Bar Cart Briefs: BITTERS
In 1919 US Congress ratified the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages. That same year, in Italy, the brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri created Aperol, a lighter version of the wildly popular bitters aperitif that had become a staple cocktail ingredient served all across cosmopolitan European cities.
Made from orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, Aperol is a bittersweet herbal liqueur, one of many brands classed collectively as Amari. Aperol is considered a gateway amaro—sweeter and lower in alcohol than some of its more popular cousins like Campari and Averna.
Launched at the 1919 Padua International Fair, Aperol was an instant hit. A few decades later the iconic Aperol Spritz was born. Three parts Italian Prosecco, two parts Aperol and a splash of soda. In other words effervescent, refreshing, and light. Perfect for a soft drinker like me.
On a recent Tuesday evening, my sister and brother-in-law treated us to a bountiful feast of shrimp scampi, grilled artichokes, eggplant lasagna, balsamic onion flatbread, polenta, broccoli rabe, and beans from Capers & Lemons in Delaware. Vicky handed me an Aperol Spritz in a plastic to-go cup--essentially introducing me to liquid sunshine.
As previously stated, I am not a big drinker but I can't imagine going through this global pandemic without the occasional aid of an aperitif or two. I understand, now, why illegal distilling accelerated during prohibition, why moonshiners were motivated to create "hooch", "mountain dew", "white lightning" and a dozen other euphemistic names for non-aged spirits distilled from fermented sugar and grain.
Produced illicitly, under the "shine of the moon" it does have a certain mystique that has intrigued poets and troubadours for centuries, inspiring odes and songs. I have a particular favorite called "God's Own Drunk" a monologue written by Lord Buckley that I heard for the first time on Jimmy Buffett's Live album when I was seventeen and likely more intrigued by the notion of illicit alcohol than I am today. The monologue is a narrative about a teetotaler charged with babysitting his brother-in-law's still only to give in to temptation and drink enough whiskey to imagine (or have) a conversation with a 19 foot Kodiak bear whom he nicknames "Buddy." Of course when morning dawns both the bear and the still are gone. Moonshine will do that to you (I assume).