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.