many of them grown near Northern Italy’s Lake Garda and around the historic city of Verona. Botanicals include olive and lemon tree leaves, linden and acacia flowers, wild rose berries, sweet and bitter orange, absinthe, gentian and ginger. All infusions are done individually, blended according to Elisa’s recipe and then rested for a short time in small oak casks. No chemicals or artificial coloring are used! This is not as hard hitting as some of the other spirits on this list -- it’s nuanced and a bit floral with confident citrus notes. Sirene Canto Amaro $35. Shop online HERE
Granada-Vallet Pomegranate Bitter
My go-to for a powerhouse Campari substitute. This pleasantly herbaceous and unabashedly bitter liqueur made in Hidalgo, Mexico makes a killer mezcal Negroni. The original recipe was released at 40% ABV but after industry feedback they dialed it back to 32% to be more mixable. Despite this reduction, it still stands out by having one of the highest ABVs in the category. Fun fact: the color comes from Oaxacan cochineal -- a tiny cactus loving insect used to produce the natural dye carmine. The original Campari recipe used cochineal as well, until around 2005. Granada-Vallet is bursting cinnamon, pomegranate, gentian root, and citrus. Must have for the next level back bar. Granada-Vallet Pomegranate Bitter $30. Shop online HERE
Looking for a softer expression? This is from our favorite grappa producing family known for their ever popular Amaro Nonino. Low ABV and pleasantly bittersweet, this is a gentler introduction to category. No coloring is added, so you’ll notice a very subdued saffron hue. Gentian and rhubarb provide complexity and body, while Nonino’s Fragolino (meaning “little strawberry”) grape distillate provides the perfect backdrop. Fresh and botanically driven, sixth-generation distiller Francesca Nonino prefers her aperitivo with ice, a bit of tonic water, and a spritz of fresh lemon juice. Perfect for a sessionable highball. Nonino L'Aperitivo $40. Shop online HERE
A brand known for their well-loved sweet vermouth, Carpano Antica Formula, their recent addition to the family, a bitter has a strong gentian backbone, but ultimately falls on the floral and herbaceous side of the spectrum. This bitter wants to be the star of the show, so if making Negronis, be sure to use a sturdy gin that can stand up to its bold profile. While it might have Campari’s confidence, it does not have the same flavor profile. Their 10 botanicals include sandal, rhubarb root, wormwood, myrrh along with bitter orange peel and fresh green orange peel. Carpano Bitter $40. Shop online HERE
Written by Nat Harry
Nat Harry is the former spirit buyer and used to curate the spirits portfolio at Cask stores, including selecting many of the shop’s single barrels and agave club offerings. A career bartender, Nat fell in love with artisan spirits while running a farm to table bar program at Berkeley’s Revival Bar & Kitchen, and has received accolades including the East Bay Express award for Best Bartender in the East Bay.