The Reverse Sazerac from Pizzeria Ortica

Burnt candied orange burst from nose to palate with strong supporting roles of anise and high acid bitter grapefruit keeping it in check.


This drink is a bit complicated, and somewhat of commitment. That being said, it manages to find an incredible balance, and batches out wonderfully for frequent use.

1/2 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup
1/4 oz Kubler Absinthe
1/2 oz Contratto Bitter
3/4 oz Iris Liqueur
1./2 oz Stagg JR (flamed)
Orange Zest


1/2 oz Flamed Stagg Whiskey

To start, take a room temperature cocktail glass or coupe and put in 1/2 oz high proof whiskey. Peel a nice wide swath of orange as well and set it aside with the glass.


1/4 oz Kubler Absinthe

The trick is to keep the glass and the whiskey room temp or warmer to get an increasingly bigger flame, purely effect. Preheating the glass or the spirit should be reserved for lower proofs since you run the risk of shattering your glass. Certainly always hard to play that off in front of guests.


1/2 oz Contratto Bitter

Combine all ingredients in a shaker minus the whiskey, orange and fire, that comes in a second. Before you put your ice in the tin, make sure you have everything you need in reach; double strainer, Hawthorne, lighter, fire extinguisher, all that. This is for time, the glass WILL break if you let it burn too long.


3/4 oz Iris Liqueur

Add the ice and light the whiskey, place the orange peel on the rim of the glass to get it nice and toasty. Shake it up, set your Hawthorne on the tin next to your double strainer ready to go, grab the orange peel and express the oil right over the flame, dropping it in the glass as it flairs up. Immediately grab the tin and double strain over the flame to douse it out.

One key thing to look out for with this kinds of cocktail is the temperature of the rim. If your cocktail doesn’t measure all the way up to the rim, its gonna be pretty hot and someone is going to burn their lips. 

Huge shout out to my awesome team at Pizzeria Ortica, Aristotle Altstaetter and Jason Scarborough. They nailed it with this cocktail.

Thanks to OC Weekly and Gustavo Arellano for featuring this in their
Drink of the Week segment!

OC Weeky

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Braulio Alpino Amaro!

Braulio LogoIt may be the definition of terroir, Amaro Braulio is a playfully bitter, pine-driven spirit that speaks of the land from which it came.


The Birthplace of Braulio

The one thing you will hear me say over and over when I speak of amaro, is terroir. Im obsessed, hence my fascination with Amaro Braulio. It screams of its native terroir, Northern Italy, bordering the swiss alps in a town called Bormio, It lies in the Provence of Sondrio in Valatellina, Lombardia. If you’re familiar with Alto Adige its about 2 hours east of Bolzano. This area was once a highly sought after trade route between Italy and Norther Europe.

13_BRAULIO_radiciSimply put, Braulio drinks like carmalized Arolla and Scots Pine, the native trees in that area of the Alps. I’ve heard people say it tastes like a Christmas tree in a glass, for me it is the definition of terroir. A shining example of what Amaro is all about, firmly rooted in its land and surroundings.

Braulio75cl_USA Front

Imported to the States by our friends at Domaine Select


It is unique from most amari for the fact that it the herbs used are macerated in a grape distillate, or grappa as it is known in Italy. This is not the only amaro to use grappa as its base but it lends a naturally deep complexity to the finished product over those that use grain alcohol. After maceration it is typically aged for two years in oak barrels further enhancing its unique properties and depth.


Only four, among the thirteen ingredients used in its preparation are known: gentian, juniper, wormwood, and yarrow. The rest are kept secret.

Braulio Poster

At 21% abv this amaro is rich, with notes of chamomile, sandalwood and pine, predominantly bittersweet front front to back. It was first produced in 1875 and named after Monte Braulio, one of the 23 main peaks of the Livigno Alps.

Braulio giant

Drinking it straight from the bottle crosses my mind almost every time I pick it up. Its great on its own neat, but with a splash of soda water and orange it is equally enjoyable. During the summer try pouring it over crushed ice, zesting an orange peel over the top for a bittersweet and refreshing treat.

If you are  wondering how to employ this fine beverage in your cocktails remember what mom always told you; less is more.

Bars and restaurants around the U.S. are already begining to find ways to properly showcase this powerful amaro.

 Nico Osteria in Chicago has crafted a refeshing twist on the negroni called Nico and Featherweight in Brooklyn has conjured up an alpine twist on an old fashioned called The Saw Tooth.

1 1/4 oz Sipsmith Gin
1 1/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz mineral water
1/2 oz Amaro Braulio


2 oz Elijah Craig 12-year
1/2 oz  Amaro Braulio
1 brown sugar cube
2 dashes Fee’s orange bitters


California in a Bottle

California is known for many things, but amaro?

Grand Poppy

While not technically classified as an amaro, Grand Poppy is a genius blend of organic California herbs that gives you everything you would expect from an amaro as far as terrior goes.

This absurdly distinct, bitter-sweet spirit bears the essence of sweet, buried flowers and the unearthed roots of a poppy due to its gentian dominated finish.

Poppy sunset

California Red Poppy

Grand Poppy hails from The Greenbar Collective – a “first of it’s kind since prohibition” Los Angeles distillery headed up by the husband and wife spirit making duo Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew.

This liqueur showcases a cornucopia of California’s bounty including: poppy, orange, lemon, grapefruit, bearberry, California bay leaf, pink peppercorn, dandelion, blessed thistle, burdock, rue, artichoke, geranium and cherry bark – macerated in a rum base, then re-distilled and finished with cane sugar.

