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Bitter Sparklers

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Clyde Common

© David Lanthan Reamer / Clyde Common



Often brushed off as sweet and simple, sparkling cocktails can have great complexity, and many bars are choosing to carbonate their own innovative drinks in-house. New York’s only bitters-based bar, Amor Y Amargo serves a carbonated Americano on draft. Opened by Avery Glasser (founder of Bittermens, one of the largest producers of craft bitters in the country), bar mogul Ravi DeRossi and mixologist Mayur Subbarao, Amor Y Amargo translates to “love and bitters.” The concept was simple. “It was about creating a space that could be a lab where people learn more about bitters,” Glasser says. “The sort of place I’d like to go and drink.”

Traditionally made with Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda, the Americano on-tap at Amor Y Amargo—which features house-made sweet vermouth—forgoes soda water. Instead, the cocktail is carbonated by carbon dioxide that gets pumped into the keg. “The thing with doing it with soda water is that you only get a little bit of effervescence from the bubbly water,” Glasser says. “When we force-carbonate it, the whole thing becomes carbonated. Imagine the difference between putting a little bit of soda water with orange juice and having orange soda.”

Glasser has two theories about why bitter sparkling drinks don’t come to mind as quickly as mimosas and coolers. For one, carbon dioxide, like cheap sparkling wine, is slightly sour, so cocktails made with soda water need to have some sweetness added. “If you’ve ever tasted flat soda water and noticed how it tasted a little sour, that’s what you’re tasting,” Glasser explains. Carbonating cocktails by hand does not entirely solve this problem, but since a keg or bottle is carbonated for a much shorter time—hours or days versus weeks or months—there is much less souring. Another theory has to do with expectations. “People have often thought of long drinks and highballs as simple and refreshing and not complex to drink. When people think 'fizzy,' they think 'soda,'" Glasser says. “That’s something we try to change.”

BAR GUIDE

Harry Denton’s Starlight Room, San Francisco, CA
The swank lounge has recently started serving a bottled carbonated Negroni for two, which takes the classic mix of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari—with some very cold water added—and carbonates it with a handheld carbonator. Each cocktail is individually bottled and opened to order.

Clyde Common, Portland, OR
The upscale tavern is known for its barrel-aged cocktails, but equally as intriguing are its house-bottled and -carbonated cocktails, like the Bottled Broken Bike: bitter Cynar, white wine, water and lemon oil.

Wildwood, Portland, OR
One of the newest additions to the seasonally focused menu, the West Indian Cocktail blends Beefeater gin with Cointreau, lemon and Angostura bitters.

Booker and Dax, New York, NY
At Momofuku’s high-tech cocktail den, mixologist/culinary scientist Dave Arnold has conducted many experiments to determine which drinks benefit the most from carbonation. Making the cut, the lightly bitter Hatchback is made with Campari, tequila, lime and grapefruit. The strong cocktail goes down deceptively easy.

Related: 50 Best Bars in America
Sparkling Wine Cocktails
Cocktails for the Highball Glass

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