Story & Cocktail Recipes by Jessica Arnott, Foxtrot Unicorn, Perth
Cocktail Photography by Christopher Pearce
If you’d asked me a few years ago, I probably would have said that much like those mean girls and “fetch”, bartenders should stop trying to make amaro happen. These herbaceous, bittered liquids have long bubbled away in the background of western drinking culture, widely misunderstood outside of Europe. Ever since I began working in decent cocktail bars many moons ago, bartenders have been trying to push the dark, bitter and overtly aromatic onto unsuspecting customers, who for the most part, were just looking for a glass of boozy juice and a good time.
Usually found being force-fed after suburban Italian meals, or playing uncredited supporting roles in a fancy cocktail, there has been the odd anomaly that crosses into popular culture – Australia’s persisting obsession with the ‘Lemon Lime & Bitters’. That whole depth-charge-into-an-energy-drink dumpster fire. And, of course, the slow and steady ascent of the Negroni, from esoteric cult classic to arguably the current King of Cocktails.
But the times they are a changin’. I feel finally we are on the verge of convincing the masses of what we’ve known all along… the stuff is bloody delicious. Credit where credit is due, the ultimate gateway drug into the changing perceptions of the category has been the Aperol Spritz. A cocktail that has become so wildly popular the last few years, that it can take its rightful place in the ‘Woo Girl’ hall of fame, along side the Cosmo, Caipiroska and Espresso Martini.
It seems the perfect storm for amaro and bitters to finally break into the mainstream has arrived. Vodka is losing the popularity race to gin, meaning people’s palates are more in tune to bold, botanical flavours. Low ABV cocktails look to be a trend that’s sticking around, meaning amaros can be more frequently cast as the centrepiece of our creations.
If bartenders can just keep the drinks fun and accessible, then amaro and bitters might just make it to the big time.
Fancy Hanky Panky Given that my right thigh is covered in a tattoo dedicated to this cocktail, I couldn’t possibly write an article about bitters without including a riff on this classic. A banger of a digestif, where coffee plays missing link between the intense bitterness of Fernet Branca and brings forward cocoa notes in an otherwise jammy vermouth. 30ml gin 30ml Carpano Antica Formula 1 barspoon Fernet Branca 10 fresh coffee beans Glass: Nick & Nora Garnish: orange zest Method: Add ingredients to a mixing glass, fill with ice and stir until properly diluted. Strain into a chilled coup. Spritz orange zest from a distance and balance garnish on the side, so as not to increase the bitterness of the drink. Midnight Cobbler One of the biggest problems you’ll encounter mixing with the darker amaros, is colour. Washy poo brown doesn’t neccessarily pop from across the bar. But churned with crushed ice in a metal tin until super frosty, with berries on top? Problem solved! 30ml Averna 30ml Lustau Amontillado Sherry 30ml blackberry verjuice shrub* 3 dashes wattleseed & vanilla bitters** Glass: tin julep cup Garnish: fresh blackberries, small rosemary sprig Method: Add ingredients to a julep tin. Fill with crushed ice and churn well with until the tin is icy. Cap with fresh crushed ice, garnish and serve. *To make the verjuice, mix 250g of blackberries with 250g of white caster sugar to steep overnight. Add 250ml of verjuice then press gently through a sieve to collect the liquid. **To make the bitters, add 1 tsp of ground, toasted wattleseed and half a scraped vanilla pod (ones left over from cooking are great) and one bottle of Scrappy’s chocolate bitters to a vac seal bag. Sous vide at 60°C for 20 minutes. Desert Bird Much like the boom in local gin production, there are some absolute cracker amaros being produced locally now. The native botanicals bring a wonderful savoury edge to this rendition of a much loved tiki classic. Hot tip: unless your pineapples are super sweet in peak season, I actually recommend using generic bottled juice. The sugar content adds much needed body to balance the bitterness of the Okar, which is significantly less sweet than the traditional ingredient. 45ml spiced rum 15ml Applewood Okar Amaro 45ml pineapple juice 15ml lime juice 10ml orgeat Glass: tiki mug Garnish: pineapple fronds Method: Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, filled with ice. Shake hard in order to create a little foam. Strain into a tiki mug, fill with cubed ice and garnish. Bananavardier This twist brings some fun to a serious drink in a serious category. It’s a collaboration from the team at Foxtrot Unicorn and is crazy popular for what, on paper, is kind of a weird drink. Yes, using two different brands of banana liqueur is both ridiculous and necessary. Sure, you could go rescuing and fermenting heirloom banana skins, but the magic really is in the nostalgia you get from this recipe. 20ml Jim Beam Black 20ml Campari 20ml sweet vermouth 10ml Tempus Fugit Crème de Banane 10ml Giffard Banane du Bresil Glass: rocks Garnish: dried banana chip Method: Add ingredients to a mixing glass, then fill with ice. Stir until properly chilled and diluted. Strain into a glass over a large clear ice.