This Amaro Cocktail Is Delicious, But What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Smooth Criminal | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Smooth Criminal | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Looking to drown your sorrows in a tall glass of forget-about-him-or-her this Valentine’s Day? You’re not alone; the commercial holiday wreaks havoc on the lonely heart. But before you wreck your liver in solidarity, entrust your evening to the Smooth Criminal ($11), an off-menu cocktail that is big on personality, but easy on the alcohol.

It was love at first taste when Golden Tiki bartender April Simms got her hands on a bottle of Amaro di Angostura. Like its more concentrated big sister Angostura Aromatic Bitters, the caramel-sweetened amaro has a molasses-rum base, bold nutmeg and cardamom flavors and is made according to a proprietary recipe that dates back to 1824.

After being named Best New Spirit at Tales of the Cocktail in 2015, Amaro di Angostura has ridden the mounting wave of the amaro category.

“Angostura Aromatic Bitters reminds me of a favorite spice I always use when cooking—always there to fill in the gap,” Simms says. In 1875, production of Dr. Johann Siegert’s then-medicinal “Amargo Aromatico” was moved from Angostura, Venezuela (today’s Ciudad Bolívar), to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where it remains today and is one of the largest producers of rum in the Caribbean.

The House of Angostura’s new liqueur nicely bridges the gap between its bar-staple bitters and its award-winning rums. At 35 percent ABV, it’s also lower in proof than the bitters for versatility in cocktails or straight as a digestivo. After being named Best New Spirit at Tales of the Cocktail in 2015, Amaro di Angostura has ridden the mounting wave of the amaro category and benefited from the low-alcohol shim or “session cocktail” trend.

“The only cocktail that comes to mind using Angostura flavors as its primary ingredient is the Trinidad Sour,” Simms says. That drink, created by New York bar owner Giuseppe Gonzalez, begins with 1½ ounces of Angostura Aromatic Bitters. “So I thought it would be great to create a cocktail highlighting this amaro as its base.” No surprise therefore that Simms’ Smooth Criminal relies on a full two ounces of Amaro di Angostura, married with house-made Don’s Mix (cinnamon-infused simple syrup cut with pink grapefruit juice), Giffard Vanilla and lime juice.

“I wanted to follow the tiki rule—‘one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak; add some spice and make everything nice’—yet still make balanced drinks with fresh ingredients,” Simms says. The result is a complex cocktail with a bitter foundation, a passing sweetness and a lingering acidity.

Maybe not unlike someone who shall remain nameless on February 14?

Recipe

Smooth Criminal 

As served at the Golden Tiki, 3939 Spring Mountain Rd., $11

In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 ounces Amaro di Angostura, 1½ ounces house-made Don’s Mix (cinnamon-infused simple syrup cut with pink grapefruit juice), ½ ounce Giffard Vanilla liqueur and ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice. Add ice, cover, shake and strain into a chilled 6-ounce cocktail coupe. Garnish with an edible orchid.

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