Amaro Trending: A Connoisseur’s Guide w/ D.C.’s Secretive ‘Society’ Bar
Washington, D.C. is having a hospitality moment. Multi-million dollar investments are the order of the way for a plethora of downtown hotels; and one of the newest, and most impressive, is the makeover of the Hamilton Hotel at 14th and K.
The grand Art Deco lobby, complete with towering columns has been restored, as have the marble adorned dining rooms. And just on the other side of the many-Emmy-winning HBO show’s finale, a Veep themed oval office suite just begs for a scandalous political tryst. And the Hamilton’s Via Sophia restaurant has already made the Eater “15 Hottest Restaurants in D.C.” list.
However, we were most excited for relatively hush hush (and sexy) Society, an intimate, fourteen seat cocktail lounge. Tucked away in a hidden hallway near the main lobby, and full of snogging-friendly nooks, the space is modeled after the Yale’s notorious Skull and Bones meeting hall, The Tomb.
Part social space and part library, with wood-paneled walls and carefully handcrafted moldings, the décor serves as a nod to the renowned French-born architect Jules-Henrí de Sibour, who originally designed the Hamilton in 1922, and who (wink wink) happened to be a member of Yale’s secret society.
The cocktail program, helmed by beverage “Majordomo” Maurizio Arberi is more glorious than notorious, with creative takes on Italian classics and regional spirits trends. To wit, a pair of rums from local distiller Cotton & Reed (at Union Market) are a standout feature. But, nodding to the influence of Italia, amaro is treated as the star here. Arberi, who hails from Southern Italy, explains, that “in traditional Italian culture, amaro is considered an everyday drink, typically consumed after a meal, and mainly after coffee, on the rocks or neat accompanied by orange or lemon zest.”
The inherent complexity of amaro, which can be flavored using herbs, flowers, or fruit peels, lends itself to a variety of complex and surprising cocktails. And global trend chasing has led to amaro becoming, as Arberi states it, “a go-to spirit for curated craft cocktails all over the world.”
So, which ones do we drink and how should we drink them?
“I personally love to work with the six below,” Arberi enthuses. “Each are quite unique, produced in the motherland or right here in D.C.”
Don Ciccio e Figli / Washington, D.C.
Eucalyptus, Chicory, Passion flower, Chamomile
I found this Amaro here in D.C. through the owner Francesco, and this is probably my favorite. The smoothness and elegance the barrel gives to this amaro, makes it easy to combine with most of all spirits and liquor. This is great with nocino (Walnut) or in a Negroni, but is also fantastic on the rocks.
Caffo / Calabria, Italy
Bitter Orange, Licorice, Tangerine, Cinnamon
Amaro del capo is an icon. From Calabria, where my mother is from, this used to be one of the most popular. For a while, it disappeared from the bar scene, and now it can be found virtually everywhere. It’s very easy to finish a bottle of this, it’s like a nectar. Best kept in the freezer and served straight,
Santa Maria al Monte, Genova, Italy
Aloe Ferox, Angelica Root, Myrrh, Ginseng
This amaro is very different from the others, high in proof (80) like a liquor, as the sirene is aged in barrel for a year. Very full and intense flavor, I love to drink this after dinner on the rocks with a slice of lemon; but it is also good with sodas.
Pernod Ricard / Canelli, Italy
Galangal, Star Anise, Cinnamon, Kola Nut
Amaro Ramazzotti, not to be confused with the famous Italian singer Eros Ramazzotti, is an iconic amaro in Italy, and now all over the world. This one is also nice with tonic water and a slice of lemon.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II / Milan, Italy
Cardamom, Chinese Rhubarb, Orange, Angelica Root
This Amaro is more of an aperitivo and less after dinner drink. I still remember the commercial was everywhere when I was growing up in Italy. Over there, it’s as popular as Campari. This is an overall well balanced amaro with a flavor of rhubarb. As with many amaros, you can combine the Zucca Rabarbaro perfectly with soda water, tonic and ginger ale or sprite, and some even like it with coke. I like it on the rocks simple.
Don Ciccio e Figli / Washington, D.C.
Three types of Cherries, Sakura Blossoms, Gentian, Orange
This one is a revolutionary amaro with a very interesting complexity, between the bitter hint you can find in Campari and the sweetness of the cherry. It was presented a few years ago in honor of the cherry blossoms here in D.C. This is great in a negroni instead of Campari, and I personally like it with mezcal.