After decades of popularity overseas, Italian bitters have recently taken center stage in the American cocktail world, with Campari and Fernet leading the way. But, according to top bartenders, there is one bitter that is still flying under the radar.
Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar) is part of the amaro group of liqueurs, and it is a digestivo made by steeping 13 herbs and plants in a neutral spirit. It's the next big thing in bitters, and what really makes it unique is the primary ingredient: artichokes.
Not only can you take Cynar as an after-dinner digestive, but you can also mix it with cola or soda water with lemon and orange slices to create a delicious cocktail. Europeans also mix it with orange juice.
But don't let this bitter's dark hue -- or the fact that it comes from a spiny vegetable -- fool you. Most assume that the drink will taste much different than it actually does. Despite the dark hue of the drink, the taste is rather bright and is perfect for cocktails.
Venetian entrepreneur and philanthropist Angelo Dalle Molle developed the secret recipe for Cynar in 1952, and a couple of Italian movie stars made it famous. Ferruccio De Ceresa and Ernesto Calindri starred in a series of commercials for Cynar that appeared on the Italian advertising show Carosello in the 1960s.
Campari acquired Cynar in 1995, and that is when American bartenders started to experiment with it. But it wasn't until the last decade that bitters-focused specialty bars started popping up and introducing new cocktails, like the Bitter Red and Cynar Julep.
American palates are changing, and Americans are now looking for spirits with stronger profiles. Instead of asking for sweet flavors, they are requesting drinks that are bitter, herbal, or dry.
That means that bitters are everywhere, and Cynar is starting to get so popular in the United States that Campari has introduced a 70-proof variant, Cynar 70.
What makes Cynar ideal for cocktails is its balance of sweet and bitter.
Cynar is dark brown in color, 16.5 percent alcohol by volume, and bittersweet in flavor.
With its low price (usually less than $30 a bottle), it would make an excellent addition to your home bar, and you can experiment by mixing it with more than just cola, soda water, or juice. Try some bitter lemon soda, tonic water, or maybe even white wine. You could even try drinking it straight, but that might be an acquired taste.
Now that you know all about Cynar, try some of these cocktails at your next party. Let your guests know that there is nothing to fear when it comes to artichoke liqueur!
This easy mix is lively and refreshing. Simply combine one and a half ounces of Cynar with four ounces of soda in a tall glass with ice, and garnish with a lemon wedge. This cocktail is low in alcohol and is an excellent way to start off your evening.
Turn a classic mimosa into a more complex cocktail by adding Cynar. Start with a half of an ounce of Cynar in a champagne flute, and then add three ounces of freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice. Top it off with three ounces of chilled sparkling wine. Serve immediately.
This drink is a variation of the Honey Bee, and the bittersweet Cynar cuts the sweetness of the rum and honey. Combine two teaspoons of honey with two teaspoons of warm water in a shaker and stir until combined. Then add four ounces of white rum, a half of an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and one ounce of Cynar. Fill the shaker with ice and shake until it is chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into two glasses and serve immediately.
Tequila and Cynar are a match made in Heaven. In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of reposado tequila and one ounce of Cynar. You will need to stir for at least 30 seconds to make sure the mixture is well chilled. Then strain the mixture into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.