156151_671641666198545_1377510484_nGreenbar Craft Distillery is the same family responsible for the line of TRU vodka and gin, as well as IXÁ tequila, Slow Hand White Whiskey, Crusoe Silver Rum, FruitLab Liqueurs and the infamous BAR KEEP Bitters line, making them the largest distributor of organic spirits on the market, and the first carbon negative distillery in the world!

Well Done Greenbar. Well Done.

Come try “The State Flower” cocktail at Pizzeria Ortica:
1oz Grand Poppy
1oz Campari
1oz Nolets Gin

Who Drinks Amaro, Really?


Jack and his favorite Amaro

Jack, relaxing with his favorite Amaro

…And what is Amaro, really? Where did it come from? Why is it so damn sexy ?  For some it’s an acquired taste, for others, they just “get it” because, clearly, they were born with a palate like a boss.

I was not born with a boss-like palate, so when I think back to the first sip of the stuff I ever tried, I remember thinking… what the hell is this!? It was bitter, it was sweet, it was aggressive and just confusing as hell. Dare I say, I was not an immediate fan of the stuff in general. What struck me over time was how big the curve was- how long it took me to get my palate to the point where I actually craved a progressively bitter taste.

Spreti Fred Michael

Boss Palates: Fred Dame MS, Spreti Valente CS and Michael Jordan MS

The more I drank the more addicting it became. The gambit of flavors, sweetness and bitterness level of the amari in Italy and across the world is profound. Hopefully if you are new to this stuff, the information you get here will help you ease your way in so you can appreciate them properly. I know most of us veterans think its cute to drop a rookie off in Fernet-land, for shock value.  It’s pretty hilarious to see the look on someone’s face, but that’s just plain rude… and I’m just plain guilty.

Fernet Branca- Aperitivo or Digestivo?

Fernet Branca– Aperitivo or Digestivo?

Amaro in Italy has a storied history, being born out of apothecaries and touted as a medicinal remedy for everything ranging from upset stomachs to malaria. Amaro, the word itself means “bitter” but there is a lot more to these complex beauties aside from their bitter quality.

Amari are considered aperitifs or digestives depending on the flavor and ingredient profile. Some can help settle a full stomach, while others are geared to crank up your appetite, again depending on the flavor and components of the product.

Typically they are lower in alcohol but can range from 16%-40%.

Some are made from macerating local herbs, flowers, roots in distilled grape pomace, while a majority appear to be based with a neutral grain spirit.

If you’ve drank enough wine in your life, or hang out with nerds like me, you may have heard the french term “terroir“. We use it to explain the connectivity of the land to a wine. For example a chardonnay from Chablis is going to taste a hell of a lot different than a Chardonnay from Napa, wine making practices aside. Since the soil and climate are so vastly different from place to place you wind up with a product that exhibits the qualities of the land in which they were born and connected to.

For the most part, Amaro is very similar when it comes to terroir. Most are made from local plant life so they wind up exhibiting the flavors of the land in which they were produced.  A good example is pictured above, Jacks favorite Amaro  Braulio. Made in the pine tree riddled lands of  Bormio, a ski resort town situated in the northeasten side of the Valtellina district of Lombardia in central, Northern Italy. This area borders the Swiss Alps so the herbs that stand out in this Amaro are very piney indeed –Terroir.


Image courtesy of The Straight Up.

Though the term Amaro is primarily reserved for Italian products, nearly every country creates a similar products or liqueurs. Germany has Krauterlikor, i.e. Jägermeister. France has Amer-Picons among many others, and Croatia produces a lovely bitter by the name of Pelincovac. America unfortunately has been better known for things like schnapps or artificially sweetened liqueurs like Hpnotiq. Thankfully that’s changing quite rapidly. We now have things like Grand Poppy, a 100% organic, California style Amaro made from native herbs like poppy and gentian. Oregon has Calisaya which is based on an old recipe from Italy and Colorado is home to one of the first producers of domestic Fernet.

We are seeing quite a few quality products popping up here at home… at long last. Ill be posting detailed notes on each of these products and many more throughout the world in the near future.

See you Amaro my friends.

Cin Cin!



The Amaro Induction

wine bath ass 335

We’ve come a long way since the days of Jager-bombs, Peppermint Schnapps and Goldschläger. Remember when 99 Bananas actually seemed like a good idea?

Ok, well maybe that was never really the case but none the less, we are in the midst of an educated alcohol revolution.

From craft cocktails to craft beer, wine and spirits to bittersweet liqueurs, we are seeing vast improvements on quality and consumer awareness.

 Maybe not to anyone’s surprise it seems like the United States has been a little behind the palate for most of the gorgeous liquid offerings of the world.

Most still think Fireball is “hot-shit” for lack of a more appropriate term, but some have already begun to explore the vast offerings of quality indigenous beverages throughout the world.

So maybe you haven’t been introduced to the beautiful world of Amari yet , or  maybe you’ve read a blurb about them on Tasting Table online. Perhaps you’ve dabbled with one or two at Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, maybe you and your hipster friends still think its cool to bust out your Fernet coins at a bar (kinda cool actually), or maybe you’ve been drinking them with your Italian Grandmother since you started walking. 

Wherever you’re at I hope to serve as a catalyst for education and discovery in all things liquid, with of course as much focus on Amaro, and anything remotely resembling this “Italian liquid Gold”.

I am here for the beverage nerd in all of us.  

Cin Cin!

Joel Anthony Caruso