Welcome to the interwebs’ most embittering cocktail experience!  Hosted and bitterly themed this week by Chuck Taggart at the Gumbo Pages, MxMo is touching on a subject both dear to my heart and, I realized late last night, pretty difficult to do justice to.  From my days as a line-cook, when my boss told me that Fernet Branca was a real man’s drink, I’ve been fascinated by amari.  I have to admit that I hated my first taste of Fernet, but after I found that other amari tasted less… awful, I’ve been hooked.  I even enjoy Fernet these days, although my go-to amaro is definitely Cynar.  Generally I keep a couple bottles of whatever amari I’m trying, a bottle of Cynar for drinks that call for Campari/Aperol/Cynar (the less herbal, more fruit-oriented amari), and a bottle of Fernet for after dinner and the occasional Hanky-Panky.

So imagine my distress on Sunday evening, with ideas for MxMo swirling around in my mind, when I found that we had not only finished the last of our Amaro Meletti a week ago, but my roommate had just made himself an Americano with the last of the Cynar.  The only amaro I had on the shelf, besides my trusty bottle of Luxardo Fernet (hey, I like it a lot better than the Fernet Branca), was a bottle of China Martini, by Martini and Rossi, that I had bought out of curiosity a couple months ago.  China Martini, as the name indicates, is a quinined (quininated?) amaro that, to me, tastes fairly similar to Amaro Ramazzotti.  Sweet, fairly thick, with strong herbal and orange-peel notes.  Not bad.  But aside from a Black Manhattan or a Negroni variation (boring!) could I do with it?

The drink I came up with, cleverly titled Il Cane Nero (it’s like an Italian Greyhound, but, like a Manhattan made with amaro, è nero), is an even better hangover cure than a shot of Fernet and a slap in the face.  Easy to make, easy to drink, and easy to love, it’ll convince people who’ve always sworn by a Bloody Mary to pour that swill down the drain (actually, I love spicy tomato juice – I just don’t care if you bother to put vodka in it and call it a “drink”).

Il Cane Nero

  • Il Cane Nero 1 1/2 oz China Martini (or other, sweet amaro; Fernet is a no-no here)
  • 1 1/2 oz Italian Vermouth
  • 2 to 3 oz grapefruit juice (pretty much the juice of half a grapefruit)
    Coat the rim of a tumbler with salt.  Fill with ice, fill with all ingredients, and stir quickly to chill.  Serve with a slice of orange, if you can be bothered.

This drink is so easy it seems like cheating (and I really am cheating, since you can save the time and just buy a bottle of Punt e Mes to make this a 2 ingredient drink), but I have made these at all times of the day, for all different sorts of people, and they are staggeringly well-received.  I’ve made them with Punt e Mes, with Cynar and vermouth, with other amari and vermouth; it doesn’t matter, they are always delicious.  The fresh sourness of the grapefruit juice helps bridge the rich, sometimes cloying flavor of an amaro, while the bitterness of the juice makes the combination harmonious.  And the salt is absolutely essential; as a wise man once said, “I believe in salt on the rims of the glasses, because salt makes us thirsty, and when we drink we all fall in love”.