Despite having existed for over a century in its native Trentino, Italy, Cappelletti Amaro Sfumato is a relative newcomer to American backbars.
Like most amari, Sfumato is made by macerating a proprietary mixture of herbs and botanicals in neutral spirit. But as a card-carrying member of the larger group of rabarbaro (“rhubarb”) amari, it’s Chinese rhubarb that gives it distinctive smoky character.
“The root itself is interesting,” says Jake Parrott of Haus Alpenz, which recently began importing Sfumato. “If you cut into a fresh Chinese rhubarb root, it smells exactly like Sfumato.” In cocktails, this quality translates to a smoky characteristic without the accompanying harshness of actual wood smoke. In other words, “with Sfumato, you get the smoky flavor without the tannins,” explains Parrott.
Neal Bodenheimer, owner of Cure and Cane & Table in New Orleans, likewise praises the amaro’s unique ability to add perceived smokiness without throwing a drink out of balance. “It’s fruity and smoky, but with an incredible drying quality that can clean up even the most unwieldy drinks,” he explains. In his King’s Cobbler, Sfumato is paired with lemon juice and simple syrup for a fresh take on the cobbler.
Where Bodenheimer uses Sfumato as a base, Abigail Gullo of Compère Lapin uses it as a modifier in her Manhattan riff, the Wry Smile, which combines rye whiskey, two types of amaro, vermouth and cream sherry. Still, she says, “the Sfumato is the meat of this drink.”
Meanwhile, Matt Piacentini, of New York’s Up & Up, leans on a hefty dose of smoke. He plays off both the 50/50 shot and the Champagne Cocktail in his Hug-Tight, pairing Sfumato with an equal measure of mezcal and topping both with dry sparkling wine. “Sfumato is brooding, smoky, woody and all things dark,” says Piacentini, summing up the amaro’s modern mystique, “like what would be in an Italian witch’s cauldron.”