We founded our distillery in 2011, and in more than a decade we have never made a red bitter.
I would get asked all the time if we had plans to make one. We did not. There was usually a follow-up question- why?
Gaspare Campari has always been a hero of mine (so has Barbe Nicole Ponsardin- the Veuve Cliquot- and Paul Ricard). All of them led alcohol companies, all of them were critical to the type of alcohol they produced, and all of them struggled with the same start-up struggles that we have struggled with. It was just a little while ago that their struggle happened.
I think a lot about the three of them, and especially Gaspare Campari. At the time, consumers were drinking wine; amaro- of which red bitter is a subset- was a mostly rural product, made in kitchens by Grandmas and Grandpas.
He made a product, not knowing if there was a market for it, then he tasted people on it and taught them how to use it. He was an entrepreneur. And he did it at a time when there must have been even greater supply chain challenges, and less certain suppliers overall, with no distribution, just a cafe in Milan.
He made the category. I admire Gaspare, Campari the product and Campari the company- they have focused on modifiers- flavor driven cocktail ingredients.
So, as we developed expertise, learning how to make amaro, vermouth and liqueurs, I didn’t want to attempt a red bitter and not do right by Gaspare. I wanted us to have the expertise, have made a lot of products, and have a well defined skill set at developing flavor.
In 2019, we made an amaro with the JK Hospitality Group in Boston, a group of chef driven restaurants founded by Ken Oringer and Jaime Bissonnette. Boston Amaro, as it is known, was more aperitivo than digestivo in style and that made me start thinking about our readiness to tackle a red bitter. Or as we call it- the almost red bitter, because we do not use either cochineal or artificial color (or flavor).
Then of course the issue was, why look at anything in this category? Campari, Aperol and Suze are all great products- it’s not like we needed to make a new one because the old one was bad. They are all good.
But we thought, what if we could make a uniquely American flavor profile, focused on mixing with blanco tequila? We have an affection at the distillery for Bitter Palomas, and thought that the path forward should include these. We also thought about the BROVO American Aperitivo as working along a bridge of applications- bright enough for a spritz, serious enough for a Negroni, bitter enough to be used in a craft cocktail.
So, we took the core recipe for Boston Amaro-hibiscus, bilberry (blueberry’s lesser known acidic cousin), Schisandra berry- the Chinese five flavor berry (which also has an acidic flavor profile- salty, sweet, bitter, umami, and sour), and a solid citrus base.- orange, lemon, grapefruit.
We amped up the citrus, adding a lot more orange, especially bitter orange. We added grapefruit distillate to really highlight the grapefruit flavor profile. Then, we couldn’t help ourselves, we added a lot more Gentian distillate to increase the bitter flavor profile.
Finally we lightly sweetened with agave nectar.
We started mixing- Palmoas, spritzes and Negroni’s. Lots of Negroni’s.
Finally we worked on a cocktail that would be an expression of the unique American Aperitivo category- blanco tequila, grapefruit soda, a little lime and the new BROVO American Aperitivo. We called it Sprezzatura- effortless style.
We’re pretty proud of BROVO American Aperitivo. And we hope Gaspare is pleased as well.