The last time I wrote as Bitter-Sam, we were in the home-stretch of winter, but the days were short and the air was cold and wet. I needed to curl up and recuse myself from the outside world, burying my face in a glass of amaro and draping my mildly-irritated cat around my shoulders for warmth. My writing in these pages was dark and brooding, stewing over the blunders of the United States’ westward expansion and the strange pleasure of drinking something that tastes like bitter toothpaste.
No more, friends! That Bitter-Sam is gone. New Bitter-Sam wants to frolick in the warm-ass weather, ride his bike around, take all of his clothes off, and make a spritz–sometimes in that order. With the trees turning vibrant green and Bde Maka Ska turning deeper shades of blue, Bitter-Sam wants bottles that are just as colorful… not brown amaro, but the bright, sunset-tinged red of Italian aperitivos.
Luckily for all of us, France 44 is ready for spritz-season with a newly-refreshed aperitivo section. Here are three red bitters to look out for this summer:
Aperitivo Cappelletti // $17.99
Drier and leaner than its mass-market cousins, this traditional Italian bitter might be one of the oldest aperitivos still in production. Produced using traditional methods by Luigi and Maddelena Cappelletti, the 4th generation owners of their family’s namesake spirits business, this is a classic choice for spritzes and negronis. I like to use Cappelletti when I’m looking for something that captures the same intense, bitter-orange-and-herbs quality of Campari, but has just a touch less sweetness and bitterness. The softer, less dominating style of Cappelletti is a bit easier on the palate, and at $17.99 a bottle, it’s a bit less of a hit to the wallet, too.
St George Bruto Americano // $29.99
From the west-coast geniuses at St. George comes this wild, spruce-driven bitter. Think of it like a bottle of Campari that took a camping trip in the redwoods. Instead of the more gentle, floral notes that come from the Alpine botanicals found in Italian bitters, this is full-throttle and woodsy—with big hits of pine, cedar, and spruce tips. All those green notes might distract from the fruit underneath, but the classic notes of bitter orange still shine here, and in some ways are amplified by the addition of the sharper, forest-like flavors. I’d love to mix this in a negroni with Vikre’s Cedar Gin for a cabin-worthy cocktail.
St Agrestis Inferno Bitter // $34.99
I wrote about St. Agrestis’ amazing, spicy amaro in my last bitter blog post, and we’re lucky to have gotten our hands on their new Inferno Bitter, as well. This red bitter, reminiscent of Campari but bolder and distinctly unique, has won the hearts of the France 44 staff and should make its way onto any discerning drinker’s bar. Produced in Brooklyn from a secret blend of ingredients, this shares the same streak of menthol and warm spice that defines its sibling, St. Agrestis Amaro. I’ve been loving the slightly more spice-driven style of this bitter, which isn’t as aggressive on the palate as Campari and has a warmer flavor to it than the St. George Bruto Americano. It’d make a knock-out Negroni (and St. Agrestis has beaten us to the punch here—we also sell their premade Negroni in small bottles… party time!!) but I think the Inferno will shine stunningly in your summer spritzes. Try a splash of it in your favorite Prosecco or Cava with a bit of club soda. It’s Bitter Sam approved.