When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Marta, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them.
Today: What happens to a brunch cocktail when it goes to Italy.
There are times when coming up with cocktails is a grind of a process. You start with an idea, and then test a seemingly endless number of variations until you either find one that works or give up in frustration. Then there are cocktails, like the Valtellina, that seem to spring, fully formed, from the foam.
The Valtellina draws its inspiration from the mountainous region nestled in the Italian Alps, a place full of of alpine meadows and towns built into the mountainside, the air tinged with the smells of spruce, mint, and wood smoke. This is also the birthplace of Braulio, an amaro that I describe as a Fernet that's gone to finishing school because of its gentler portrayal of similar flavors.
In creating this cocktail, I couldn’t help but think of the flavors present in Braulio -- mint, smoke, wood, ginger, camphor -- and how well all of them went with the flavor of fresh orange. I also drew upon one of my weekend guilty pleasures, the beermosa (a mimosa but made with beer...get it?), which I almost exclusively make with Belgian Witbier or a Bavarian wheat beer. Mint leaves thrown into the shaker add a punch of depth and provide a much-needed bridge between the sweetness of the juice and the bitter herb finish of the amaro. The Witbier, with its notes of coriander and orange peel, adds weight and texture.
This makes a spectacular brunch cocktail, as well as an alternative to the ubiquitous spritz if you’re looking for something inventive before dinner. It’s a cocktail that tells a story of a small corner of the Italian border, a place where you’re more likely to own cross-country skis than flip-flops -- and where the smoke rising from the chimneys beckons you as you return from the spruce-filled hills.
1 ounce Braulio amaro
1 freshly squeezed orange juice
4 to 5 mint leaves
Ommegang Witte beer (or another Belgian wheat-syle beer)
Orange twist for garnish
Photos by James Ransom