good spirits


Swap your usual sips with these alternatives.


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Cognac. Amaro. Pisco. Campari. You may never have considered adding them to your glass — or even have heard of them. But if you’re still scrambling for a New Year’s resolution, here’s one: Spice up 2017 by adding these delicious liquor options from around the globe to your imbibing repertoire.


“These types of alcohol are not something that everybody has in their liquor cabinet. Most people don’t want to make a $30 commitment to a bottle of something they’ve never tasted,” says Trevor Leppek, bar programs manager and co-owner of Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno. “This mentality is all wrong, however. Making drinks with lesser-known spirits gives people the opportunity to see what they have use for.”

These uncommon options offer interesting, notable flavor profiles to memorable cocktails served at Pignic Pub & Patio and PlumpJack Café and Squaw Valley Inn. Here, we’ll take a stroll through the rich history and origin of some venerable tipples.

Grape derivative

Named after the region in France, Cognac is a type of brandy distilled from grapes and must be made in this specific region (similar to Champagne) to earn the name. It’s twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels from France. Leppek notes that sipping Cognac is similar to drinking bourbon, but Cognac has a lighter, more delicate flavor. One of his favorite brands is Cognac Park.

“What I really love about Cognac Park is that [the makers have] broken down the perception that Cognac is reserved for old rich dudes in smoking jackets sitting in their study with all their leather-bound books,” Leppek says. “As a huge fan of bourbon and rye whiskey, I find myself drawn to the delicate yet prominent nuances of Cognac Park, an expression that lends itself to classics as well as new creations, whether you’re in the mood for sipping, stirring, or shaking.”

The Marigny

(courtesy of Trevor Leppek, bar programs manager and co-owner, Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno. Serves 1)

2 ounces Park Cognac

¼ ounce Amaro Montenegro

¼ ounce BLiS Bourbon Barrel-Aged Vanilla Maple Syrup

2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters

Dash of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Herbsaint Anise Liqueur, in spritzing bottle

Orange twist for garnish

Build in mixing glass with all ingredients except Herbsaint. Add ice, and stir about 30 revolutions with mixing spoon. Spritz double old-fashioned glass with Herbsaint, then strain with julep strainer over large ice cube. Spritz with Herbsaint again and then add orange twist.

Bitter drink

Made from pharmacy recipes dating back to the 19th century, amaro (the Italian word for bitter) is an Italian digestif known for its bittersweet notes. Using a wine or neutral spirit base, its extraordinary flavors are produced by soaking proprietary combinations of roots, berries, flowers, herbs, and citrus peel in alcohol and simple syrup. Pignic Pub & Patio serves the Tanaka cocktail featuring Sfumato Rabarbaro Amaro.

“This variety is a rhubarb-based bitter amaro that has smoky qualities,” Leppek says. “The smoky amaro is something you don’t see very often, and it is delicious.”

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(courtesy of Trevor Leppek, bar programs manager and co-owner, Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno. Serves 1)

1 ounce El Silencio Mezcal

¾ ounce Akashi White Oak Japanese Whisky

½ ounce Sfumato Rabarbaro Amaro

¼ ounce Cannella Cinnamon Cordial

¼ ounce Mandarine Napoléon Liqueur

Dash of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Dash of toasted coconut cardamom simple syrup (recipe to follow)

Orange twist, for garnish

Build in mixing glass with all ingredients. Add ice, stir about 30 revolutions with mixing spoon, and strain with julep strainer over large ice cube in double old-fashioned glass. Cut and flame orange peel, then add orange twist.

For toasted coconut cardamom simple syrup: Mix 8 ounces cardamom sugar, 4 ounces toasted coconut sugar (from Salty-Savory-Sweet in Reno), and 12 ounces extremely hot water. Stir/shake until diluted.


Jake Spero, bar manager at PlumpJack Café and Squaw Valley Inn, has a special connection to pisco, a light-colored brandy that historically is a Peruvian favorite. His wife is from Lima, and the two travel there each year, giving Spero the opportunity to study the intriguing culture along with the thriving gastronomic scene throughout the country.

“Bartenders in Peru are carefully crafting cocktails utilizing fruits and herbs from the rainforest, which we cannot find in the U.S. Some bars are doing hundreds of infusions,” he says.

Pisco made its worldly debut in the 1800s when sailors brought the libation to the West Coast of the U.S. From San Francisco to Reno and beyond, this type of brandy was most popularly used in the Pisco Sour. Spero’s Maracuya Sour is a nod to the classic but includes the tangy flavor of passion fruit.

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Maracuya Sour

(courtesy of Jake Spero, bar manager, PlumpJack Café and Squaw Valley Inn in Olympic Valley. Serves 1)

2 ounces pisco

¼ ounce egg white

½ ounce passion fruit purée (recipe to follow)

¾ ounce lime juice

¾ ounce gum syrup, or simple syrup if gum arabic is not available (recipe to follow)

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Lime wedge for garnish

Shake first without ice to froth egg whites, then add ice and shake again. Strain into cocktail glass without ice. Garnish with lime wedge and three small drops Angostura Bitters on top of foam.

For passion fruit purée: Slice 6 fresh passion fruits and scoop out fruit inside. Put into blender with 2 cups water and ½ cup sugar. Blend well and strain. Makes about 3 cups.

For gum syrup: Combine 1½ cups sugar, 1 cup water, and ½ cup gum arabic. Stir over low heat until it dissolves and thickens into syrup. Strain.


The almighty Campari is an Italian apéritif with distinguished bitter notes. Traditionally served before a meal, this liqueur is commonly added to sweet vermouth and gin to make a Negroni, as well as other favorites.

“Campari is such a fun spirit to play with in cocktails,” Spero says. “Its flavor is unique, and even a small amount will alter any drink. Some bartenders these days have been mixing Fernet-Branca and Campari as a shot or sipper.”

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(courtesy of Jake Spero, bar manager, PlumpJack Café and Squaw Valley Inn in Olympic Valley. Serves 1)

1 ounce Art in the Age SAGE Spirit

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce Imbue Petal & Thorn Vermouth

3 dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters

Orange twist for garnish

Mix all ingredients in shaker filled with ice; stir with long bar spoon. Strain into bucket glass over large ice cube. Garnish with orange twist.

During that next visit to Pignic Pub & Patio and PlumpJack Café and Squaw Valley Inn, order something different for a deliciously aesthetic drink.

Heidi Bethel is a big fan of interesting concoctions made with ingredients that may not be on each and every drink menu. She also appreciates the peek into history and other cultures that the aforementioned alcohol varieties embrace.


Pignic Pub & Patio
235 Flint St., Reno • 775-376-1948 • Find Pignic Pub & Patio on Facebook

PlumpJack Café and Squaw Valley Inn
1920 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley • 530-583-1576 • 





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