Francesco Amodeo's grandfather told him to make sure his artichoke liqueur Carciofo C3 tasted like the original Cynar did in the 1950s. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Michael Tercha/TNS
Photo: Michael Tercha/TNS

New artichoke-based liqueur is latest entry on amaro shelf

Amari, those bitter, Italian-style digestivi, are quite the rage behind the bar, and all the fruits and vegetables with a bitter side are getting to show their stuff. We’ve seen rhubarb, arugula, sour orange and cardoons in the mix along with the typical herbs, barks and roots that add their depth and richness to these macerated spirits.

Now comes the artichoke — the bitter, beautiful thistle with a tough exterior and a tender heart. A longtime favorite in Italy, amaro made from artichokes (or carciofi in Italian) has recently gained popularity in the States. The most common artichoke liqueur is the classic Italian brand, Cynar, which is experiencing a surge of popularity in bars, both as cocktail ingredient and as cocktail star. The Cynar Julep at Ronero, packed with fresh mint and hand-crushed ice, showcases Cynar’s bittersweet self in a refreshing spring appearance. 

Less sweet then Cynar, the new C3 Carciofo, a domestic version from Washington, D.C., distillery Don Ciccio & Figli, shows how deep and savory an artichoke liqueur can go. Like all of founder/distiller Francesco Amodeo’s handcrafted creations, it is complex, Old World and unique in flavor. 

Amodeo, known for his small batch Italian-style spirits based on family recipes, infuses his C3 with a blend of three types of artichokes, grapefruit and 18 botanicals. It is then barrel-aged for a full year. “My (distiller) grandfather Giovanni gave me the 18 botanicals blend recipe,” says Amodeo. “He said to me, ‘You have to make sure that your artichoke aperitivo will taste like it has been made in 1950.’ Since he tasted the first Cynar bottles made around that time, he wanted me to be able to create a product that reminded him of the original.” 

I recently tried it as a one-to-one substitute for Campari in my negroni recipe, and the Artichoke Negroni earned an immediate top spot in my cocktail rotation. Lee Zaremba, formerly general manager and head bartender at Chicago’s Billy Sunday, (which, by the way, holds the largest collection of vintage amari outside of Italy) adores the new liqueur and created the cocktail, A Loss for Words, to “showcase its interesting attributes.” It’s a dry, boozy, bitter affair, which allows this powerful amaro to be highlighted by the richness of malted bourbon and the herbs and spices in the genever and fenugreek syrup. 

When I asked Zaremba how he named his cocktail, he said, “it’s hard to describe, I like that about it.” Imagine the first person who tried to describe an artichoke. 

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A LOSS FOR WORDS 

Prep: 5 minutes 

Makes: 1 drink 

Lee Zaremba created this drink to showcase C3 Carciofo. He makes his own bitters and fenugreek syrup, but you can sub with any herbaceous bitters and use plain simple syrup, or make your own fenugreek syrup. 

1 ounce bourbon 

3/4 ounce genever 

1/2 ounce C3 Carciofo 

1/4 ounce fenugreek gomme or simple syrup, see note 

1 dash angelica root bitters 

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice; stir. Strain into a rocks glass over ice (preferably 1 giant cube). Serve with an orange twist. 

Note: For fenugreek syrup, cook 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds, toasted, in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Simmer a few minutes. Then cool before using. You can also omit the fenugreek.

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