Fashion-wise, the whole “no white after Labour Day” rule is far from dogma. But when it comes to drinks, it probably should be. Now’s the time to put away the gin, vodka, and other light summer cocktail ingredients and cross over to the dark side. Fall is for brown liquor, like whisky, dark rum — or, for those who’d prefer to ease into the hard stuff, Italian amaro.
A perennial favourite in Europe, amaro is a family of bitter and rustic liqueurs that’s finally catching on in North America. In Manhattan, there’s even an entire bar — Amor y Amargo — devoted to the stuff. Here in Canada, top bars like Vancouver’s L’Abattoir and Montreal’s Bily Kun feature it in cocktails and shots. In Toronto, the impossibly cool Bar Raval even grows the herbs — including mint, thyme, sage, and lots of others, alongside traditional flavours like citrus and fennel — to make its very own in-house “Raval Amaro.”
If you’ve been to San Fran lately, you might have spotted the ubiquitous Fernet-Branca; the stuff is so popular there it can be found on tap. Fernet (pronounce the “t” and drop the “Branca”) tastes bitter and earthy, like a sugar-free version of Jägermeister; for our money, you can do better by choosing not to shoot it back and, instead, use it in a drink called the Prizefighter, a cocktail invented at Brooklyn’s Clover Club that uses mint and citrus to soften the blow of Fernet.
If Fernet is still too punchy for you, check out Cynar, an artichoke-based liqueur that kills when mixed with two parts fresh-squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice. Or Amaro Averna, an herbal bitter that, in lieu of dessert, can be taken after dinner — straight up or on the rocks.
Summer’s over. But autumn, with all its brilliant colours, has its own rewards.