MIKE EASTON LIKES PROJECTS. He’s into bicycles, butchery, and collecting antique and obscure pasta tools, which he uses to feed patrons at his downtown lunchtime hideaway Il Corvo. His latest endeavor takes his love of Italian culture in a more boozy direction.
Easton has spent six years tinkering with a recipe for amaro, an Italian digestivo made with herbs. It’s usually savored at the end of a hearty pasta-laden meal—the very sort Easton produces at Il Corvo. He began back in 2006, fashioning a homemade still out of a pressure cooker and 12 feet of copper tubing. Now he’s working with Capitol Hill’s Oola Distillery to bottle and sell his creation. Both Easton and the Washington State Liquor Control Board are unaware of any other amari currently being produced in the state, and it’s uncommon to find anyone making an amaro in America. When Easton submitted his application to the federal bureau that approves the formulas for spirits produced in the United States, the office wasn’t even sure how to classify his product.
Amaro means “bitter” in Italian; try one and you’ll understand. Fernet, that bracing spirit beloved by cooks and bartenders, is a type of amaro. So, technically, is German hangover generator Jägermeister, though scores of smoother versions exist, too. Capitol Hill Italian restaurant Spinasse and its sibling bar Artusi are great spots to explore amaro in both cocktail form (as in a Manhattan, where amaro replaces the usual vermouth) and unadorned.
Easton won’t tell you exactly what’s in his blend of 16 medicinal, bitter, and culinary herbs, which he steeps in 100-proof vodka for two weeks before redistilling the mixture and aging it in oak, then stainless steel for a total of three months. Finally Easton blends his mixture with a syrup of burnt sugar. The result is a dark golden liquid that tastes of warm cinnamon on the front end, but mellows into a deceptively smooth quaff, despite an alcohol content of 66.7 percent—a shade lower than Jägermeister.
Easton is producing just 60 750-milliliter bottles of his Amaro Vittoria, which should be available at Oola’s tasting room in February. The name pays tribute to Easton’s wife Victoria. It also translates to “bitter victory,” a reference not to a success tinged with sadness, but rather a winning combination of bitter flavors.