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Cynar: Mispronounced and misunderstood.

Cynar: Mispronounced and misunderstood.

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Ok so let’s say you’re sitting at a bar one Saturday night and you’re looking for something new to try. The bartender asks if you like bitter spirits like Campari and you nod yes enthusiastically. Thirsty Camel would be so proud! He reaches behind the bar and pulls out a bottle of Cynar and gets ready to pour… Whoa, wait a minute!! First of all, who wants to drink something that sounds like it’s connected in some way to cyanide, and, secondly, is that an artichoke on that bottle?? Or if you’re young enough to have played the video game Zelda you may mistake it for a large green rupee, which was worth 100 points. Either way, it’s definitely not something you find appealing at the moment. The truth is that Cynar is not related to Cyanide in any way, despite the fact that it appears that way in print. It’s actually pronounced “CHEE-NAHR” and it always makes the Spirits Most Likely to be Mispronounced List. Yes, there really is one. As far as the artichoke goes, it’s only one of more than a dozen botanical ingredients that go into making Cynar.

Unlike its counterparts Aperol and Campari, Cynar hasn’t been around for all that long. In 1949, an Italian named Angelo Dalle Molle, created the spirit and advertised it as, “Cynar, against the stress of modern life.” Dalle Molle is rumored to have been an Italian playboy and it is said that he chose the the artichoke because of it’s digestive properties, and because it was also an aphrodisiac. The first sip of Cynar is sweet with flowers, oranges, and spice, but there’s also a note of something medicinal and vegetal. Maybe that’s where the artichoke comes in! After those first impressions you begin to taste the bitterness and that continues right through to the finish. Cynar can be enjoyed on its own, either neat or on the rocks, or paired up with soda, orange juice, or tonic. Technically it’s an apertivo, but it has enough deep bitter flavor that it works as an after dinner drink as well. It has also become an intriguing ingredient in cocktails, finding its way into the Cynar Cup, a fun variation of a Pimm’s Cup from dell’anima in NYC, and a Cynar Manhatten from Sbraga right here in Philadelphia. It adds a bitter complexity to lighter spirits, but it’s equally at home with things like Bourbon and Rye too.

The cocktail that I chose for today is Mortal Sunset, created by Chantal Tseng, who is currently at Petworth Citizen in DC where she has helped to create The Reading Room, a weekly program that marries books and cocktails. That has Thirsty Camel road trip written all over it! The Mortal Sunset starts off with Rye as its base spirit, and then goes on to include Cynar, black tea maple syrup, and orange juice, with a Cherry Heering drizzle on top. There’s so much complexity in this cocktail that comes from the Rye and Cynar in combination with the black tea syrup. The orange juice adds a nice acidity that lifts the drinks up, and the Cherry Heering adds just a tiny bit of sweetness.

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Mortal Sunset (Chantal Tseng)

1 ½ oz Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey
½ oz Black Tea Maple Syrup*
½ oz Cynar
½ oz Orange Juice

Add all the ingredients (except for the orange wheel) to the bottom half of a shaker tin. Add your ice (1 large cube and 2 small if you have them on hand). Shake for 15-20 seconds until cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer and then pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a floated orange wheel and drizzle a dash of Cherry Heering on top of it. Enjoy!

*Make the syrup by combining equal parts of Oolong Black tea with Maple syrup.

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Campari: It can be a love/hate kind of thing!

Campari: It can be a love/hate kind of thing!

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No one will ever be able to accuse Campari of being shy. From its spectacular red color and gorgeous texture, to its orange rind aroma and bittersweet orange, almost grapefruit, taste, it is definitely a spirit that loves to steal the show. Although its assertiveness is the very thing that makes it so spectacular, it can be a real challenge for many people’s palates. It is an apertivo, just like Aperol, so consuming it before food will help prepare the body for digestion and make the process easier. Campari can be enjoyed either straight up or on the rocks, but it’s also front and center in a good number of cocktails, of which the Negroni is probably the most well known. Mixed with equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, this classically elegant cocktail is arguably one of the best before dinner drinks you can order. All in the interest of good digestion, of course!

The history of Campari goes back to the early 1860s in Milan, Italy where a former bartender named Gaspare Campari was experimenting with spirits in the basement of his new cafe. He came up with a recipe that combined oranges, rhubarb, and a top secret mixture of herbs that has not changed over the years, nor has the secrecy surrounding it. Although Campari may remain unapproachable for some people, it can become an acquired taste for others. One of the best places to get started is with the Americano, a cocktail composed of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda. The sweet vermouth balances out the bitterness of the Campari and the club soda keeps things on the lighter side. Much like Aperol, Campari has a natural affinity towards gin, but it can also be used in cocktails made with darker spirits too. One of the best known examples of such a drink is the Boulevardier, which keeps the equal proportions of a Negroni, but replaces the gin with bourbon. I know, I know. I can hear the anti-dark-spirits, anti-bitter crowd absolutely cringing  out there!

The particular drink I chose for today is called the Lucien Gaudin, a fairly obscure 1928 cocktail named for a famous Olympian fencer. It intrigued me because it’s like a Negroni, but it calls for dry vermouth instead of sweet, and it adds in Cointreau, a delicately sweet orange liqueur. The gin provides a good, strong backbone, and the Campari brings its signature bitterness, but the dry vermouth and Cointreau really elevate this drink a notch above just another Negroni wannabe. The Cointreau contributes a brighter orange flavor, its sweetness contrasting perfectly with the Campari (and toning it down some), and the vermouth brings the same kind of richness that you find in a martini.

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Lucien Gaudin (from Death & Co., NYC)

1½ oz Bluecoat Gin
½ oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
½ oz Campari
½ oz Cointreau
1 lemon twist for garnishing

Add all the ingredients (except the lemon twist) to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon 30-45 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a cocktail glass using a Julep strainer. Garnish with the lemon twist. Enjoy!

Stop back tomorrow and we’ll talk about Cynar, the third apertivo that always tops the list of most mispronounced spirits!

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