Amaro Lucano recently returned to U.S. shores and broader distribution here. Hailing from the small town of Pisticci in Lucania, Italy, the amaro is made from a secret blend of 30-plus herbs and essential oils.
As amari goes, Lucano has a traditional and relatively centrist profile, aptly riding the line between bitter and sweet. On the nose: raisin and prune, cloves, sour cherry, and some wine-like notes to give it a sharper edge. Quite fruity for an amaro, but with a touch of cola note. On the palate, it’s considerably deeper and more complex. More of those cola notes start things off, then comes licorice, notes of drip coffee, bitter chocolate, orange peel, and a melange of macerated and dried fruits — raisin, some fig, and a touch of rhubarb. Floral notes emerge with time and consideration — a bit of violet and lilac, both of which push you through to the moderately bitter but very lasting finish.
Lucano has plenty of complexity but manages to remain modest in sweetness as well as restrained on the bitter front. It’s a well done product, and stands as an amaro that I will certainly return to time and time again.
A- / $30 / amarolucano.it
SoCo’s latest flavor is Caramel — “Caramel Comfort” being the alternate name for this sticky concoction. As flavorings go, caramel can be an overpowering one, and it does quite a number on the otherwise pungent SoCo core.
Here, syrupy caramel notes — burnt sugar and marshmallow — dominate the nose, with just a hint of fruit peeking through. The palate sticks with the caramel theme, although it also has a bit of a chemical overtone alongside it. As the finish builds, some of SoCo’s characteristic peachiness starts to emerge, but it isn’t long before things turn saccharine, coating the palate with something that I can only describe as how it feels after you’ve overdone things on Halloween.
C / $10 / southerncomfort.com
That bright red color and an Italian name can only mean one thing: Campari, right?
Wrong! Introducing Meletti 1870, a bit of a Campari lookalike that’s designed to be used in Negronis and Americanos and other strong/bittersweet cocktails.
Of course, you can sip it straight as an aperitivo, too, and in this fashion you will find this concoction of sweet and bitter orange plus infused herbs and spices (including gentian, coriander, cinnamon, and clove) quite a little delight. The nose is syrupy and brisk with orange notes along with maraschino cherry character. Lots of baking spice emerges on the palate, with a mild bitterness to add balance.
It may look a lot like Campari, but it’s quite a different spirit. Campari is punctuated by mammoth bitter notes that start on the nose and carry through to the lengthy, heavily bitter finish. In Meletti 1870, the bitterness comes across almost as an afterthought, making for a much different experience on the whole. Melitti is focused on fruit and spice. Campari lives to sear your throat and give you that unbending grimace — in a good way, though.
Either way, try it as an alternative in a cocktail to Campari — or, better yet, instead of .
B+ / $26 / opiciwines.com
Saint Brendan was a 5th century Irish apostle (later a saint, of course) who was best known for a seven-year-long fantastical voyage that has gone down as a bit of high Catholic mythology. No telling if he was into Irish cream, but I have my doubts.
Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream (motto: “Simple by Design”) is another in a long line of lower-cost alternatives to Baileys. It’s Irish whiskey and cream, and that’s it. Pretty simple, indeed.
This Irish cream features a nice balance between the whiskeylike punch up front and the creamy, vanilla-and-marshmallow notes that build on the body. There’s a little heat on the back end, but overall it’s a quite gentle Irish cream, offering modest sweetness with a just a little bit of spice. Chocolate and chewy nougat notes hang around for a while on the finish.
Altogether it drinks quite well, but it could use a bit more power to separate it from what sometimes comes across like a glass of chocolate milk. Compare to Brady’s.
B+ / $12 / stbrendans.com
Made in Bologna, Italy, Montenegro (“the liquor of the virtues”) dates back to 1885. Amaro Montenegro is on the sweeter side of amari, with a character that folds lots of citrus, spearmint, honey, and licorice into its classic, bittersweet body. Light on its feet, it offers lightly salted caramel up front, then moves toward some subtle Madeira notes and a bit of root beer character on the finish.
Montenegro is widely considered one of the gentlest amari, and its light color and up-front sweetness bear that out. But Montenegro does have a bracing edge that showcases its bitterness well, making for a classic, cohesive amaro.
A- / $27 / totalbeveragesolution.com
Don’t think caramel (particularly the salted variety) is still the It Flavor to contend with? Consider Kahlua’s latest limited edition expression: Salted Caramel.
This seasonal release is an extremely sweet one, but that’s not unusual for the brand. It all starts off with intense, brown-to-almost-burnt sugar on the nose. This vanilla-studded, caramel syrup character is gooey and thick, lingering for what seems to be days. The coffee doesn’t kick in until the finish arrives at long last, a heavily sugared dark roast that will have you begging for an espresso, black.
