If you're into thinkin' and drinkin'

Episode 26: Dead in the Water — The Amarosa Cocktail


In this episode we delve into the concept of extinct cocktail ingredients.  It’s hard to put your finger on these dearly departed until you discover by happenstance, as I did, that you can’t complete the recipe.

I stumbled into this circumstance by choosing the Amarosa Cocktail, another classic cocktail in the pantheon of aged beverages, but when I surveyed the list of ingredients there was one, Amaro Cora, that Michael said he didn’t have.  When that happens I take it upon myself to acquire the missing component.  When I went shopping, however, I discovered that nobody had any available, so I researched deeper and learned that the liqueur is largely gone (I did find some old bottles being sold for $200 – yikes!).

To me, that’s really sad.  Not only do I not get to experience it, but there is a piece of cultural history and identity that’s becoming invisible.  I never would have known about it if it wasn’t for the project I’m engaged in and this recipe and book we’re working from; even knowledge of Amaro Cora is close to vanishing completely.  It made me wonder, how many other lovely concoctions have already gone from the world and how many others are on the endangered list.  In our conversation, it was clear that both of us were at a loss because those in the process of disappearing are hard to see.  But that story itself is also interesting, so we decided to use the Amarosa Cocktail as a way to discuss those expiring and long gone spirits in the world of cocktails.

The really cool narrative I discovered was that with the resurgence of the craft cocktail and craft spirits community, there is a real motivation to recreate or “reverse replicate” these extinct liqueurs, beers and wines by finding forgotten recipes, finding samples in sunken ships or old buildings, or interviewing people who have tasted the original to reproduce spirits from recollection.  Recently some sealed bottles of beer were dredged up from a shipwreck in the North Sea, craft beer guys are having the ingredients analyzed in a lab to discover what it is…and if they can make some too.  The University of Chicago classics department teamed up with Great Lakes Brewing Co. to reproduce ancient Sumerian style beer from an old recipe translated at the university.  This is a wonderful time in the industry where history, culture, tradition, exploration, research and artisanship join to potentially bring back.

Jason also researched the world of old world digestivos (as amaros were originally intended as stomach tonics to aid in digestion).  This is always a fun part of the episodes we do… the short diversions from the cocktail content to explore bits of history that reveal the strange, unexpected and wonderful aspects of our history and culture.  It truly is fascinating to see what our ancestors thought would alleviate upset stomachs.

In my research, I found another amaro, Cardamaro, whose origins were the same as Amaro Cora, the Piedmont region, and is produced by the same company that bought Amaro Cora in 1984.  I was hoping that Cardamaro was somehow derivative of Amaro Cora.  After trying it…I don’t think it is.

  •  1-1/2 ounces Gin
  •  1-1/2 ounces Kirschwasser
  • 1-1/2 ounces Amaro Cora (we used Cardamaro)

Throughout this episode I repeated over and over, “This could be all wrong without the actual Amaro Cora”.  I reserve the right to maintain this forever and ever, because the simple fact is, we didn’t have the actual ingredient for the cocktail.  The cardamaro was a strange creature…everybody gave it a different assessment after tasting.  It was all over the place.  By and large, this cocktail was not appreciated in the form we tried.  We mostly agreed that the kirschwasser did not play well with the ingredients and that it alone as a liqueur is unpleasant.  In the end, Rachel had even decided that this drink was, in her assessment, bad; the rest of us didn’t commit to anything.  In closing, I would like to reinforce two things:  This cocktail we tried was not the correct one, so we can’t know what the real taste is until we get some; and, Michael makes the cocktails as instructed so we get the best actual experience that we can.  If we don’t appreciate the cocktails as much, that does not reflect upon Michael’s expertise or the Brixton and their cocktail offerings…we’ve had their cocktails…they pretty much kick the ass of most of the cocktails in book we’re using for our tour.

And BTW anybody who has some Amaro Cora they’re not using…go ahead and send it our way.


Transition music: Cephalopod by Kevin MacLeod
Closing Music: Amorosa by Pitbull

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