Another guest post by Sharon’s husband and our family’s cocktail aficionado, Anthony Damelio.
We often play this game, where I just make a cocktail and bring it over to Sharon without telling her any of the ingredients I’m working with. Most of the time, this is straightforward: too much of this, not enough of that, maybe it needs something else for balance. But, sometimes, Sharon’s tremendous tastebuds tell her exactly what I’m doing, and she recoils: “Is that amaretto!?”
Ever since we bought a bottle of amaretto explicitly for our biscotti recipe, I’ve been trying to make it play nice in cocktails—it’s usually a bully, rearing its sugary, nutty head above the fray and refusing to sing in harmony. Sharon understandably hates the flavor of amaretto; and while I wouldn’t exactly drink it on the rocks, I’m convinced it can play an interesting role in a cocktail.
On and off for several years now, I’ve crafted lots of unsuccessful combinations, all met with a similar exasperated eye-roll from my patient wife. Then, all at once, something changed.
I made a cocktail pilgrimage.
This time, I visited The Violet Hour when I was in Chicago this March. And while I would have preferred to solve this mystery on my own, I remembered the importance of learning from talented people who are able to transform disparate ingredients into transcendent beverages.
A creative, high-quality cocktail joint that has stood the test of time and weathered the explosion of similar—but inferior—bars, The Violet Hour serves up beverages that simultaneously astonish me and make me think, “Why didn’t I think of that!?” There was a drink on the menu that the bartender described as an agave-based Manhattan with tequila, mezcal, sweet vermouth, chipotle bitters, and…amaretto. Clearly, I couldn’t pass this one up, and I was glad I didn’t. It was a fascinating, well-balanced beverage, a brilliant choir of unusual voices singing together in harmony.
When I got home, I started playing with the recipe, not only to recreate the drink but also see if I could put my own spin on it. I swapped things out, but kept coming up with inferior beverages. Even Sharon agreed that I couldn’t back off too much on the amaretto—as much as it pained her to say that—because it played an integral role in the production.
Finally, I succumbed and found an incredible balance of mezcal and amaretto, chipotle and sweet vermouth. In the end, I was a bit embarrassed by the hubris of trying to modify what I’d experienced as near-perfection: a reminder, again, of the genius of cocktail bars that just get it right.
As tough as it can be to find the time and money, it’s so important to make those pilgrimages of flavor, to be exposed to things that we wouldn’t discover on our own. You never know when or where a revelation may hit you. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, the answer you’ve been searching for will be revealed at the feet of a master.
- 1 oz tequila blanco
- 1 oz mezcal
- 1 oz Carpano Antico sweet vermouth
- ⅛ oz amaretto
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 1 dash Old Fashion bitters
- 1 dash chipotle powder
- Orange peel for garnish
- Combine all the ingredients into a mixing glass. Add a handful of ice and stir vigorously.
- Strain into coupe (if you like your drinks up) or into a rocks glass with a large cube. Garnish with a large orange peel.