Food & Drink

Can Liqueurs Be the Next Big Thing in Food-Cocktail Pairings?

A leading Italian mixologist makes the argument for liqueurs in fine dining.
IMAGE COURTESY DISARONNO
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On a recent evening at Talea, a cocktail bar in Milan, Filippo Sisti was behind the counter whipping up one of his infamous concoctions. In the high-end Italian food scene, Sisti is the Ferran Adrià of mixology, a leading advocate of the concept of “liquid kitchen” who uses spirits and unexpected ingredients to MacGyver cocktails of dizzying complexity and daring. His bar, which he opened last summer after a tenure at Carlo Cracco’s restaurant Carlo and Camilla in Segheria, is both an incubator for next-generation cocktail innovation and an experiential restaurant/bar that switches out its menu seasonally.

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A handful of us are seated at the bar and Sisti is working his magic to turn an oft-neglected spirit, the liqueur, into a fixture of fine dining. His argument is that liqueurs don’t just have to be before or after dinner accessories but can be powerfully deployed in food-cocktail pairings. To prove his point, Sisti is using Disaronno, an Italian brand whose square-cut Murano bottle is for many the most well known, if not the gold standard, among amaretto liqueurs.

... liqueurs don’t just have to be before or after dinner accessories but can be powerfully deployed in food-cocktail pairings.

With roots dating back to the 16th century in the town of Saronno—the label originally read “Amaretto from Saronno”—the family-owned Disaronno has through the years come up with inventive ways to stand out in the market. In the 1970s, the company introduced its immediately recognizable packaging and starting in 2013 it asked Italian designers like Moschino and Versace to “dress up” its bottles in signature prints and colors; a collaboration with Missoni, in 2017, shipped over 3 million bottles, according to a representative. Sisti was holding the latest addition to the so-called Disaronno Icon series, a limited edition bottle festooned in bright colors and the traditional leather shades of the Italian fashion label Trussardi (the 750 mL bottles retails for $24.99 and mini sets of three are $9.99 per pack).

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For the most part, chefs prefer to pair food with wine, and, more recently, with craft beer. But, a handful of mixologists like Sisti believe cocktails can be as if not more impactful because its raw components can be tweaked to match those of a chef's dish. Sisti, who works with Disaronno on its bartending competition The Mixing Star and has plans to eventually bring Talea to New York, points out that liqueurs are versatile ingredients, and if used effectively in food pairings, they can add a layer of surprise that wouldn't otherwise be there. For instance, for one cocktail he calls the Mexican Stand-Off, Sisti mixed together tamarillo and wild strawberries, browned them until they caramelized, and then he threw in the Disaronno. The result is a combustible blend, both sweet and smoky, that juxtaposes the spirit of the Americas with a label that’s 100 percent made in Italy.

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... This is what it’s all about: the undertones.

“Disaronno needs to be employed to the max for the product it is,” Sisti has said. “Same for the fruits and vegetables. And when you’ve succeeded in doing that, you’re capable of playing those same seven notes that everyone knows, but this time with sharps and flats. This is what it’s all about: the undertones.”

For those at the table, the surprise of Sisti’s liqueur-based cocktails wasn’t so much their mutability, but that they didn’t upstage the bites before us and instead worked beautifully as part of an ensemble, an aria of flavors delivered in both liquid and solid form.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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Erik Maza
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