Craft Spirits July 2021

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epending on when (and where) you read this, there’s a good chance that summer is now upon us (how’s that for a qualification?). And anyone with an internet connection likely has found it hard to avoid the barrage of articles touting the top cocktail recipes for the warm months. This is not one of them. Generally, we’re not too keen on seasonspecific stories in this space, given their limited shelf life. But we’re making an exception in this case because summer means it’s time to hit the patio—and hopefully more a choice than a necessity this year as much of the country heads toward fully reopening. And more and more, al fresco sippers have been taking a cue from Italy’s aperitivo culture, integrating spritzes into their warm-weather drinking routines. That’s just one of the trends that’s providing an opportunity to grow the liqueurs category—because it’s certainly not the bubbly wines that are giving those mixed refreshers their character. “Those drinks, historically, have always been big hits on the patio, they’ve always been patio pleasers,” says Robby Haynes, co-founder of Apologue Liqueurs in Chicago, whose offerings include Aronia, Celery Root, Persimmon and Saffron liqueurs. “I think we’ll see a lot less brown and stirred [on the patio] which are more suited for a moody corner at a nice cocktail bar. These sort of thoughtful sippers are going to be in short order for summer, but when cold weather hits, it’ll swing around the other way.” The glasses that sit atop the outdoor tables at Washington, D.C.’s Italian-style liqueur maker Don Ciccio & Figli on a Saturday afternoon sometimes work better than any thermometer could. President and master distiller Francesco


Randy Mann of Up North Distillery

Amodeo has it down to a science. “If the temperature outside is above 70 [Fahrenheit], you’ll see that every single table will get a spritz,” Amodeo reports. “When it was lower, around 65, people start gravitating to things like the Sidecar, heartier things, to give them psychological warmth. There have been weekends that we sold 80 to 100 spritzes and our patio only has eight tables.” Producers also credit spritzes with being a sort of gateway drink that leads to further investigation across the category. “I think the spritz trend has been a really positive thing for inspiring consumers to try new things, to look at different sections of the spirits store and branch out,” says Michael Foglia, director of production at Wigle Whiskey, which boasts an extensive line of liqueurs, including amari. “All of the publications, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, the blogs, have really made that a familiar idea to the hip drinking community at large.” BITTER BUMP The popularity of Stateside spritzes stems from the gradual shift of the American palate toward a greater appreciation of bitterness— enabling the amaro segment of the broader liqueurs category to have its time in the sun. The tipping point for the bitter trend occurred early in the last decade—Amodeo goes so far as identifying an exact year. “The palate switch happened in 2014,” declares Amodeo. Not coincidentally, that’s the same year his nearly-decade-old company produced its first amaro. “We started the company in late 2011, early 2012, with the idea of showcasing some of the sweeter cordials that were more known in the market, like limoncello,” Amodeo recalls. “A couple of years later we saw that the palate

was changing and the way the consumer was purchasing products was changing.” Don Ciccio & Figli’s amaro portfolio eventually would expand to nine products, including Amaro Don Fernet, Amaro Delle Sirene, Amaro Tonico Ferro-Kina, Cinque Aperitivo, Cerasum Aperitivo, Luna Aperitivo, C3 Carciofo, Donna Rosa Rabarbaro and Ambrosia. They sit on various points across the bitterness spectrum from predominantly sweet, to full-on bitter. Outside of amari, Don Ciccio & Figli’s range of traditional liqueurs include Limoncello (lemon), Mandarinetto (mandarin orange), Nocino (walnut) and the espressoinfused Concerto. Apologue’s Haynes points to broader consumer lifestyle trends for the shift toward more assertive flavors. “People found a new appreciation for bitter as part of a larger macro trend where they’re more adventurous,” Haynes notes. “Anthony Bourdain and that kind of foodie movement of the last 10 years had pretty far-reaching effects where people are open to trying new flavors and ingredients.” Wigle’s Foglia has observed that culinary shift right within the four walls of the distillery. “I use my production team as an example,” Foglia says. “Four or five years ago if we were sampling a fernet, you’d get practically all of the faces making that wild, puckered face, like ‘What the hell is that?’ There wasn’t so much appreciation for bitterness as there was a suffering through it. Now everyone on my staff has fernet at home and they even look for amari that are more bitter.” Wigle’s own amari include Amaro Vermut, a copper-pot-distilled spirit infused with wormwood, cacao nibs, cinnamon and cloves and finished with apple cider; and Saffron Amaro, an apple brandy infused with 12 botanicals, including, of course, saffron. Wigle’s nonamaro range includes Limoncello, as well as Coffee, Maple and Rhubarb Liqueurs. Consumers’ exploration extends beyond just the flavors themselves, into the history of how bitter and/or herbal-forward spirits emerged. They tend to share a common origin story, usually in the backroom of an 18th or 19th-century apothecary, somewhere in Europe. And there’s a certain romance to such tales—regardless of how many actual facts may or may not be involved. Becherovka is a prominent example that comes to mind. It began as a digestive aid around 1807 in what is now the Czech Republic and today is regarded as a Czech national beverage. The iconic Italian amaro Fernet-Branca

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