As one of the more dynamic amaro expressions, Cynar has the ability to work effortlessly both on its own and as a modifier or base in cocktails, complementing a wide range of spirits, from rye and bourbon to rum to agave-based blends.
“I love that Cynar’s dry, vegetal flavors don’t easily blow out your palate like some amari, due to [its] mellower notes,” says Pittsburgh bartender Michael Kaufmann of the liqueur’s flavor profile—which sees a lingering, woody bitterness balanced with notes of caramel and dried-fruit sweetness. The only publicly shared ingredient in this carciofo-style amaro is, naturally, artichoke, which lends an herbaceous backbone to the low-ABV (16.5 percent) blend. “I think it’s easier to incorporate into cocktails without overpowering the other ingredients,” Kaufmann says.
Cynar has long been a go-to amongst bartenders for its versatility; the 2015 release of Cynar 70, which nearly doubled the proof of the original and provided the ability to stand up to high- and overproof spirits while maintaining its familiar profile, further established it as a backbar necessity.
“Cynar does a fantastic job of straddling between the ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter’ that consumers tend to stereotype the amaro category with,” says spirits educator and consultant Shannon Mustipher. “In the case of higher-proof spirits with more ‘assertive’ flavor profiles, Cynar 70 can add body and complexity to enhance and play well with these spirits.”
To put this concept to the test, we asked five top bartenders from around the country to build a 50/50 to showcase Cynar and Cynar 70’s affinity for pairing with other spirits and flavors. The challenge? Not only should the 50/50 stand up to sipping on its own, but it also needed to serve as a launching pad for an elevated cocktail.
For Chris Amirault, a mixologist at a Los Angeles hotel, the marriage of equal parts Cynar and a 100-proof Martinique rhum agricole had a transportive quality that reminded him of a peaceful night spent on the beach, listening to the rhythm of the waves hitting the sand. “The banana notes of the rhum really complement the herbaceous notes of Cynar,” says Amirault of his blend, dubbed the Beach Bum. “For a liquid that appears to be so dark, the flavor of Cynar is surprisingly bright and refreshing, and conducive to being mixed in a variety of cocktails.” In turn, his 100-pt Julep is an homage to the popular Cynar Julep, with a bolstered foundation from the high-proof rhum. An aromatic vanilla syrup stands in for the traditional sugar, dialing down the sweetness while enhancing the supporting flavors of fresh mint and tart grapefruit.
In Detroit, craft cocktail bar manager Shelby Minnix looked to Neapolitan ice cream—the classic combo of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry—for inspiration; her resulting three-part 50/50 is composed of Cynar, Frangelico and Campari. Stirred for dilution and served in a rocks glass over a large ice cube, the dessert-adjacent result is what Minnix calls “the perfect after-dinner drink.” Cynar is so beloved at her bar that they even have Cynar 70 on tap, and she considers it a spirit that works well in a variety of cocktails. “We’ve incorporated Cynar in every style of drink that there is,” she says. “It’s fun to use and can really elevate a cocktail, whether you’re using a barspoon or it’s the base spirit.” Her Cheng’s Neapolitan Fizz transforms that Neapolitan 50/50 into an over-the-top cocktail drawn from the tradition of the classic soda fountain with the addition of fresh citrus juices, strawberry syrup and rich cream. Birthday cake sprinkles make for a festive finishing touch.
Over in Brooklyn, Mustipher has a thing for artichokes in all forms, whether as a pizza topping, pickled, roasted over a wood fire, or in a drink. “The versatility that artichoke brings to the table—from being herbal to nutty and even buttery—is the primary reason I love this ingredient, be it in culinary or [liqueur] form,” she says. Her 50/50 of Cynar 70 and reposado tequila plays a pivotal role in her Outlaw cocktail, a “Manhattan template based on a funky Jamaican rum,” that she’s been tinkering with for over a decade. “The minute I learned of Cynar 70 … I wanted to use it to crack the code on a [Jamaican rum]–based stirred cocktail,” says Mustipher. “I needed something that had enough heft and character to stand up to the assertiveness of a high-ester, pot-still Jamaican rum. Cynar fit the bill due to its ability to straddle the line between austere and expressive, while being herbaceous and slightly peppery.”
Meanwhile, in the Artichoke Blossom, bartender Kaufmann combines Cynar with elderflower liqueur and a “house blend” of Espolòn tequila (three parts blanco to one part reposado). “The tequila has a bite that complements the mellow nature of Cynar, while the earthiness and light smoke of the tequila brings out similar flavors in Cynar, [and] the elderflower complements the two spirits,” he says. The 50/50 made the leap to a full-on cocktail after a guest at the bar ordered a Cynar Mule. “After trying it, the potential was immediately obvious,” says Kaufmann. The spicy homemade ginger syrup used in his Choke the Mule was overpowering the original formula, so he subbed in the higher-proof Cynar 70. “The Cynar 70 resulted in a much more noticeable Cynar finish,” says Kaufmann.
Lastly, Sam Miller, general manager of a San Francisco tiki bar, united Jamaican rum with Cynar 70 in the Rock-Nar. “I choose the name because this 50/50 blend will rock you,” says Miller. “The sweetness in the Cynar 70 softens the rum, and its herbaceousness is complemented by that wild Jamaican pot-still funk. It’s rich, viscous, herbaceous, bitter and funky.” The Rock-Nar serves as the foundation for Vernon’s Cloak, an updated take on the Navy Grog, one of Miller’s favorite tiki classics. It’s a tart and bitter affair, rounded out with a citrus juice blend, a fragrant honey syrup and a hit of baking spice from allspice dram. “I love that even with the higher proof, Cynar 70 still drinks on the more delicate side of the amari spectrum,” says Miller. “When I substitute Cynar into tropical drinks and tiki classics, I’m almost always reaching for Cynar 70 first. It can hang with all those bold flavors.”