“People say that a bottle of Angostura lasts longer than most marriages, but not here,” Balena mixologist Debbi Peek says. She’s based her cocktail menu on not only Angostura bitters, but a whole host of other herbal alcohols in the bitters family—mostly amaro, an Italian liqueur. They’re not all bitter, though: amari can range from syrupy sweet to face-puckeringly harsh. Peek tasted dozens while creating her cocktail menu, taking notes on each one, assigning it a bitterness rating on a scale of one to ten, and experimenting to see what spirits worked with which amari. “It was a lot of trial and error,” she says. “Since amaro is the main ingredient, it’s opposite of a traditional cocktail where it would be like an ounce and a half of the spirit, half an ounce of the secondary one.” One of the drinks, the Dark and Stirred, is made up solely of bitters (most of them amari), but there are also twists on a Sazerac (the Mirto), Tom Collins (the Manlino), and manhattan (the Francesco). Peek was slightly worried that customers wouldn’t be ready for her menu, but says it’s been very well received so far—many people even order her bitterest offering, the Fib.
Correction: This entry has been amended to reflect the fact that Balena does not make its bitters in-house.