Amour for amaro

The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs

The lineup (l to r): Long Table Distillery’s Linnaeus Amaro No. 1, de Vine’s Moderna Vermouth, The Woods Spirit Co’s Pacific Northwest Amaro, Goodrich and Williams’ Bitterhouse Rubato, Bitterhouse DaMan and Bitterhouse LaDame aperitifs, Legend Distilling’s Naramaro amaro, Odd Society’s Mia Amata amaro and Bittersweet Vermouth. Dan Toulgoet photo

Consider them the supporting actors of the cocktail world: complex, helpful and a little bitter. Vermouths, aperitifs and amaros are typically fortified wines—though some are sweet enough to be considered liqueurs—flavoured with botanicals such as citrus peel, spices, roots and herbs. They typically have a somewhat bitter profile, hence the name “amaro,” which means bitter in Italian.

It takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate a good bitter drink, so not too surprisingly, Vancouver bartenders were eager to sample the best of B.C. amaros. We sat down with Alex Black of Tableau Bar Bistro, Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar, cocktail consultant Sabrine Dhaliwal, Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and The Botanist’s Jeff Savage to get at the bitter truth.

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SEA TO SKY RAD-LER BEER COCKTAIL

Shaun Layton’s Sea To Sky RAD-ler. Dan Toulgoet photo

Made with Vancouver Craft Beer Week’s 2018 Collaboration Beer, Sea To Sky Double Dry-Hopped Pilsner, by bartender Shaun Layton of Backcountry Brewing.

If you’ve been following the burgeoning cocktail scene in Vancouver over the past decade, there’s a good chance you’ve come across bartender Shaun Layton and his spirited creations. Having managed the bar programs at hotspots like George, L’Abattoir and Juniper, Layton has a well-earned reputation as one of the West Coast’s top cocktailiers. He’s been named Vancouver’s Bartender of the Year by Vancouver MagazineWestenderWestern Living and Georgia Straight, and coming this fall, he’ll be opening his own Spanish-themed bar in Mount Pleasant, Como Taperia.

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The romance of amaro

Odd Society’s Mia Amata is just the latest in BC’s bumper crop of the potable bitter. Dan Toulgoet photo

First there’s chocolate – dark and rich. Then spice—a whole caravan of exotic flavours and aromas from faraway lands. The bitterness lands next – astringent, clean, pleasantly mouthwatering. Throughout, delicate florals, dried fruits and an underlying sweetness keep everything in balance. There’s plenty to love about the new Mia Amata amaro from Odd Society Spirits, and not just because it counts Brazilian aphrodisiacs among its botanical makeup.

“I wanted to make it a modern-style bitter,” says Mia Glanz, the bartender who created it. “It took three years of work. I discarded an original recipe and started again.”

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Odd Society Spirits

This East Vancouver distillery’s three founding self-described “odd” owners are busy producing different expressions of gin, vodka and both white (unaged), and single malt whiskies.

1725 Powell St., Vancouver
604-559-6745
OddSocietySpirits.com


PRODUCTS:

• East Van Vodka
• Wallflower Gin
• Mongrel Unaged Spirit
• Oaken Wallflower Gin
• Crème de Cassis
• Bittersweet Vermouth
• Mia Amato Amaro
• Canadian Single Malt Casks


TASTING NOTES:


Bittersweet Vermouth

FRAGRANCE: Gingerbread spice, bitter orange, vanilla.
FLAVOUR: Upfront viscous sweetness, making its way to the back of your palate with a lovely bitterness.
FEEL: Full and coating mouthfeel.
FINISH: Sweet orange and chocolate lift for an enjoyable bitter finish that goes on and on.
BEST ENJOYED: Serve at room temperature as a digestif; could shine in many different cocktails.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A must have! —Wendy McGuinness, April 2016


Wallflower Gin

FRAGRANCE: Lavender.
FLAVOUR: Surprisingly balanced.
FEEL: Lovely and fragrant.
FINISH: Sweet, long boozy finish.
BEST ENJOYED: As a boozy cocktail. Martinez or Pink Gin. Maybe even an Old Fashioned.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A really fun spirit. If you like floral notes then jump in — you won’t be disappointed. —Josh Pape, July 2016


Crème de Cassis

FRAGRANCE: Prunes, dried red fruit, berries.
FLAVOUR: Dried figs, raisins and currants.
FEEL: Rich. A bit cloying, but not overwhelmingly so.
FINISH: More balanced than expected.
BEST ENJOYED: In an El Diablo with Dickie’s ginger beer. Kir Royale (go easy, it’s quite concentrated).
THE BOTTOM LINE: The best cassis you’ll likely ever try. —Josh Pape, October 2016


Mia Amato Amaro

FRAGRANCE: Sweet, chocolate, with a musky background.
FLAVOUR: Semi-sweet bitterness, herbal. 
FEEL: Viscous.
FINISH: Long with a great balance of bitter and sweet. 
BEST ENJOYED: Cold neat, or try in a Paper Plane. 
THE BOTTOM LINE: Packaging knocks it out of the park. Fun and engaging, with a fantastic auburn colour. —Trevor Kallies, February 2017


Mongrel Unaged Spirit

FRAGRANCE: Buttered bread and light malty notes.
FLAVOUR: Complex and refined, very nice for an unaged rye-based spirit. Very well balanced. 
FEEL: Pleasant sweetness.
FINISH: Slightly hot, loads of spice, in a good way.
BEST ENJOYED: Makes a great White Whisky Sour. Begging to be shaken with citrus. 
THE BOTTOM LINE: Makes a great White Whisky Sour. Begging to be shaken with citrus. —Shaun Layton, October 2017


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