Why Sfumato Deserves a Place on Your Bar Cart

“Sfumato Rabarbaro Amaro”: It’s a mouthful. But the translation — “smoky rhubarb amaro” —  tells you exactly what’s inside. Whereas some amari (bitter Italian liqueurs) are light and dynamic, or aggressively bitter, Sfumato follows its own path: rich and smoky, with a woodsy, earthy quality, but with a bright, juicy character that keeps it lively and extremely drinkable.

As with many amari, it’s delicious on its own as an after-dinner digestif. But its nuanced, smoky flavor is a joy to play around with in cocktails — with whiskey and tequila showing a particular affinity for it. Here are three simple winter drinks to really show off Sfumato.

Easy: Sfuma-Toddy

The smokiness of Sfumato makes for an extremely appealing hot toddy, blending nicely with all the classic accoutrements: honey, lemon, spice. Bourbon serves as a strong, warming backbone. 

Instructions: Add an ounce of bourbon, an ounce of Sfumato, and 1 teaspoon of honey to a heat-safe glass. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Heat water to a near-boil and pour two ounces into glass; stir until honey is dissolved. Stud a lemon wedge with a few cloves, squeeze it in, and leave in the glass. Add a cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries, and one piece of star anise.

Intermediate: Sfumato & Repo

Great tequila has all kinds of grassy, vegetal notes, and Sfumato’s smoky-woodsy quality is a perfect match. Stirred together, and balanced with a bit of sweet vermouth, they create a drink with the profile of a Manhattan but a complex, faintly smoky character all its own. 

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of reposado tequila, 1/2 ounce Sfumato, and 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth. Add one dash of Angostura bitters. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a big twist of lime peel.

Advanced: Sfumato & Rye

Plenty of Scotches are smoky; American whiskeys are generally not. But add a dose of Sfumato to American rye and it almost echoes the taste of a Scotch, in addition to the myriad other flavors it contributes. Lemon juice, orange bitters, and grapefruit peel lighten the whole thing up. Sultry enough for a nightcap, bright and easy enough to drink before dinner.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces of 100-proof rye (we like Rittenhouse), 3/4 ounce of Sfumato, 1/4 ounce of lemon juice, 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, and 2 dashes of orange bitters. Shake until very well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Add 1/2 ounce of club soda and give a quick stir. Garnish with a grapefruit peel, squeezed over the top to release its citrus oils.

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