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During last week's Cinco de Mayo redux I mentioned flirting with the idea of featuring tequila all month long for Happy Hour. Well the flirting and foreplay is over, and it's safe to say carnal knowledge has been obtained. For this week and the next two Happy Hours in May I will feature cocktails made with tequila. If you're looking for a different-than-usual take on tequila then you won't want to miss the upcoming posts--because while I will incorporate tequila-friendly ingredients like citrus, I won't feature any Margaritas. This is not because I have forsaken the fine lady, as I enjoy a well made Margarita perhaps more than anyone I know. I simply felt that many folks have a limited understanding of tequila's potential, so instead I will focus on ingredients not commonly used with tequila, all in hope of expanding our horizons and thus our perceptions of tequila's place in the liquor universe.

Tequila's new partner in crime this week is a form of Italian herbal liqueur known as amaro. Amaro, which is Italian for "bitter," is just that. But unlike more commonly known bitters like Angostura which are considered aromatic and used only in dashes, amaro is potable (meaning it is drinkable) and enjoyed neat or on the rocks and sometimes with a splash of soda, traditionally as a post-meal digestif. Amari were also commonly used as medicinal tonics in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many of today's brands were originally sold in pharmacies and marketed for such use. But the digestif aspect of amaro is also important because it is what distinguishes it from other types of Italian herbal liqueurs (such as Campari) which are aperitifs because they are enjoyed before a meal as an appetite stimulant.

While most brands of amaro are produced in Italy--which is its likely origin--there are brands from many other European countries as well. In fact, the most popular brand (which most people don't know is an amaro) is not Italian at all, but German. That brand is of course the fratboy fave known as Jagermeister, which I'm sure at some point was actually enjoyed as a digestif or medicinal tonic, though surely no longer.

You may be wondering why I'm devoting so much attention to amaro if this is supposed to be about tequila--and you would be quite astute to have pondered so. First I think it's important to acquaint others with an ingredient not many are familiar with. The second reason is because the next Mixology Monday is fast approaching, and the topic happens to be . . . you guessed it . . . amaro! The Gumbo Pages has been gracious enough to host and provide us with the topic (and the inspiration behind it) which will guide our mixological endeavors. So naturally I had to give amaro a proper introduction.


As the title indicates, today's cocktail is named Amaro Twilight. I chose this name because I think twilight is an appropriate metaphor for using an ingredient like amaro, since it is traditionally enjoyed at the conclusion of dinner. Also, the color of the drink with the lemon twist swirling in it reminded me of the hue the sky takes just as the sun is about to set (perhaps if you squint your eyes).

The particular amaro I chose for this cocktail is an Italian brand called Amaro Ramazzotti, which is considered a medium style amaro because the bitterness is offset by sweet and citrus flavors. As it states on the bottle, it has been produced the same way since 1815 according to a secret family recipe. The story of centuries-old family recipes is one you'll find with many brands of amaro.

I chose Amaro Ramazzotti for this cocktail because I specifically wanted a medium style amaro that wouldn't easily overpower the subtle flavor of a silver tequila. I used Herradura silver because it has a uniquely piquant quality for a silver tequila which makes its presence felt in a cocktail with Ramazzotti. The two seemed to enjoy each other's company, especially when the lemon juice, sage syrup (simple syrup flavored with sage leaves), honey syrup (equal parts honey and warm water), and grapefruit bitters joined the party. The grapefruit bitters added a nice aromatic citrus dimension that just seemed to provide that little intangible nudge toward the sublime. I wouldn't say it's crucial, but it's like the difference between sprinkling your steak with sea salt instead of standard table salt; nothing is crucial in matters of nuance, although the difference can be immense.

Amaro Twilight
1.5 oz silver tequila
.5 oz Amaro Ramazzotti
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz sage syrup
.5 oz honey syrup
1 dash Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters
Garnish: lemon twist

Tools: cocktail shaker, strainer

Glass: well-chilled coupe

Place ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with plenty of ice and shake vigorously until frost forms on the outside. Strain into your chilled glass and garnish with the lemon twist.

Naturally you might be inclined to think the flavor of the Amaro Ramazzotti (I always have to double-check the spelling) gets drowned because of the small amount called for in the recipe. But in fact I did try making this drink with varying amounts of the amaro and realized that any more than prescribed drowned out the tequila, sage, and honey flavors. The lemon juice was essentially the only thing left standing. Ultimately I settled on the half ounce call, which is really a testament to the strong flavors typical of amaro.

If you are as anxious as I am about seeing the rest of the amaro-inspired cocktail submissions for this month's MxMo, make sure to visit The Gumbo Pages for the final "Roundup." Cheers!

Come back every Wednesday for Paystyle's weekly Happy Hour column.

Photography by Vanessa Bahmani