Milano is known as the world’s fashion capitol and the house of Armani, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Versace and many others. Besides being well dressed, the city is is also the capital of the Aperitivo. Happy hour as the Italians do it. That doesn’t mean two cocktails for one, three shots for the price of two or a meter of beer for 10 euro. Every day after work, tout hip Milano dresses up and meets at the cozy bars in the nicer parts of town. Or actually they don’t dress up, that is what it looks like to us non-Italians. Italian people seem to be born with a flawless sense of style.
The rattling sound of vespa’s, the smell of perfume and freshly grounded coffee and the view of well-dressed people makes aperitivo an unique experience. In Italy they have known for centuries what only recently came to the awareness of the rest of the world. Amaros, vermouts and other bitters and fortified wines are the ideal aperitif drinks and ingredients for aperitif cocktails like the famous Negroni. And this is where the real aperitivo shows its face, aperitif cocktails served with free snacks on the house. And I am not talking about hamburgers, French fries or toast with ham, but the most exquisite and fresh Italian products.
The Italian kitchen is one of most versatile kitchens in the world and every region has its own specialties. Walking into an Italian bar you get the feeling that every region has its own amaro or bitter as well. Averna, Cynar, Ramazotti and my personal favorite Rhabarbaro Zucca, are just some of the more well-known examples. Zucca is a unique, bitter sweet product that you need to try when in Milano. Dutchman that I am, I asked the bartender to make me a Negroni with Bols Genever Original, Zucca en sweet Vermout. I can honestly say that that was one of the best drinks I have tasted in a while.
When aperitivo is done the crowd spreads to one of the many restaurants Milano has to offer or, like we did, to the next bar. My Italian hosts took me to Opera 33. A bar opened and owned by the charming Terry, one of the leading bartenders in the Milano bar scene and trainer at the Flair Academy, Milan’s biggest barschool. At Opera 33 she only works with natural ingredients. Bitters, syrups, vermouts and liqueurs she makes herself as much as possible. There is a cocktail menu in the bar, but as any great bar in the world, the bartenders love to make their own creations outside of the regular menu.
I asked Terry to make me a variation on my favorite cocktail, the Genever Sazerac. The Genever Sazerac is sort of my benchmark cocktail. I like to order it all over the world to see what the bartenders makes of it. I like bartenders to show their personality, culture and heritage in their creations. Terry made me a sort of deconstructed Genever Sazerac in which she served the absinthe on the side. The Sazerac has a long history in which the recipe has changed many times and evolved throughout its history. The classic recipe is basically brandy, sugar and peychaud’s bitters. On a certain moment in time, absinthe made its appearance in the drink, and rightly so. It makes a perfect match with the bitters. Using Bols Genever in the Sazerac makes for a perfect marriage between the maltiness and juniper touch of the spirit and the slight sweetness of the bitter peychuad’s. Terry prefers to use natural bitter components in here drinks over readymade bitters, and in this drink she used bitter sage and orange peel to balance out the sugar. I can tell you, it works!
50 ml Bols Genever Original
10 ml Mansinthe Absinthe
1 Sugar Cube of 5 grams
Bitter sage and orange