Credit: Carey Jones

The world of amari — herbal Italian liqueurs — ranges from light, sweet Aperol to earthy, bitter Cynar and hair-raisingly-bitter, almost medicinal Fernet Branca. They all have their place in the cocktail world. But what if you’re after something that’s not too bitter, and not too sweet; not insubstantial, but not too heavy; herbal, but not abrasive? That’s when we bring in Zucca.

An Italian favorite for more than a century, Zucca is made with rhubarb, citrus zest, cardamom, amongst other ingredients. It’s rich but not too heavy on the tongue, sweet enough to balance the bitter, and earthy but vibrant — in short, perfectly balanced. We love the character it adds to cocktails, and it’s versatile enough to pair with just about anything. Here are three Zucca cocktails we’ve loved recently.

Easy: Zucca Highball

Zucca’s slightly smoky sweetness makes it a perfect match for a blended Scotch, but instead of stirring them together for a heavy, boozy drink, we’re lightening it up with a big pour of soda. Scotch and soda is a classic highball; this is the cocktail-lover’s rendition.

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, stir together 2 ounces of blended Scotch (Famous Grouse is our pick here), 1 ounce of Zucca, and 1/4 ounce of honey syrup — that’s 1 part honey stirred together with 1 part hot water, so it dissolves more easily. Top with 2 ounces of club soda and give a quick stir. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Intermediate: Zucca-rita

A bit earthy and a bit spicy, Zucca carries flavors that remind us of great tequila. So we paired it with a reposado (slightly aged) tequila, lime, and jalapeño — turns out that Zucca’s richness is a great balance for the hot pepper, and its own spicy character contributes, too.

Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker without ice, muddle 3 quarter-inch slices of jalapeño (less if you like it less spicy). Add ice along with 2 ounces of reposado tequila, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, 3/4 ounce of Zucca, and a 1/4 ounce of agave syrup (that’s 1 part light agave stirred together with 1 part hot water, so it dissolves more easily). Shake that all up, and double-strain (through a fine mesh strainer, as well as the shaker’s own strainer) into a rocks glass with fresh ice and garnish with a jalapeño slice.

Advanced: Zucca Sour

If we blind-tasted this drink, we’d have no idea what was in it — this cocktail is way more than the sum of its parts. Zucca’s earthy, herbal character is oh-so-gently amplified with gin, while lemon and egg white transform it into a lively sour. As professionals, we’ll say it: This one’s so good, we’d put it on a cocktail menu.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker without ice, combine 2 ounces of gin (use a good London Dry like Beefeater), 1 ounce of Zucca, 1/2 an ounce of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 an ounce of simple syrup, and 1 egg white. Shake all that up to aerate it — that’s called a “dry shake” — and then add ice and shake again for a “wet shake,” to chill it down. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a cherry.