This Brooklyn-Made Amari Takes Me Back to Italy

We all have those quarantine foods—the ones you rely on so heavily that you may never want to taste them again once we’re on the other side of this. It’s all too easy to fall into rote eating habits when we are tethered to our fridges, which is why when we do taste something surprising and good, it’s that much more special.

A new flavor that shook me awake came by way of Faccia Brutto’s Fernet Pianta. Dark and murky, sweet yet bitter, the liqueur tastes of black licorice, made with herbal ingredients like chicory root and fresh peppermint. Blended with Coca-Cola, it makes for the perfect early evening jolt of caffeination. (This combination is a popular iteration in Argentina.) In San Francisco, I recently learned, it’s popular as a shot chased with ginger ale. My friend likes to have his with tea as a nightcap.

It came from Faccia Brutto Spirits, a new distillery in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood opened by Patrick Miller, formerly of Rucola, an Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill. (And yes, he knows the name is grammatically flawed in Italian.)

Miller’s team makes five different types of organic, Italian-style amari (liqueurs that have been bittered and flavored with botanicals, as Food52 explains), including the aforementioned fernet and an aperitivo. In opening the distillery, Miller wanted to bring something new to a drinks market saturated with craft beer, and fill a need that had not yet been met. While amari are popular in Europe, they’re not something you’ll see on the average restaurant menu in the U.S.

In crafting the drinks, New York’s bustle and vibrance inspired him, as did his memories of Italy. “The last time I was in Italy was six years ago,” he says. “We were driving around to Monterey on a family vacation. After a meal, I drank some local amari that you’d never be able to find here. Because a guy on the other side of the mountain made 200 bottles a year, and they just happen to have it at this one restaurant. So it is definitely informed by that.”

I have to admit, my first encounter with fernet—Fernet Branca, when I was in Italy a few years back—was not so positive. It had the scent of shoe polish and was too bitter for my palette at the time. Faccia Brutto’s iteration is softer and more drinkable than what I first tried.

Naturally, other liqueurs I imbibed in Italy included Campari and Aperol. Faccia Brutto’s take, called simply “Aperitivo,” is redolent of both with its cherry red hue, but falls between the two in taste, less sweet than Aperol and less bitter than Campari. The only way to notice the myriad flavor notes—orange, cinnamon, and rhubarb to name a few—is to sip it slowly. It evokes the spirit of a beachside beverage on the Amalfi Coast, and works equally well in a spritz or Negroni. Miller, though, prefers to drink it as an Americano.

“[The aperitivo is] kind of a jack of all trades,” he says. “You can have it in equal parts with sweet vermouth, like a Milano Rubino cocktail, or I like it in an Americano. A couple ounces aperitivo, and then some soda on top just to make it all busy.”

Faccia Brutto Fernet and Aperitivo

$.00, Drizly (prices vary)

Faccia Brutto’s amari can be found throughout the borough at places like Leon and Son, Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and Sunday in Brooklyn, as well as in Manhattan and beyond (check Drizly to see if it’s available in your area).

Whichever spirit you prefer, it’s all about channeling the pleasure of aperitivo hour, a time in Europe to wind down. Says Miller: “Take a moment out of your day, pull yourself a drink, turn off your phone. You can easily make yourself a lovely cocktail or just drink this neat. Ease into the evening by having one of these and just enjoying the moment.”

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