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Drink Wed Jul 30 2014
Though I'd normally order a cocktail before anything neat, I happily sipped my tumbler of straight amaro while sitting at the bar in CH Distillery. I had a grand view of the distilling equipment, the massive column still the perfect eye candy for savoring my drink.
I had read about the cocoa nibs and honey (both made in Illinois) that go into the new CH Amaro, but I still expected something dark and bitter. Amari, that catch all-category of bitter-and-sweet Italian digestifs, are part of a bigger, very bitter family of liqueurs that, as Grub Street notes, are "steeped with roots and tasting like dirt-infused toothpaste." They make me think of disheveled old men, slamming back shots of something as harsh as they look.
While bitter, there's nothing dank and forest-floor about CH Amaro. Made from a rum base and infused with honey, it has a little sweetness but it's not cloying, the cocoa nibs balanced with a touch of cinnamon spice and grapefruit. The bitterness presents in the back of the mouth like a melting piece of very dark chocolate, which, coupled with the pleasant heft on the palate, encourages slow sipping.
CH Amaro also plays well with other spirits; I enjoyed it in the Bombardier, a cocktail mixed with CH Bourbon, coffee-infused demerara, and orange zest. With its touch of cinnamon, this amaro would be an ideal component in a fall cocktail, or as added spice in a Hot Toddy. I could see it adding depth to a coffee cocktail and as a sweet addition to the brooding Negroni.
Since my last visit, CH Distillery has also produced a limoncello, not the face-puckering electric yellow kind from an old world Italian joint, rather one with a light and creamy texture. It was delightfully desserty on its own, but I wanted to pour it over vanilla ice cream. CH Distillery pours it over shaved ice in the Limoncello Snow Cone.
CH Distillery is continuously adding to their repertoire--they're now experimenting with a cherry liqueur and a chestnut whiskey--and they have no plans to phase out any of their spirits, which includes rum, bourbon, whiskey, and multiple vodkas and gins.
This is partly out of legal concerns (their liquor license permits them to use only what they make on site) but also, I think, out of creativity and a love of tinkering with their stills. CH Amaro shows this inventive spirit, shedding the stabbing bitterness of many other traditional Italian digestifs for something a little softer. Whether on its own or in a cocktail, this is a liqueur that, with it's coco nibs, honey, and cinnamon, is meant for savoring.
564 W. Randolph St.