Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Creative energy is a tricky mistress. If it's not properly engaged, it can present itself in strange ways. One of the ways I've engaged my creative energy is to invite others into creation with me. For this project, I delved into the world of amaro with my friend and bitter botanical whiz, Cindy Capparelli, creator of Portland Bitters Project.
Amaro is a highly flavored and bitter botanical spirit originating in Italy. It is sweetened and primarily used as a modifier in cocktails. The styles range from supple and sweet to bracingly bitter and invigorating. Many of the Amari on the commercial market are made with centuries old formulas when the world was much smaller and sense of place was part of life. One can imagine the creation of each amaro not only being to the personal taste of the concocter, but also a documentation of the botanicals growing in their village. That led us to our very own quarantine era homemade amaro project.
The premise of our DIY Amaro was for Cindy and I to build upon the fresh bright flavor base of Verstovia Spruce Tip Vodka to create our own personal botanical expressions and see where we end up. We started the project with an instagram live where we tasted through five Amari and discussed style, abv, and common botanicals and bittering agents. We tasted Mia Amata (Vancouver BC), Cynar (IT), Calisaya (Oregon), Averna (IT), and the star of the show, Dell'Erborista (IT).
Tasting different examples helped us clarify our own vision for what we wanted our amaro to be. For me, I was interested in an amaro that built on the unique flavor of spruce tips, used the season's green walnuts and wild stinging nettles, and that would transition into fall flavors, somewhere between Averna and a Nocino. Cindy was captivated by the honey haze and bracing bitterness of Dell'Erborista and used that as her formula's inspiration.
The next phase of formula development is to start building a list of botanicals and bitter components using theory. Starting with the base flavors of spruce tips, I built out the body of the formula. Chamomile, green walnut, dried apricot, fig leaf, and cinnamon added sweetness and girth to the spirit. Lime zest and green cardamom added more bright high notes. Yarrow and stinging nettle leaves added savory depth, and cinchona bark added bitter finish. These ingredients were blended with a bottle of Verstovia then left to infuse for a week.
What started as a clear crystalline green vodka quickly took a gothic turn, darkening to a deep green-black. By day 7, it had settled into a deep mahogany brown. I tasted the progress, adjusted with more bitterness, then added the sweetening caramel syrup cut with the water I needed to proof from 40% to 30% ABV. Amaro is very compliant to the formulator and if you care to add or increase your botanicals, you can do so at any time. The concoction was left to marry for another week. I retasted, approved it, strained out the botanicals, and bottled it.
My final Amaro is called "Kairos Amaro", as in, this is an opportune time for action. I am delighted with the end result which is rich and satiny but with a levity and sprightliness that comes from brighter botanicals. The spruce tip's pine nut quality pairs with the green walnut and fig leaf's vanilla richness, complemented by the cinnamon and cardamom for a sweet bun effect. Green walnut, nettle and yarrow add an elegant lingering musk, and the lime and apricot prick the senses and dance across the palate.
For our final tasting on instagram live, Cindy and I tasted our Amari together, discussed processes, and made cocktails. Cindy's Amaro, an homage to Dell'Erborista, is named Dell'Oregonista. It features special ingredients like Turkish rhubarb root, wild carrot honey, and lemon verbena and peach leaves from her neighborhood. The coloration of her amaro is a deep yellow with a honey haze. The nose reminds me of the very best sun tea, with a little bit of mint and a flinty suggestion of drying bitterness. The deep honey isn't there to sweeten as much as be a soothing vehicle for the flavors, as a silky dressing to the refreshing botanical salad Cindy gathered.
For our cocktails, we both chose to use Riverain Gin, a robust botanical spirit in its own right, featuring cottonwood buds and Douglas fir needles alongside traditional gin botanicals. I made an Amaro Sour to bring the dark flavors of my amaro into the warmer season with citrus. I shook together 1 oz Riverain Gin, 1 oz Kairos Amaro, 1/2 oz lemon juice, and 1/2 oz simple syrup with ice, strain into glass, finish with 2 drops of Portland Bitters Project Orange Bitters, and garnish with a lemon twist.
Cindy made a riff on the delightful Hanky Panky, swapping Fernet Branca with her own bitter amaro. She stirred 1 1/2 oz Riverain Gin, 1 1/2 oz Dolin Rouge Vermouth, and a bar spoon of Dell'Oregonista with ice, strained into a coupe and finished it with 2 drops of Portland Bitters Project cacao bitters and a sage leaf.
This project was successful in multiple ways. It was fun and engaging, we made two delicious, unique, and useful products, I learned more about a fascinating genre of spirits, and most interestingly, it illustrated how expressive and personal amaro can be. The consensus is that not only would Cindy and I definitely make amaro again, we'd also encourage you to try your hand at it as well. I share my recipe in hope that you'll be inspired to use it for reference, or spin off into your very own amaro recipe.
You can order Verstovia Spruce Tip Vodka and Portland Bitters Project online from At your Door market for delivery anywhere in Oregon, or find them in select Oregon liquor stores. Some botanical resources are Starwest botanicals , Wildish Botanicals, and Dragon Herbarium