So about this Cynar stuff. It's starting to grow on me, intellectually if not gastronomically. Intellectually, the more I read
straight off the website and paraphrase as I'm about to do now up on it, the more intrigued I get. It's been around since 1952 (that alone, the cinematic notion of la vita bella circa 1952, is enough to sweep my grandiose imagination off its size 11 feet). In 1995 Cynar was bought by the Campari Group... which also owns Cabo Wabo Tequila, wtf? The U.S. is not among Cynar's top-five markets worldwide, although I have found pockets of American afi-Cynar-nados online; those are Brazil, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France, where apparently people like to spike their beer with it.
Gastronomically, I think I might be on the cusp of a whole Italian herbal liqueur movement. Seems everywhere I've gone lately, I've been confronted by bottles of Aperol and Amaro and I just get itchy with curiosity. They are fast replacing bitters in my bartending fancies/fantasies. (Am I going too fast? Quick primer, if so: What I'm talking about here are aperitifs (before-dinner drinks, usually on the light and crisp side) and digestifs (heavier after-dinner drinks). Aperol, which is a singular product like, say, Benedictine, is considered an aperitif. Amaro's a digestif and is a categorical name for a kind of drink the way, say, bourbon is. There are tons of different Amaro brands, and because they virtually all go by "Amaro [Italian brand name that sounds like a village]" their labels may read as if their surnames indicate something more than marketing, like some sort of regional appellation, but really they don't . One more thing: it's pronounced CHEE-nar. That's how they say it in these awesome commercials from the 1960s.)
As I've bemoaned before, the loamy, leathery flavor of Cynar is a highly acquired one, but slowly acquiring it I believe I am. A few months ago I'd printed out something from TastingTable about flips, which are cocktails made with a whole egg, and just recently while flipping through my binder o'drink things that catch my eye, I noticed a recipe for a Cynar flip, little more than Cynar, egg and simple syrup. Sold.
I've touted the use of egg whites in cocktails aplenty, which give you that great, frothy head
(that's what she said) while rounding out a drink's harsher, more acidic elements. A whole egg gives you a drink with body just this side of batter-thick, as if your tongue has been ensconced in velvet, or better yet, Italian silk.
The Cynar Flip
(Adapted from Drink, a cocktail lounge in Boston, via TastingTable)
2 1/2 ounces Cynar
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon cilantro-infused simple syrup
Star anise, for garnish
Combine Cynar, egg and simple syrup in an ice-filled shaker and shake vigorously for a really long time, like a minute. Strain into cocktail glass. Drop star anise on top for garnish.
Drink's recipe calls for plain simple syrup, but a side-by-side sniff test of my Cynar bottle and my cilantro-infused simple syrup bottle led me to the olfactory-driven conclusion that they'd be a good match. The truth is, with an ingredient as forceful as Cynar and a whole egg in there, who knows if I would've been able to tell the difference.
To make cilantro-infused simple syrup: Heat on the stove in small pot equal parts sugar and water (one cup each is a good place to start) stirring consistently. Right when it comes to a full boil, remove from heat. Stir in a healthy handful of well-cleaned cilantro leaves. Once it's cooled down to around room temperature, strain through a good strainer or cheese cloth into a bottle for storage. You can keep this in your fridge for a good month or so.
Sean and I tried this at first and decided it needed the slightest bit of something extra. Not another liquid ingredient or something on the rim; I felt like what I really wanted was a piece of candied ginger that I could slice into and straddle atop the rim as a garnish, so I could trade nibbles of it for sips of cocktail, which is certainly thick and forward enough to match wits with it. Alas, we don't keep candied ginger in the house, but we do have star anise, a spice from China. As you can see, it allows for quite the dramatic presentation, but more importantly, the spice's way-potent, licorice-like fragrance was what we were going for. This is meant to be a purely smell-experienced garnish, in other words. You get a perfume-y little whiff of it right before the drink hits your lips, which turned out to be a good je ne sais quoi.