July 29, 2013 at 9:44 AM ET
It’s a tall green bottle with a cherry red cap and label sporting a picture of an artichoke nestled behind the bold, white letters that spell out Cynar – if you haven’t seen it at your local liquor store or craft cocktail bar yet, you will soon. Cynar (pronounced chee-NAHR) is popping up everywhere, but most of us don’t know what it’s all about.
The drink is an Italian aperitif that carries a sweet, floral, and grassy flavor that quickly dissipates into a smooth bitterness. One sip of this spirit brings to mind herbal cough syrup, bitter chocolate, and sweet grass with a hint of flowery artichoke, which is the main ingredient in the liqueur.
“You are seeing it all around,” said Joe Campanale, beverage director and co-owner of dell’anima, L’Artusi, L’Apicio and Anfora in Manhattan. “When we opened dell’anima, it was one of those obscure Italian products that sat on a shelf. But now, any pretty decent bar has it, and I think bartenders are using more.”
Campanale himself is a big fan and uses it at all the restaurants he oversees, like in the Cynar Cup (recipe below), a drink made like a classic Pimms Cup, with orange, cucumber, and ginger beer. In his adoration of Cynar, Campanale is not alone. Beverage director Mayur Subbarao mixes it with chili-infused rye, lemon, honey and grapefruit in the Arctic Cynar at David Santos’ Louro, and at Lincoln Ristorante, Cynar has become the star of their Negroni bar, a program built by wine director Aaron Von Rock.
“Oh, Cynar is certainly one of our secret weapons in the Negroni Bar, it’s for the serious aficionado who is looking for a ruddier, deeper flavored Negroni,” said Von Rock. “And, the large proportion of Negroni Bar guests who return have a strong preference for Cynar as the aperitivo bitters of choice.”
In 1949, Cynar was introduced in Italy by a man named Angelo Dalle Molle, who sold it under the slogan, “Cynar, against the stress of modern life.” Dalle Molle, an Italian playboy, created this beverage with a variety of herbs, and used artichoke, or cynarin, as the base. He chose the artichoke for two reasons: one, because it’s believed this plant has digestive properties, and two, because it’s known to have aphrodisiac characteristics. It must have worked considering he had six kids by six women, and, when he died at 90, he left all his fortune to his secretary. A true playboy till the end.
But it seems like the liqueur is seeing a resurgence, as sales of Cynar are up 30 percent since last year, according to Campari America, the spirits company that distributes it. At about $30 for a liter bottle, it remains approachable, but still unique enough that it’s impressive.
“As a practical thing, it’s inexpensive and that’s always great for us when trying to put cocktails together,” said Campanale. “Plus, it can give you the bitter and the sweet and the complexity, and it complements other sprits well.”
On that note, give it a try on it’s own over ice, in a Negroni, or mixed with soda. The alcohol percentage is only 16.5, a little more than wine, so it’s perfect for a refreshing summer drink.
Created by Joe Campanale of dell'anima in New York City
In a Collins glass, muddle cucumber and orange with Cynar. Add lemon and simple syrup. Add ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a cucumber slice.
From Sbraga in Philadelphia
From The Vine
Created by Mixologist Otis Florence of Pouring Ribbons in New York City
In a cocktail shaker, add all ingredients including basil. Medium shake and then double strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with basil and green grapes.