If you’ve spent any time staring at back bars, you may have seen a bottle with an artichoke on its label. That bottle would be Cynar—pronounced CHEE-nar, by the way. It’s often referred to as the “artichoke liqueur”, but in many ways that does the product a disservice. Cynar is first and foremost an amaro, used predominantly as a bitter digestivo. Since amari is in fashion in the bar world these days, Cynar cocktails have increased in numbers. Therefore, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the Italian liqueur.
Artichoke leaves happen to be the chief flavoring ingredient among 13 herbs for this amaro. In fact, this main ingredient is how Cynar got its name—Cynara scolymus is the species title for common edible artichokes. Bottled at 16.5% ABV, Cynar is on the low end proof-wise for the amaro category. But if you’re looking for a bit more oomph, a higher proof rendition, Cynar 70, debuted a handful of years ago. The brand itself first launched in 1952, and for the past 25 years has been in the Campari Group stable.
Jordan Sox, a bartender from Savannah, Georgia, believes that Cynar is a versatile ingredient. And thanks to a slightly sweet—though not artificial—profile to accompany its bitter notes, creating Cynar cocktails is a cinch. “It can go well in so many places, you can use it as a base spirit in a low ABV cocktail and it makes a great modifier with other spirits as well,” she says. “I love using it with citrus, particularly lemon, lime and grapefruit.”
These Cynar cocktails that follow will help you make the most of the bitter liqueur around your home bar.
Classic Cynar Cocktails
-1 ounce gin
-1 ounce Cynar
-1 ounce sweet vermouth
Directions: Stir all ingredients well with ice. Strain and serve over fresh ice, or up. Garnish with lemon twist.
For a darker take on the Negroni, sub in Cynar for Campari. Switching out the Negroni’s orange twist for the lemon twist is a small change that makes a big impact, as the lemon notes brighten the bitter that Cynar brings to the table.
-2 ounces Cynar
-3 ounces Prosecco
-1 ounce soda
Directions: Stir Cynar lightly with ice in a large wine glass. Top with Prosecco and soda, and stir lightly again. Garnish with lemon twist, olives, or both.
Cynar replaces Aperol in this standard Spritz recipe (neither Aperol or Campari are offended, since all three are family members) and once again provides a darker, more robust take on a classic. Consider using grapefruit soda in place of regular soda, and a grapefruit twist to match.
But don’t stop there; feel free to try any citrus soda and corresponding twist. Even simpler than a Cynar Spritz is a basic Cynar and tonic or Cynar and soda. These Cynar cocktails are low ABV refreshers that will serve you well during aperitivo hour.
More Cynar Cocktails to Try
Directions: Stir all ingredients well with ice. Strain and serve up. Optionally garnish with orange twist.
Natasha Bahrami, owner of The Gin Room in St. Louis and founder of the Gin World festival, combines Cynar with barrel-aged gin for this customer favorite at her bar. “Since near the very start of The Gin Room, we knew we would have to convert bourbon lovers to the gin side strategically,” she says.
“The allure of barrel-aged gin has helped us do that for the past five years, and this cocktail has made the rounds in the cocktail scene from Cotswold in England to the depths of Manila’s bars,” Bahrami says. “Cynar is an integral part of the cocktail, and at The Gin Room, it’s also a staple in a number of other cocktails and spritzers.” While she uses New Holland for both the barrel-aged gin and the orange liqueur, feel free to sub in what you have available.
Barreled Rebellion /Photo Credit: The Gin Room
-1 ounce Cynar
-1 ounce lime juice
-.75 ounce Jamaican rum
-.75 ounce falernum
-pinch of salt
Directions: Shake all ingredients well with ice. Strain and serve up.
Sox pairs Cynar with Jamaican rum, falernum and lime juice in this complex, robust Daiquiri riff. “The Day-quiri has a nice variety of flavors that can be intimidating at first, but don’t worry, it all makes sense in the end,” she says. “You get bittersweet, earthy notes from Cynar, woody funkiness from the Jamaican rum [she uses Doctor Bird], baking spice from the delicately dry falernum, bright and refreshing lime, and the kicker that brings it all together—salt.”
She notes that this riff actually lowers the strength of a typical potent Daiquiri, making it friendly for any time of the day or night. “It doesn’t hurt to throw a little bit of salt in, well, almost any shaken, citrusy cocktail,” she adds. “It does something very special that makes that citrus shine brighter than it would on its own, and it really helps to blend all of these seemingly different flavors together in harmony.”
Elsewhere, as Sox believes Cynar cocktails with lime work well, she suggests deploying it in a Margarita riff—a Cynar-gerita, she says—while also trying it alongside aged spirits in general. “Because earth and wood are such great compliments to each other, and unaged spirits may get lost behind Cynar’s bitter complexity, particularly in spirit-forward cocktails,” Sox says.
Ready to stir up some Cynar cocktails?
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