Saturday, May 16, 2009


The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday (MxMo XXXIX) is "Amaro" as chosen by Chuck Taggart of the Gumbo Pages blog. The concept was to make a drink with "Amaro, which refers to the bitter liqueurs usually drunk as an after-meal digestive, either alone (neat or on the rocks) or in some kind of mixed drink or cocktail. They tend to all share certain characteristics -- drinking bitters are generally made of alcohol with any number of herbs, plus sugar and some kind of coloring. The word "amaro" means bitter in Italian, and although the more famous drinking bitters tend to come from Italy our amaro theme this month is most certainly not limited to that country. Amaro, amer, amargo, what have you. Italy, Spain, France, America, Serbia, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland ... wherever somebody drinks a bitter liqueur, that's a source for your drink this month."

While thinking about this topic, I was considering going out and buying a new amaro, such as Mirto, to play with and to add to our collection of Chartreuses, Averna, Becherovka, Amer Picon, and others. However, there was one on our shelves we had never even opened -- a bottle of the Spanish mandrake liqueur Mandrágora. We had received this bottle as a gift from a friend who was really into pre-legal era Absinthes and ordered this similarly forbidden liqueur before a health condition befell her that forced her to give up drinking alcohol permanently. What I could find about it was the lore, "This Liqueur is made through a maceration of various herbs, and eucalyptus honey. The Mandrake root is a well known plant since ancient times for its hallucinogenic properties. In the Middle Ages, so the legend says, witches used to drink the mandrake in liquor or as an infusion, so that they could communicate better with the spiritual world." While that marketing attracts many people to this bitter liqueur, people generally seem greatly underwhelmed by the hallucinogenic effects (similar to thrill seekers drinking Absinthe) as well as by any aphrodisiac quality associated with mandrake root.
Tasting it straight to figure out what to do with it, the only botanical of the eight I could identify was something in the mint family. The other flavors which predominated besides the muddled bitter notes were the eucalyptus honey used to sweeten this liqueur and a whiskey sort of base spirit. I figured that using it in a Negroni variant would be a good first step and it would give me an excuse to try our new bottle of Dolin blanc vermouth. My other idea was to make it in a Toronto variant called the Toledo (which is about 300 miles away from where the Mandrágora is made); however, the liqueur falls rather short of the also minty/mentholly but rather overwhelming Fernet-Branca found in the Toronto. Indeed, the Mandrágora seemed more like it would play well with a gin rather than a rye, although it might give a Mint Julep effect to whiskey.
1 oz Mandrágora
1 oz No. 209 Gin
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1 dash Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Overall, the Mandrágroni was a pleasant sipper. Its botanicals worked well with those in the gin and the vermouth, but the drink itself was no thing of beauty like the Negroni or some of the other variants I have tasted. Then again, the liqueur was not created to be a cocktail reagent or digestive, but more likely as a flavor blend to mask the mandrake's taste. Well, at least my curiosity about this once dusty bottle on my shelf has been quelled and perhaps I will get around to buying that bottle of Mirto the next time I see it after all.

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