Let us take the time to thank the Italians, who have bestowed upon the world an infinite number of different pasta shapes, hundreds of different wine grapes, and — a particular blessing for the cocktail-lovers amongst us — a never-ending roster of herbal liqueurs.
Our new favorite? The beautifully bottled Strega, made in Campania since 1860. Warmly herbaceous and quite sweet, it is made with dozens of herbs and botanicals, cinnamon and saffron prominent among them. But while many herbal liqueurs linger in the 20-30% alcohol range, Strega is way up at 40%, just as strong as most spirits — so it can play the starring role in a cocktail, or a supporting player to other powerful ingredients. Here are three of our favorite ways to use it.
Easy: Strega Manhattan
What’s a perfect pair for a sweet herbal liqueur? Sweet vermouth. Pair these two and stir together with rye, and you’ve got an elegant cocktail with a real weight to it. The spicy notes of rye nicely balance the vermouth and liqueur.
Instructions: In a cocktail glass with ice, combine two ounces of rye (we like High West Double Rye), half an ounce of Strega, and half an ounce of sweet vermouth (you can’t go wrong with Carpano Antica). Stir until very well-chilled and the ice begins to melt, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel — twisting the peel over the surface of the drink, to spray its citrus oils all over — and a brandied cherry.
Intermediate: Rum & Strega
We love pairing a good dark rum with anything warm and spiced (see: Angostura bitters, allspice dram — we could go on). Strega’s warm-spice notes, alongside its herbal character, make it a beautiful partner for rum. Orange bitters round the whole thing out.
Instructions: In a cocktail glass with ice, combine two ounces of dark rum (we’re using Diplomatico, from Venezuela), half an ounce of Strega, and three dashes of orange bitters, plus a dash of Angostura. Stir until very well-chilled and the ice begins to melt, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice (or one big ice cube). Garnish with two orange peels — twisting the peel over the surface of the drink, to spray their citrus oils all over.
Advanced: Strega Primavera
Teaming up gin with herbal liqueurs is always a good idea, particularly in the springtime. Add lemon and rosemary and you’ve got a deceptively light spring sipper — go easy on this guy, it’s as boozy as a Manhattan (though, you’d never guess.)
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces of gin (use a good London dry gin like Beefeater), half an ounce of Strega, half an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and half a sprig of rosemary. Shake all that up until very well-chilled, then double-strain (through the shaker’s own strainer, and through a fine-mesh strainer) into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Top with an ounce of soda. Garnish with one big rosemary sprig.