I’ve been lucky in life, in that I’ve had a fairly large share of amari (the Italian digestif of herbally goodness everyone loves now), and been a fan for a while, and have brought a couple neat obscure ones back from Italy. I feel like I’m bragging – please don’t throw a tin can at me! Here’s one thing that will balance it out. I haven’t had a bottle of Amaro Lucano in the house before! Before now, that is (hah)! I’d tasted it before, and liked it, but until a bottle showed up, as they sometimes do, I hadn’t spent any real time with this particular amaro.
If you don’t know, Lucano has been around since 1894, when a well-known cookie baker (really! I love these stories) named Pasquale Vena blended up mysterious herbs and spices and boom, deliciousness. It really kicked up the fame, though, when in 1900 it became the drink of choice to ancient ruling family the House of Savoy, whose crest is on the bottle. Neat, right? The amaro is a tiny smidge to the right on the sweetness scale for amari, with a strong caramel-ness, though containing a rich bitterness as well, and nice floral, citrus, and spice accents.
Anyway, it’s the kind of thing you tend to have after dinner, and not what you think of as a summer treat. Which is why I challenged myself to make a summer drink with it – because I am like that, and because I like bitter sodas, and because what’s the world for if you don’t challenge yourself? All that! So, I paired it up with some usual and some unusual suspects, tried a little of this, and a little of that, and came up with the below. It’s effervescent, it’s got a host of herb and spice and citrus notes, and it’s darn refreshing and flavorful all at once, like a bubbly Tilt-a-While for your tongue. Try it – and then thank the Vena family. And me (well, why not?).
Summer is now fully upon us – time to drink bubbly things. But, but, but, I feel like Scotch, and most people don’t think about Scotch and bubbly drinks together (except the Scotch and soda, which is indeed sometimes lovely in its simplicity). Which is a shame, when drinks like the Tartan Swizzle, a bubbly Scotch-y treat, are around! Don’t get stuck in your ruts, pals, especially in summer because those ruts can get sweaty, and sweaty ruts are the worst. The worst. Anywho, I picked up this recipe from my old pal Jeremy Holt, a fine man and a fine drinker. He’s introduced me to loads of swell drinks over the years, and this is certainly on the list, and also certainly a swell summer sipper. Try it, and test me out!
I found this Scottish affair in an excellent little bound book called A Guide to Pink Elephants, Volume II (Richards Rosen Associates, 1957). It’s fairly close to a few drinks that are perhaps more famous – the Rob Roy of course, which has Angostura bitters instead of orange bitters, and a slightly different vermouth to Scotch ratio. As well as the Bobby Burns, though a little farther afield in cousinhood. But the taste here, because of those differences, is slightly sweeter and with a different bitter-and-herbal-y hint. It may seem an odd one during June, but, hey, I’m an odd one! I like a strong drink in summer sometimes, as well as the bubbly refreshing ones. Also, having a drink I found in a book with pink elephants in the title is never bad. Never.
During the summer months (and really, even though we’re not officially in summer, let’s call it summer, okay? June feels like summer to me. Go with it), it’s tempting to have a drink called The Snowball – right? Right. But, there are so many! There’s the one with advocaat (the liqueur made from egg, sugar, and brandy) and sparkling lemonade. There’s another with brandy, simple syrup, an egg, and ginger ale. Both have their moments. But today, this particular day, I’m going with the below, which is wonderful on an early summer’s night, and of which famed drink explorer Harry Craddock said, around 1930, “This is women’s work.” Hah, I’ll show you Harry.
It was just 3 days and 133 years ago when Giuseppe Garibaldi passed away, after being one of the most formative figures in Italian history, as the general who was largely responsible for unifying one of my two favorite countries. His army, if you didn’t know, was often referred to as the “red shirt” army, thanks to reasons you can guess from the name! And, if all that wasn’t enough, he has a dandy drink named after him, The Garibaldi, which you should be drinking this week in his honor — and also because it’s a citrus-y, tangy number, with a slightly beautiful bitter hint, thanks to Campari (another fine Italian figure).
So, you know, it’s the NBA playoffs. I like the NBA quite a lot. I’ve been watching the playoffs, mostly with my nephew, who’s 14 and so doesn’t drink. Heck of a baller though, really. But it’s probably good I’m watching them with him, or I’d get melancholy for the Seattle Supersonics, stolen these many years ago, and then I’d probably drink too many Supersonic Cocktails, instead of just the 4 or 5 I’ve had in honor of the green and gold. Dang! Speaking of things I miss, I also miss the mighty Cocktail to Cocktail Hour (the world’s best cocktail show with “hour” in its name), which is on extended hiatus as director, producer, co-writer, best boy, head gaffer, and inspiration Dr. Gonzo remains stuck in a Tijuana prison. At least we have the re-runs, like the below, which teaches you to make said Supersonic cocktail, with gin, green Chartreuse, lime, simple, and lemon.
If you aren’t up on your ancient Greek history (shame on you – or, on us, as my memory keeps getting worse, too, making my ancient Greek, not to mention last week, a little hazy at times), Iollas was the son of a Macedonian general, and a royal youth at the court of Alexander the Great. Heavy. The story goes, when Mr. Great (as he was called) was murdered, many wanted to ascribe it to poisoning, and writers (as they’ll do) laid that serious poisoner-of-Alexander tag on Iollas, who carried the royal sipping cup during the emperor’s last sickness. How does that all tie into this drink, which isn’t poison at all, but a nectar of deliciousness? Well, for one, it utilizes mint, which was a favorite of the Greeks (still is, I suppose), and used to help folks transition into the afterlife. So, that’s a tie in. But also, I tend to think (as many do, nowadays) that Iollas wasn’t actually a poisoner, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which means he deserves a strong drink in his honor, and this beauty is that drink.
Friends, the weather is heating up. The ol’ Mercury is rising. The sunshine is taking over its annual spot as the meteorological top dog. The sweat is starting to tickle you just behind the ear (well, maybe it’s not that steamy yet, but you get the idea). And when that starts happening, I know one thing for sure. It’s Americano time!
Since 1860, when Gaspare Campari served it at his bar, calling it the Milano-Torino in honor of Campari (his bitter red liqueur from Milan) and Cinzano vermouth (from Turin), this has been a hot-weather hit. The name was changed thanks to the large number of visiting Americans (especially soldiers, at the time) who fell in the love with the drink. Being an American that visits Italy yearly, I love that story – as well as the drink.
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The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More