Monday, 20 April 2015

Mix it Monday: Contratto Bitter & Contratto Aperitif

Last week I introduced you to Contratto and their trio of vermouths that are just hitting the UK market... This week I bring you some more Italian Stallion goods; Contratto Bitter and Contratto Aperitif.

I’m sure you’re all well acquainted with Campari; the distinctive red alcoholic liqueur, most frequently used in cocktails. It’s the one that gives the likes of a Negroni its bitterness. Yes please! And you’ve probably dappled in an Aperol Spritz or two in your time; the Irn-Bru orange aperitif (also produced by the Campari group) that’s less alcoholic, slightly sweeter in taste, and usually topped with prosecco, soda and a slice of orange. Sip it in the sun, over ice, and you’ll never look back.

The Italian powerhouse Contratto has now launched two quite similar products. Based on recipes dating back to 1933 and 1935, Contratto Bitter and Contratto Aperitif are all natural - no artificial colours or flavours - top quality, artisanal alternatives to “the industry standard products of today.” Big brands have got to have some competition haven’t they?

After receiving a bottle of each last month – I must be in the booze god’s good books – it’s time to put them to the test. Though first we should appreciate the label; that same beautiful lady adorning the vermouth bottles has undergone a bit of a fashion update. Retro stripes and bold fonts; personally, I love it.

Contratto Bitter is a heady mix of 24 herbs, spices, roots and seeds combined with Italian Brandy. Its colour comes from vegetable extracts – carrots and beetroot – and it’s ingredients include aloe, wormwood, bitter orange peel, cloves, cardamom, nettle, ginger and many more. A slow, cold maceration process is carried out according to tradition, and the result is this 22% ruby red liqueur.

It’s somewhat sweeter than its famous rival, more fruity though less grapefruity, and there’s a hint of vanilla in there too. Mixing Contratto Bitter in cocktails is the way to go; and it'll always be a Negroni with me. 1 part gin, 1 part Contratto Bitter, 1 part sweet vermouth (Contratto Vermouth Rosso perhaps), stirred over ice, and garnished with orange peel. Negronis can be a bit of a Marmite drink, but made with Contratto instead of Campari, it is slightly less offensive on the bitterness front.

A Bitter Sweet is Contratto’s signature serve: 1 part Contratto Bitter, 1 part Moscato d'Asti, 1 part Soda Water, in a wine glass with ice and a slice of lemon. Crack this out at your next BBQ and you’ll be everyone’s favourite host! *slurp*

Made in the same way as Contratto Bitter, Contratto Aperitif has slightly longer list of ingredients; 28 including aloe, angelica, wormwood, tangerine peel, hawthorn, juniper berries, and many more. At 13.5%, it is less alcoholic than the Bitter, making it perfect mixing material for pre-dinner drinks.

Both sweet and bitter orange peel are prominent tastes and aromas, so its vibrant orange colour certainly matches its flavour. Zesty and herbal, with intriguing woody notes, it has a long lasting bittersweet finish. Although you could drink it on its own, Contratto Aperitif is meant to be mixed, and lengthening it with sparkling wine or soda is probably the best option. Contratto also suggest mixing it with rhubarb juice, as rhubarb is in the list of ingredients, though I’m not sure where you’ll find that. For something a bit more substantial, adding gin and vermouth to make a Aperitif version of a Negroni is really good.

The Contrattino is the suggested serve: 1 part Contratto Aperitif, 1 part Dry Sparkling Wine, served over ice with a lemon twist.

You can buy litre bottles of both Contratto Bitter (£25.50) and Contratto Aperitif (£23.60) from Hedonism Wines... Get them whilst they're hot! 

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