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Confessing that I’ve been obsessing… over DRAM Apothecary bitters

Confessing that I’ve been obsessing… over DRAM Apothecary bitters

If you follow me regularly you may have noticed that I’ve developed a slight obsession with DRAM Apothecary bitters. Why do I love them so? Let’s begin with the fact that they are made in Colorado from wild and organic herbs that are foraged locally. They contain no synthetic dyes, flavorings, preservatives, or flavor oil, and they are alcohol and gluten free as well. I wish every product I buy could make these claims! The fact that they are free of anything undesirable makes these bitters equally at home in a cocktail, a cup of tea, a smoothie, or even in baked goods. I’ve used their Citrus Medica flavor in a pound cake and it was amazing. As if all this wonderfulness wasn’t enough, DRAM bitters are also available in the most fun and fabulous flavors. My favorite are the Black bitters, which are deep and dark, but with a happy pop of cardamom. I’ve used them in The Blackout, You Want It Darker, A Tale of Two Whiskies, and Moonshine and Apples. Second runner-up goes to Wild Mountain Sage whose taste literally makes me feel like I am wandering around on a mountain somewhere, under a gorgeous blue sky, with just a slight chill in the air, and a nice dog by my side… Sorry I’m getting carried away. I’ve used these bitters in 3 of my cocktails so far: December New Moon, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and Early Autumn. Next we have the Citrus Medica flavor which is citrusy and floral at the same time; it was an important component in The Ghost of Christmas Past, as well as in that pound cake! The Palo Santo bitters were the perfect fit in The Winter Solstice, both because of their vanilla smokiness, and because they are supposed to have magical powers, much like the solstice itself. Hair of the Dog bitters made an appearance in Falling in Love Slowly, one of my favorite cocktails that I’ve come up with, and I’m using them in today’s drink called Ginger or MaryAnn? The only flavor I have not tried yet is the Lavender Lemon Balm, but don’t despair! They’ll be front and center in tomorrow’s Friday Musings post that features a drink called All My Good Intentions. 

As for today’s cocktail, who remembers the TV show Gilligan’s Island?? Ginger was the redheaded movie star and MaryAnn was the brunette farm girl, both beautiful, but in completely different ways. So it became a question mostly asked of men (because who would have thought to ask a woman back then) as to who they’d prefer: Ginger or MaryAnn? In a broader sense the question was really asking “do you want to chase the spectacular, but most likely unattainable girl that might break your heart, or can you be satisfied with the down-to-earth, more realistic one that might actually marry you?” Apparently the answer was thought to be able to give men insight into their personalities, which I find to be more than a little bit funny. In terms of the drink, MaryAnn is represented by the Goslings Rum and the chamomile fennel simple syrup, and Ginger by the ginger shrub and the Velvet Falernum. DRAM’s Hair of the Dog bitters, with their fennel and ginger flavor profile, work to bring all the ingredients together. This cocktail also has a bit of an island feel to it, which makes me think that Gilligan and the Skipper could have easily spent a lazy afternoon drinking these, hoping to gain insight into their male personalities.

Ginger or MaryAnn?

2 oz Goslings Black Seal dark rum
2 oz Tait Farms ginger shrub (or your favorite brand or homemade)
1/2 oz Velvet Falernum (Canal’s Pennnsauken)
1/4 oz chamomile fennel simple syrup*
2 dashes DRAM Apothecary Hair of the Dog bitters
2 oz of a good club soda
1 candied ginger cube and 1 fennel frond for garnishing

Combine all the ingredients except for the club soda in the bottom of a shaker tin and add ice. Shake for 30 seconds or until very cold. Strain and pour over ice into a Collins glass. Top with the club soda. Garnish with the ginger cube on a skewer and the fennel frond. Enjoy!

*To make the syrup, steep 1 fennel and 2 chamomile teabags in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Add an equal amount of sugar and heat gently until clear. Store in the fridge in a Mason jar for 2-3 weeks.

DRAM products are available on their website, locally here on N. 3rd St. in Philadelphia at the Art in the Age store, and at Dean & DeLuca stores. The cocktail bitters sampler pack is around $30.

Amaro Montenegro: Please tell me you taste violets…

Amaro Montenegro: Please tell me you taste violets…


We all know that feeling when we’ve eaten way too much; it’s the worst thing in the world. We sit there, stuffed and uncomfortable, slipping into a food coma, vowing that we’ll never do it again… but inevitably it happens. No need to despair. This is when we find relief in the wonderful world of the digestivo amari. The idea of after dinner digestive aids has its earliest roots in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, when they would steep stomach settling herbs and seeds in a liquid base. In Italy these evolved into the amari, initially crafted by monks centuries ago. There are actually over 300 to choose from and although the recipes vary and the ingredients are kept a secret, they all basically contain the same types of things: herbs, spices, and vegetables infused into alcohol. Some are very sweet, and some extremely bitter, and there are more than a few that hit you right in the throat and the chest like Vicks Vapor Rub. They generally contain a bit more alcohol that their apertivo counterparts, and they are often served neat or with just a bit of ice. Since the cocktail revolution hit the U.S, in the 90’s, both home and professional bartenders have been coming up with innovative ways to feature the amari in drink recipes.

Of the Amari that I’ve tried, the Montenegro that I’m sharing with you today is the one that I like the best. At least that’s true so far. 300 is a very big number! I’m not the only one who likes it; it’s Italy’s #1 best seller. The story here goes back over 130 years when a man named Stanislao Cobianchi from Bologna first developed the recipe, and named his Amaro after Princess Elena of Montenegro. Cobianchi’s original recipe contained 40 herbs and spices, as well as one secret ingredient that was not to be revealed. This is still true today. The result is a very versatile liqueur that works extremely with other spirits. Many of the amari are more commonly combined with Bourbon and Rye; this is not the case with the Montenegro. When you sip it, there’s a sweetness that you taste first that gives way to smoothness in the middle, until it finally ends on a bitter note. Its flavor profile is described on the website as having “a wide range of bittersweet flavors including orange peel, coriander and tea.” I suppose I can find those things if I look for them, but the thing that I taste the most, especially on the finish, is violets. I have to tell you that no other tasting notes that I’ve read list violets anywhere, but I still taste them! I’m thinking they are the secret ingredient that Cobianchi didn’t want us to know about. I’m on to him.

The recipe that I’ve chosen for today is something I’d seen a while back on Instagram. It interested me because of the tequila/lime/strawberry combo which made me think of a margarita, yet here it was with an Italian amari in it. The strawberry and lime blend very nicely with the flavors in the Montenegro (must be those violets), and the bittersweet edge of the Amari really helps to tone down that funky taste that tequila can have that many people don’t like. That makes this a nice cocktail for the non-tequila drinker. Think of it as an Italian Margarita. This recipe was adapted by @homebartendr after having this drink at Husk Restaurant in Charleston, SC.


Witchy Woman (from @homebartendr and Husk Restaurant, Charleston, SC)

1½ oz Espolon Blanco Tequila
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
Juice of ½ lime
1 strawberry
Pinch of salt
Lime strip for garnishing

Muddle the strawberry and the lime juice in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the tequila, the Amaro Montenegro,and the pinch of salt. Add your ice (1 large cube, 2 small) and shake for 20 seconds until very cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime strip. Enjoy!


Cynar: Mispronounced and misunderstood.

Cynar: Mispronounced and misunderstood.


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.


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.