The Bartender’s Notebook: Asking for Cynar at Voltaire

My cocktail orders are usually specific, down to the garnish. But the highly skilled Ryan Miller has taken it upon himself to re-educate me ever since my first trip to Voltaire. The restaurant’s head bartender has never led me astray, and I’m happy to be at his mercy. This time, though, he’s at mine.

“Make me a drink with Cynar,” I tell him.

I’ve made Voltaire the first stop of a project I’ve started: Name an oft-overlooked bar ingredient and ask for a drink prepared with it. Cynar, with its curious, artichoke-emblazoned label, looked to me like an appropriate opening salvo.

“It’s pronounced chee-nar,” Miller says. He lets the gentle correction sink in. “What else do you want in it?”

“Do what you think is best,” I say.

Miller nods and begins bustling behind an array of bitters and bottles, pulling out ingredients and greeting other patrons. I badger him with questions, starting with, “Who decided to make an artichoke liqueur, anyway?”

“Cynar is an amaro, which means it’s an Italian bitter liqueur,” he says. “Italians take it after a nice, big dinner. It aids with digestion. You can sip on it – that’s how it’s designed to work because of all the herbs and the botanicals inside. Here, try it.”

Miller pours me a bit of the dark, syrupy liquid. It’s sweet at first, cut with an astringency that lingers. Not exactly the savory artichoke flavor I had expected.

“Artichoke is in there, but it’s not an artichoke liqueur,” he says. “It’s a neutral spirit base. There are different kinds of barks and bitter roots and things like that – the same things you would find in Chartreuse or Fernet or even Angostura bitters, to some extent.”

Finished with his concocting, Miller places a burnt-orange drink in front of me, a spring-looking beverage in a tall Collins glass. Miller has opted for a Cynar take on a French 75, using a full pour of gin and equal parts grapefruit juice, simple syrup and Cynar, with sparkling wine on top.

The flavor is bright and bubbly, the acidity of the citrus toning down the Cynar’s thick taste and the cava adding a crisp finish.

“Grapefruit juice is bitter like Cynar is, but it also plays really well with natural sweetness there,” Miller explains. “But the bitterness balances out the sugar and the wine. And Fords Gin is great for this. It’s a very fine product, new to the market here in Missouri, and it’s delicious, light and dry and juniper-forward.”

The verdict? Perfect and patio-worthy.

This drink was $8 at Voltaire, but you can play along at home: 

1 1/2 ounces gin (Miller used Simon Fords)
1/2 ounce Cynar
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces cava

Miller’s instructions: “Shake everything except for the wine and pour it into a Collins glass. Top with ice and sparkling wine – we’re using cava, a Spanish wine, which is drier. Finish with a grapefruit twist and try to express some of the oils over the top of the drink. You want to smell the grapefruit as you’re taking it into your mouth.”

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink