Cynar Cocktails

Bittersweet Symphony

Cynar cocktail and table being set for dinner. © Gary Allard

Now that Autumn is fast approaching (“soup weather” I like to call it) we’ve been anticipating all those great meals and warming cocktails that come with it. Dark malty beers seem more exciting, whiskey drinks get more action and that lonely bottle of white creme de menthe finally gets some play. But just below the surface of the old standards lies a spirit with enormous versatility and charm.

Up until recently I had not had tasted Cynar. I had stopped in for a quick lunch in the Cucina Urbana bar where I ordered a classic Negroni. As I sipped quietly, I perused the bottle collection behind the bar. Cynar usually sits alongside the other bittersweet Italian digestifs – or amari – and today my curiosity got the best of me. I asked Connor the bartender for a taste. He happily obliged and I got a small glass of the most complex and interesting bittersweet liqueur I’ve had in a long time. Less bitter than I’d expected with similarities to a rosso vermouth.

Connor comes back. “One second.” he says as he takes the remaining glass of Cynar. He twists some orange zest into the glass, and gives it a shot of soda water and a stir.

“Try that” he says, and waits for my reaction. It’s quite good, uniquely refreshing and exactly what I want right then. I could see this being the perfect palate cleanser to a gorgeously rich meal. Say, like Thanksgiving.

Cynar is an artichoke based liqueur which makes sense when you linger on the flavors: floral herbs, sweetness, and a medium bitterness that does not overpower the palette but gently enhances the flavors around it. Obvious pairings would be with gin for a brilliant Americano or Negroni or pairing with vermouth in a Manhattan. But my likely choice will be as a digestif when I want a refreshing counterpart to the rich flavors of Fall.

Cynar and Soda

  • 1.5 oz. Cynar
  • Large twist of orange zest
  • Soda water

In a highball glass full of ice, twist the zest to release the oils and run it around the rim and inside of the glass. Pour in Cynar and top with soda water and stir. Garnish with orange zest.

Have a favorite cool weather drink? Drop it in the comments, tell us on Facebook or Tweet it out loud.

All photos © Gary Allard /


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