Bitter Smoke

Strongly Worded Letter

1 oz Mezcal [Fidencio]
1 oz Amaro CioCiaro
1/2 oz Dry Curacao [Pierre Ferrand]
1/2 oz Amontillado Sherry [Bodega Lustau]

Stir with ice, strain into an ice filled rocks glass.  Garnish with lemon twist.

Well, it’s been a few weeks since Amaro Week ended, so I think I’m ready to get back to the bitter stuff.  I used this event as an excuse to by a bottle of Amaro I had my eye on for a while, Amaro CioCiaro.  When I got Brad Thomas Parson’s Amaro book last year, I immediately tagged this bottle.  He described it as mildly bitter, with a strong bitter orange flavor prevailing and some warm caramel undertones.  I was sold (also, that label!).

Before I even mixed it up with anything, I poured a few fingers and was not disappointed.  Thomas’s description was spot on.  The bitter orange was a fantastic foundation, and there was just enough bitters to settle even the fullest stomach.  I actually ended up drinking it neat a few more times before finally putting it into a cocktail.

When it came to mixing time, the orange flavors made me think of agave spirits.  And since this was an amaro after all, a Mexican Negroni (mezcal, campari, sweet vermouth) came to mind.  Obviously the CioCiaro would take place of the Campari, but what about the third element?  Sweet Vermouth just wasn’t speaking to me, it felt too bright and juicy given all the robust flavors coming from the Amaro and mezcal.  I wanted something with more depth and not as fruity – enter Amontillado sherry.  This fortified wine has a rich nuttiness about it that felt at home with the other ingredients.  Finally, some dry curacao to give those orange flavors one last pop.


The Strongly Worded Letter is a brooder.  The nose is heavy with the aroma of charred citrus.  On the sip, things stay smoky, underlined by the amaro earthiness.  Sherry makes its presence known, and forms a powerful one-two punch with the mezcal (mental note: I need to explore this combo further). The roots and herbs in the amaro build in on the rich, low notes.  Orange is the only real high note here, but thanks to the curaçao bringing in re-enforcements, it balances things out nicely.  Finally the trademark amaro bitterness appears on the swallow, as agave and citrus bring up the rear.

Honestly, I can’t wait to sip this in front of the fire in the middle of winter.  It warms you all the way through, with plenty of bite to keep you sharp.  If you’re looking to expand your Amaro collection, I highly recommend the CioCiaro.  With a mid range bitterness it’s approachable yet still has some kick, and the bitter orange is a enticing over arching theme. It’s wonderful on its own, and this drink proves it’s got a lot to offer in cocktails.

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