Revolution Spirits' First Texas Amaro
Bitter friends ’til the end
The digestive benefit of sipping an amaro after an indulgent meal is absolutely fascinating: The bitter flavor engages our evolutionary response to a presumable toxin, and gastric juices surge forth to quickly diffuse the situation. Our stomachs feel less bloated while our taste buds experience complex flavors – the result of macerating herbs, seeds, barks, berries, and other botanicals with a little sugar in a high-proof, neutral spirit.
"The name Amico Amaro works really well because it translates to 'bitter friend,'" says Revolution Spirits' Mark Shilling. "But some Italians would say it's not an amaro because it's not made in Italy," he shrugs. And depending on who you ask, the Hill Country distillery's foray into bittersweet liqueurs resulted in an aperitivo as opposed to a digestivo – cocktail bitters meant to open up the palate before a meal versus an after-dinner herbal tonic – but the company's founders don't subscribe to strict rules regarding exactly when one is supposed to drink it. "We're probably getting some shit about [the classification] somewhere along the way," Shilling admits. "But we're not called Revolution for nothing."
Created in the style of Campari or Aperol, Amico's sunset hue is owed to crimson ingredients like hibiscus, sumac, and cranberry. Something of a passion project for primary recipe developer Brian Meola (Amico is also his mother's maiden name), Amico is intended to be led by bitterness, which Meola acknowledges can be challenging for the American palate. Starting with five bittering agents (gentian root, cinchona bark, Apollo hops, witch hazel, and blessed thistle), he steeped each on their own before perfecting the astringent and vegetal ratios of the base. From there, he played with brightness and acidity, "because I think that's something a lot of amari don't focus on," he says. So in came hibiscus, sumac, and orange peel. "Sumac tastes like lemon, but not quite," he adds. "We love ingredients that evoke familiar flavors but are not familiar."
While the recipes of many amari have been guarded by monks for centuries or families for generations, Revolution is all about transparency, and each bottle lists the 12 aromatics. To find the notes that would fill in the blanks between the astringent, vegetal, and citrus flavors, Meola took a trip to the Herb Bar, just off South Congress. "We wanted some earthiness," he explains, so he grabbed some damiana (a cousin of sage) and some fennel. From there, he decided it needed some wood. "I chose cedar," he says, "because cedar has a really distinct, bright woodiness." Forrest Allen, another of Revolution's distillers, suggested charring the cedar. "Charcoal and ash fill in so many of the middle notes," explains Meola. "It has this really cool effect of tying everything together." They didn't want Amico to become known as a hibiscus amaro or a sumac amaro. Meola references making a chili or a curry: If you can discern any one spice, it means there's too much of it. "I wanted to get the full effect of all the flavors, not each individual flavor."
Austinites can experience the complexity for themselves by taking a trip out to Craftsman Park, the collective name of neighbors Revolution Spirits, Last Stand Brewing Co., and Argus Cidery. Open every Saturday from 1-7pm, a visit includes a complimentary Negroni made with Revolution's Austin Reserve Gin, and Amico standing in for Campari. Jester King Brewery and Treaty Oak Distilling are also in the area, rounding out a day trip to Southwest Austin. Amico Amaro has also just landed on shelves at the Austin Shaker, Beverage World, and South Lamar Wine & Spirits, with Twin Liquors joining the list in the coming weeks. Recent Chronicle R&D confirms Amico deserves a spot in your home bar. Serve it in any classic cocktail calling for amaro, top it with Topo Chico or bubbles for a refreshing spritzer, or – our favorite – simply enjoy it over a 2x2 ice cube.