There it is, right on the bottle. An artichoke. That might be all one needs to keep perusing the liquor shelf for something not quite as different as Cynar.
First bottled in the late 1940s, Cynar (pronounced chee-nahr) doesn’t taste like artichokes. I repeat, it does not taste like artichokes, at all. However, it does contain a property found in artichokes called “cynarin,” from which the Italian liqueur derives its name.
Labeled as an amaro, which translates as “bitter” in Italian, this drink is a must try for anyone looking to spice up their liquor cabinet. Unlike many other bitter liqueurs, such as Fernet Branca or Campari, Cynar actually exudes a much rounder, smoother taste that coats the palate with a complexity and warmth not found in more typical spirits.
How do you drink it, you ask? In a glass is a start, but I prefer to add a couple of ice cubes and maybe a splash or two of soda. As Cynar is labeled as a “digestif,” it is designed to aid in digestion, which it really does. After a hearty steak-and-potatoes meal, a glass of Cynar will help smooth out an upset stomach, and it tastes a million times better than Pepto-Bismol.
As for cocktails, Cynar can be substituted for sweet vermouth in a Manhattan or Perfect Martini, or Campari for a Negroni. Since it yields such a complex flavor — it is made from a unique mix of 13 select herbs — crafting a new cocktail with Cynar is a bit of a task. However, I think I came up with something quite elegant that I call the Jersey Layover, a spin on the classic cocktail called The Newark.
By using Cynar instead of Fernet Branca, that bitter element becomes smoother and richer, and goes down a lot easier. Since this recipe contains only alcoholic ingredients, it is best to stir in a cocktail shaker filled with ice at least 30 to 40 times to let the water from the ice properly dilute the drink.
2 oz. Laird’s Applejack
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpana Antica is an excellent choice)
.5 oz. Cynar
Barspoon Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
Combine all the ingredients and stir with ice 40 times. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube, or straight up in a coupe glass.
Kevin Hopper stirs his cocktails patiently and intently at Capitol Bar on West State Street in Boise.