Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar) is an Italian bittersweet amaro made from artichokes—the big one on the logo is a dead giveaway. But the liqueur is made up of 13 herbs and plants.
The spirit’s name comes from cynarin, an acid found in artichokes believed to aid digestion. Any actual artichoke flavor is subtle, though. Patrick Gartner, beverage director of Hot Tin and Jack Rose in New Orleans, describes Cynar’s flavor as vegetal, earthy, bitter, herbaceous yet sweet.
Cynar debuted in Italy in 1952. It became popular thanks to ads that starred Italian actor Ernesto Calindri and the tagline, “Cynar, against the attrition of modern life.”
“It’s like a remedy, a sort of psychological remedy,” says Scott Carney, dean of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, of the spirit’s unusual appeal.
Cynar entered the American market a few decades later, and it’s now a bartender favorite for its versatility. It hasn’t yet reached the popularity of fellow Italian spirits Campari and Aperol, key ingredients in the Negroni and Aperol spritz, which have become fixtures on bar menus.
At 16.5% alcohol by volume (abv), Cynar is less potent than others in the amaro family, like Fernet Branca and Campari. It’s also available in a 70-proof variety (35% abv). Here are many of the ways you can enjoy Cynar.
Cynar is an easy-to-drink option and “a gateway amaro,” says Carney. It’s sweeter and softer than the likes of Fernet and other bittersweet liqueurs.
Amari can be an acquired taste, says Gartner. But amari, like Cynar, add balance to cocktails.
“Developing a palate and taste for bitter amari opens up a whole new world of sensual experiences,” he says. “Asking me to not make drinks with bitter elements like Cynar is like asking an artist to not paint with the color blue. We need bitters to better flesh out the landscape of a balanced drink menu.”
Use It in Place of Campari or Aperol
Cynar is in the same family as Campari and Aperol, so it works well swapped for either spirit. Cynar is a “happy medium,” not as sugary as Aperol, nor as bitter as Campari, says Justin Clark, a bartender at Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans.
“I actually love a Cynar spritz,” where Cynar replaces Aperol, says Max Reis, beverage director of Gracias Madre in Los Angeles. “It’s delicious with the Prosecco. It’s got a mild sweetness that balances that out.”
Make a Cynar and Tonic
Cynar and tonic water are “unbelievable together,” says Carney. “The sweetness in Cynar kind of goes away and all the herbal flavors come in, and the quinine (from the tonic) gets involved. It’s quite a drink.”
A Cynar and tonic is a lower-alcohol spin on a gin and tonic. A lemon wedge takes the bubbly drink up a notch and balances out the sweetness.
Create a Twist on a Manhattan
“The idea is that it’s a riff off of a Manhattan,” says Carne, where Cynar replaces Bourbon or rye. The Cynar-vermouth combo results in a super-sweet concoction, so lemon helps balance and brighten the cocktail.
Cynar can also take the place of the bitters in a traditional Manhattan, another “classic usage,” says Reis. Since it complements brown spirits like Bourbon and rye, Clark says he often substitutes Cynar for sweet vermouth in a Manhattan or Boulevardier.
Pair With Fruity Flavors
Cynar also pairs well with ripe red fruits like strawberries and cherries, as well as chocolate and vanilla, says Clark.
Or, Just Keep it Simple
Cynar is considered an aperitivo, a beverage traditionally enjoyed before a meal, and a digestive, which is sipped after a meal. Both are usually enjoyed straight, neat or over ice. So, if you’re new to Cynar, keep it simple.
“Cynar drinks great by itself,” says Reis.
Gartner agrees and says it’s great “after dinner, over ice with a lemon slice or an orange slice. If that isn’t the classic way to drink Cynar, it should be.”