What spirit driven cocktail is as dark as the night is long, bittersweet, features a favorite (and often controversial) Italian Amaro as the base, and is surprisingly delicious if you are daring enough to try it? The Curfew cocktail.
Last night, while waiting for our table at Toro Bravo in Portland, Oregon, we had the pleasure of Jesse’s service behind the bar at The Secret Society cocktail lounge. We love the old vibe of the place almost as much as the solid menu of perfectly executed classics—most of which have appeared here on Summit Sips at one time or another over the years. In addition to the comprehensive menu of choices by spirit category, some of the most interesting options are on the chalk boards above the bar. These seasonal selections are always a treat, and we went straight for The Last Rose, a Last Word cocktail with a Malbec float. Historically, the whiskey sour was sometimes constructed with a claret float, and here we have a similar effect that works quite nicely. This was, of course, an herbal Chartreuse and Luxardo gin sour, and not our dark and brooding Curfew cocktail that was yet to come. The night was still young.
For our second round, we asked Jesse to construct something unique. We were thinking Fernet Branca, and gave him license to experiment. Jesse knew immediately what to make and verified with us that we were serious about Fernet—not timid or ill-prepared.
2 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Averna
.5 oz House Spirits Coffee Liqueur
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a pigtail orange peel twist.
Oftentimes, a cocktail featuring amaro leverages classic proportions, pairing with a base spirit and allowing the Italian bitter liqueur to play the role of a modifier. Replacing sweet vermouth for example is a common way to go, but the Curfew contains no base spirit—but it’s more than just diluted Fernet.
We asked Jesse to explain this cocktail before we knew the other ingredients. We thought we were tasting notes of chocolate around the Fernet, but this was just an echo of the complex flavor combinations. He said that it started by mixing Fernet Branca with Averna. Upon tasting this mixture, he perceived the sip moving from the bitter herbal, through sweet and root flavors, and leading toward coffee. Yet, coffee never came, so he added House Spirits Coffee Liqueur to push it into that flavor territory. Could you use another brand of coffee liqueur? We think so. The spices in the liqueur along with the orange peel twist help to unite all of the ingredients, while the dilution from shaking takes the edge off of the bitterness.
It’s just sweet enough to enliven each sip and help the medicine go down without needing any acid to balance it out. It is somewhat reminiscent of sipping a strong, adult gourmet root beer, but it does require a level of comfort with the ingredients ahead of time, as these flavors will be challenging to anyone not accustomed to them. Dark? Yes. Bitter? Somewhat, but that’s not a bad thing. Delicious? Absolutely. We’ll go through twice as much Fernet now, but we also have another great use for Averna, and it may be time to revisit House Spirits Distillery.