It's not too often Phoenix gets to brag that we had something before California, but we do get to show off our bottles of Sibona Amaro to everyone in the Golden State because we got it first. The distilled liqueur from Piedmont, Italy is bold and extraordinarily complex and only available to try at a few places locally so far. If you're intent on being at the cusp of amaro trends, get a shot of Sibona at Barrelhouse American Kitchen & Cocktails in Chandler.
Coming from the oldest running distillery in the Piedmont region of Italy, Sibona Amaro has some major character. The family-owned Sibona Antica Distilleria that produces the amaro is even debated to be the first distillery of that region. While the area is more commonly known to wine lovers as one of Italy's finest wine regions, producing Nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco wines, Sibona Amaro, with its sweet, smooth, intense, and spicy layers is worth a taste too.
Although Sibona distills over 60 different products, the amaro has been getting more popular in the past few years with five consecutive gold medals at the International Spirits Award for bitter amari. However, it wasn't until three weeks ago that it was even available in Arizona, and amaro-loving bars around town immediately took notice.
Kenta Usuzawa, owner of Barrelhouse in Chandler, says his "obsessive love for amari" drew him to stock the bitter liqueur. He says he also plans to carry the chammomile grappa that Sibona makes soon, noting Sibona's relatively unique single-varietal sourcing and producing methods as a major selling point, since many grappas are blends.
As is common for amari and liqueurs in general, Sibona's is made by macerating herbs and aromatic plants in alcohol. Though the exact family recipe is kept a secret, some of the 34 botanicals used in making the amaro include rhubarb, chinaroot calissaya, gentian, sage sclarea, mint, green anise, and achillea moscata.
In terms of flavor, Usuzawa says that he tastes gentian, rhubarb, burnt orange peel, clove, and other "warm spices" like cardamom in the amaro.
"I even get a little Mexican cola quality... obviously just an association, I don't actually think they put cola in it," he says. "What I do know is I could easily finish an entire bottle happily trying to figure it out."
The lack of traditional bitter bite makes Sibona lovely to sip after dinner, but the layered complexity of the herbal blend, which has surprisingly sweet but not syrupy notes of those "warm" spices and caramel as well as a bit of a spicy kick on the back end, will keep you guessing. Chances are, you'll be a fan after your first taste.
Damien Kanser of Vias Imports, the sole distributor of Sibona in the U.S., says the amaro's drinkability and smoothness make it a standout in the category.
"It is a very user-friendly amaro with all the classic characteristics," Kanser explains. "Fernet is often too bitter for people. Montenegro is too sweet for the purists. The Sibona finds a common ground. "
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Kanser says his company Vias has spent the past year trying to bring Sibona's products to the U.S. for the first time and finally succeeded eight weeks ago. He says the resurgence of amari in drinking culture has driven them to bring Sibona to the country.
"Amaros have become very popular in the U.S. recently, with many restaurants in town using them in cocktails and even one chef using them as seasoning," he says.
Aside from Barrelhouse, Kanser says you can also try it as Clever Koi, The Gladly, Citizen Public House, and the Pizzeria Bianco in Town & Country. While it isn't available at local retail locations yet, the price per bottle will be around $30 when it is.