Review and Interview | Amaro Angeleno and Stephen Sakulsky

The Spirit

Amaro Angeleno is a new aramo that defines itself as proudly Californian. Or to use their term - Caliamaro. The spirit is an unaged brandy from Paso Robles wine and distilled at Ventura Spirits Company. It is a citrus focused amaro that harkens back to the orchards of Southern California. It is in the vein of Amaro Rosso - citrusy, sweet, with a bitter, herbaceous core. The botanicals are native varieties, locally grown in Southern California whenever possible. Non-native botanicals are California grown at a minimum.  Caliamaro is more than a hastag. It is an ethos. 

Tasting Notes

Color:  Golden warm orange hue

ABV: 23%

Nose: Orange, honey, flowers

Taste: Clementine, orange, wine, sweet that open up to bitter/herbal chorus. 

Finish: Long with honey and orange peel.

Amaro Angeleno is smooth and flavorful with a medium bitter profile that has many complex, but soft, notes. It is refreshing and will pair well with soda or tonic on a hot day. Or complement delicate flavored whiskeys like Irish or grain and long aged rums quite well. 

 

Email Interview with Stephen Sakulsky of Amaro Angeleno

Kapu: What inspired the creation of a new Amaro based on the ecology of California? 

A few things inspired us.  One my family has been in Los Angeles Since the early 1900’s.  I am a true Angeleno, love this city and state. I grew up surfing up and down the coast, skiing in the mountains. and hiking in the hills.  Southern California is truly the greatest place to be.  It is so vast with different landscapes and cultures.  Secondly, my biz-partner Wes and I have been in hospitality for over a decade and myself personally involved in the running of Italian restaurants here in Los Angeles.  A little over 3 years ago I met Wes at an Italian restaurant and we started growing the amari selection.  We grabbed at it all, including any domestic amaro that came our way.   

Stephen: However when it came to the domestic we thought something was missing.  When you look at amari in Italy from the mountains you have dark and strong Alpine amari and as you move down and get to Sicily you're getting lighter sweeter amari that have high citrus notes etc. Each and every Amaro are very representative of the land, culture and people where they are made. They are all Of Place. 

When we, at Amaro Angeleno, started looking at the American Amaro market we were not seeing anything that were "of place.” We just saw these "gentian bombs" trying to mimic what the Italians do.  With that said, we made a true Southern California Amaro. An Amaro of Place. It's high citrus because LA/OC were all citrus orchards at one time. It's light because we're by the ocean and it represents our southern Californian lifestyle. It's approachable and drinkable. Which makes it able to be enjoyed by a large diverse population, such as Los Angeles.

Kapu: The wine and orange invoke the agricultural heritage of the state. What other environments informed that flavor profile? 

Stephen: Yep, the big notes are the citrus and vinous quality. When in R&D we made sure that all the ingredients were either native to or grown here in SoCal or relevant to our culture. I can’t say what all of them are (State Secret) but they are all readily grown here.  However we had some ingredients that we had to replace due to their classification by the FDA. Also, as I mentioned above, we wanted it to be versatile so everyone can enjoy it. Not just the bartenders and industry folk but my 75 year old mother and people who don’t necessarily like bitter.  We wanted it to be able to be enjoyed/used by all people and cultures. 

Kapu: How long was Angeleno in development? 

Stephen: We were in R&D for over 2 years.  We did a test batch and “aged” it.  However we didn't want to be sitting on a lot of product for a year of aging so the main thing was to figure out a way around the aging process or at least to speed it up.  We figured it out and cut down the year to 2 weeks…  

Kapu: How did the you arrive at brandy as a base spirit? Did you distill your own during R&D? Which grape varietal? 

Stephen: In the beginning, we started with store bought bottles of cheap high proof vodka and vermouth.  But once we got to the distillery, we all agreed that we could cut out some phases and costs if we bought bulk wine and distilled it. We not only use brandy but fortified wine as well. (we make both) That was the first thing we did.  I personally drove 18 tons of pinot grigio down from Paso Robles to the Distillery.  We almost died because the truck was over loaded by 2 tons and going down the SLO incline the truck had to be put into neutral and we just had to barrel down the hill, because the brakes were burning up and the truck was red-lining.  Once we got the brandy and fortified wine made we really got to work in developing the final flavors and ingredient ratios.  We had to start from scratch with the brandy and fortified wine.  We wanted to makes sure we could keep producing the same amaro every time.  Wes has a degree in chemistry so he came up with all the math and ratios to make it so we can get the same product time after time no matter how much we’re producing, 1,000 bottles or 10,000 it is all the same.

Kapu: Are the verbena, thyme, and gentian mentioned in the tech sheetall the native varieties? 

Stephen: The verbena and thyme and rue are grown and picked at a local farm in Los Angeles.  The gentian is grown here but getting our hands on the true native gentian species is tough and costly.  

Kapu: Is honey used as the sweeter? If so, is it California honey too? 

Stephen: No, honey and really not that much sugar at all.  The only sweetness is coming from the fortified wine (pure cane sugar) and the orange peels. 


Cocktails

Amaro Angeleno pairs very well with barrel aged spirits that are lighter in body but with a round, buttery body.  Think column and pot distilled rum blends and grain whiskeys from quality distillers. A blended Irish whisky would also do well in a boozy stirred drink that replaced vermouth with amaro. 

Sunset Swizzle

I have my own style of swizzles - 2 dashes out of my Infinity Islay Scotch bottle. Those dashes are like the proverbial rug; they really tie the drink together. 

1 1/2 oz Mount Gay Eclipse
1/2 oz Amaro Angelo
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Islay Scotch
Liberally garnish with Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters

Note: Doorly's 8 was also great. Shockingly, I would avoid heavier pot distilled Jamaican rums. I would also advised against using a rum without any pot distillate that could get overwhelmed by the other ingredients. We want to taste the rum and know it is rum. 

Hancock Park

2 oz Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
1 oz Amaro Angelo
1 ds Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters
Orange Twist

My fondness for the Manhattan comes from my Grandfather and Father. They always ordered Brandy Manhattans when we were out for dinner. It is one of my favorite platforms explore new combinations and revisit basic craft.

Note: My cross-grained personality means I will never order a Brandy Manhattan.