My first breakthrough was an unlikely combination. I saw Cynar, Campari, and Fernet Branca sitting on the shelf and thought to myself that there is no way that I could combine all three in a cocktail. Each one is so distinct: Campari is well known, but, for those new to Fernet Branca, it's a densely flavored spirit that includes saffron, bay leaves and peppermint oil. You could call these with Cynar the "super group" of Italian bitter digestivos.
After tasting the three together in different combinations, I realized each one had a complementary thread—the bitter orange of Campari melded well with the minty, eucalyptus-like flavor of Fernet and the creamy texture of Cynar, finishing with warm spice notes and an intense bitterness. Rather then clashing, they played together well, muting the harsher aspects of each and accentuating the qualities I liked.
Nevertheless, there was still the abiding bitterness that needed reigning in. I used juice from Cara Cara oranges, a sweeter version of the navel orange with a pink color and sweet pink grapefruit-like flavor, and added lemon juice and simple syrup made from turbinado sugar. I used grilled orange slices and chocolate mint as a garnish, and dubbed it the Three Bitters Cocktail. Cue "Feel Like Making Love" when you pour this drink, because it starts soft and delivers a powerful chorus.
Not stopping there, I loaded up my shaker for another round, this time using Cynar and dark rum. I dubbed this the Cynar Daiquiri, with lemon juice and simple syrup. Refreshing, delicious, and powerful.
Adam Bernbach, the mixologist for Proof , found similar success by blending Cynar, Chinato, maple syrup, cream, and egg yolk in The Shiner cocktail, and below are many more examples of Cynar in cocktails. Virginia-based bartender and sommelier Todd Thrasher, and Team USA recently won the 42BELOW Cocktail World Cup in New Zealand with the improbably named "I Have Too Much Thyme on My Hands at This Point in My Life." I recommend grabbing a bottle of Cynar and trying your own hand at an artichoke cocktail.
Recipe: Three Bitters Cocktail
Recipe: The Getaway
Other recipes and drink resources:
The Trident Cocktail
The Art of Choke
I Have Too Much Thyme on My Hands at This Point in My Life