It seems innocent enough, this digestivo on the bar at Vancouver’s Odd Society Spirits. The delicate label—line drawings of cacao, vanilla, and mace—appears instructional. A proper paper seal covers its jaunty cork. Inside, the liqueur is a lovely warm colour, marmalade by candlelight.
Its makers, founder Gordon Glanz and his daughter Mia, stand nearby, anxious for a ruling on the first bottle of Mia Amata Amaro ($22), their take on the Italian spirit amaro, available February 10, 2017 (the name both references Mia and translates to “my beloved” in Italian). I’ve just had a tour of the distillery and seen the rest of the batch waiting in a steel tank for bottling. And now I’m settling in to taste.
The bouquet is intense. The heat has a role in that (it’s about 30 per cent alcohol) as do 35 botanicals, several of which are considered aphrodisiacs.
Mia, who’s been tinkering with this elixir over the last three years, downplays the magical nature of its erotic elements, though she does believe in the power of barks, roots, and flowers to alter the human brain. (And she should know: she’s been studying biology and anthropology since 2010.) As a species, we’ve evolved alongside nature’s pharmacy; of course we’re wired to be altered by the biosphere.
Mia credits ritual with the power to change us, as well. When building the amaro (Italian for “bitter”, it’s the digestif intended to conclude a meal—think Fernet-Branca or Amaro Lucano, though Mia was most inspired by Ramazzotti), her work took on a ceremonial structure. She began with Odd Society’s pure grain base (you can only make “craft” alcohol by building from your own house liquor) in which she macerated dried salted plums. Then she chased complexity, her nose guiding her to botanicals that stirred her blood and complemented one another. She repeated the process over months, pursuing false starts and building on the wisdom of old recipes. There is no single way to create an amaro. The final step was to introduce the more delicate ingredients: citrus and myrrh.
The result is shockingly bitter on first taste, enough to make me salivate. It’s so complex, I’m left unsure as to what just happened. There’s fruit and nut (that’s the plum), lavender and chocolate and mint. Rhubarb. Orange. A flavour I learn is black myrrh. And beneath it all an unnameable pulse—perhaps it’s from the Brazilian aphrodisiac catuaba, or maybe it’s just the pleasure of the exotic and unknown. I’m off-kilter, still drooling, and ready for more. In other words, I’m in love.
Odd Society Spirits, 1725 Powell Street, Vancouver, 604 559 6745, www.oddsocietyspirits.com.
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