Is it ironic that a Salted Caramel liqueur has caramel color added? I can’t quite decide.
C- / $16 / kahlua.com
SomPriya is a curious company. The organization has an app for finding Indian restaurants and it makes an alcoholic beverage with one capital letter too many. SomruS is “the original Indian cream liqueur,” made in Chicago from Wisconsin dairy cream, Caribbean rum, and natural flavors that include cardamom, pistachios, saffron, almonds, and rose petals.
The balsa-wood colored liqueur is a different animal than any other cream liqueur on the market, including others in this wheelhouse, like Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur. One whiff of the nose and the rose element becomes extremely clear. The cardamom and pistachios contribute some vague Asian-ness to the nose, but the floral character is what’s wholly unavoidable. On the palate, this evolves into an intense perfume character, muddling the rose petals with notes of strawberry, jellybeans, marzipan, and Turkish delight.
It’s a funky product, but the finish is so heavy with that flowery perfume it’s like stepping back in time to another era. That finish sticks with you for a long time, too — and it gets a bit too familiar, if you ask me.
C+ / $28 / somrus.com
Patron is no longer content to rule only the tequila world. Now it wants to take over the liqueur market as well. Two newish releases in this space recently launched. Thoughts follow.
Patron Citronge Lime Liqueur – Patron’s rendition of triple sec, Citronge Orange, was a big enough hit that it has begotten a sequel, Citronge Lime. Sure, the need for lime-flavored liqueurs is considerably smaller than the one for orange-flavored ones, but one appreciates having options, right? Again, while Citronge Lime smells strongly of vegetal, agave notes, it is strictly a lime liqueur, not a flavored tequila. Sharp chili pepper notes mingle with authentic, rich lime character — perhaps with a hint of mint — but the body is overwhelmingly sweet and unctuous (perhaps the lower abv is part of the reason for that), almost syrupy in its composition. With its tequila-like character, the overall impression of Citronge Lime is something akin to the sweetest margarita you’ve ever tasted… and I’ve tasted a lot of them. Try it in moderation. 70 proof. B / $22
Patron XO Cafe Incendio – The burgeoning XO Cafe line now has a third member: XO Cafe Indendio. Unlike Citronge, the XO Cafe line does include tequila in the mix (Patron Silver, specifically), plus Criollo chocolate and Mexican chile de arbol for the incendio. That may sound like a bit of a hot mess (pun intended) and it is. The nose is primarily chocolate, just with an edge of racy spice. The body is something else altogether, kicking off with a pleasant cinnamon-infused Mexican chocolate. But you’re in for a swift kick in the pants in short order as that chili pepper hits and hits hard. This is an intense and biting heat that rapidly washes away all that candylike sweetness very quickly. What’s left behind is a scorching sensation in the back of the throat, a touch of chalky cocoa powder, and a hint of orange peel. But above all there is the heat — long, lasting, and ultimately a little off-putting. 60 proof. B- / $25
Craft Frangelico? You better believe it. Our pals at the Northwest brewpub/restaurant/microdistillers McMenamins churn out a small amount of this hazelnut spirit, called Phil. (Filbert? Get it?)
Phil is made from unaged wheat whiskey that’s infused with Oregon hazelnuts. Bottled at 60 proof, it’s considerably stronger than both Frangelico and Fratello, both of which are bottled at 40 proof.
And what’s not to like here? Phil has big, authentic hazelnut notes, with subtle notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Almost any essence of the base spirit is completely overpowered by the hazelnut character, just the mildest hint of cereal amid the notes of pure hazelnut. The slightly higher alcohol level helps to clarify the nutty notes and saves Phil from delving too deeply into sugary sweetness.
Feel free to drop this in your coffee, your kicked-up White Russian, or your Nutty Irishman. You don’t have to tell anyone what the spirit is called.
A- / $18 (375ml) / mcmenamins.com
Molinari produces this limoncello on the island of Capri using local lemons as well as those from Sorrento. I can’t verify whether this is, as the bottle claims, “the original limoncello,” though there’s a story that dates to the early 1900s that says it was invented by one Vincenza Canale, an ancestor of the Molinari clan. The brand does at least own limoncello.com, so that’s something, too.
As limoncello goes, it’s heavy on sweetness, but a little thin on the body. The nose offers a brisk lemon peel flavor, but it just doesn’t carry through to the finish. It barely makes it to the palate, really. The sugar overpowers the fruity element, limiting the lemon to more of a Life Savers character. That’s not really such a bad thing, but that acidic sourness of lemon isn’t as bracing here as it is in other limoncellos, which means the finish isn’t nearly as clean as it should be. A great limoncello leaves behind a fresh, springtime character. This one feels like a summer ice cream social. Dial back the sugar a bit and we just might have something special here.
B / $23 / limoncello.com