Despite existing 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 a neutral spirit. As a card-carrying member of the larger group of rabarbaro (rhubarb) amari, it’s Sfumato’s Chinese rhubarb that gives it a distinctive smoky character.
“If you cut into a fresh Chinese rhubarb root, it smells exactly like Sfumato,” says Jake Parrott of Haus Alpenz, which imports the amaro. 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 classic cobbler format.
Whereas Bodenheimer uses Sfumato as a base, Abigail Gullo of Seattle’s Ben Paris 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.” Also riffing on a classic, Orestes Cruz adds a half-ounce of Sfumato to the typical rum-grapefruit-maraschino build of the Hemingway Daiquiri for his The Smoke Also Rises cocktail.
Other drinks lean fully into the ingredient’s smokiness, pairing the amaro with mezcal for a double-dose of the flavor. Joaquín Simó’s Charming Man, for example, uses the Mezcal Negroni template, subbing in Sfumato for Campari, yielding a woodsy finish. Meanwhile, Matt Piacentini, of New York’s Up & Up, plays off both the 50/50 shot and the Champagne Cocktail in his Hug-Tight. The cocktail pairs Sfumato with an equal measure of mezcal, and is then topped 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.”