Monday, 8 June 2015

Asterley Bros: Dispense - A Modern British Amaro

Amore Amaro. There's something quite strange about these two words together; one means love, the other bitter. But it's true, I do love bitter, and more to the point, I love for Amaro (see my previous posts on Stellacello and Fernet Branca).

A few months ago I came across Asterley Bros, two brothers based in South East London who are no strangers to the on-trade industry. Having spent the majority of their working lives behind bars, in restaurants and hotels, making drinks has been instilled in them, to the point that they've now decided to create something of their own.

Back in 2009, they were handed a treasured family recipe for authentic Sicilian Amaro, which, in the years since, they've recreated to enjoy back in less-sunnier London. Not quite content, the brothers knew that they wanted to make their own variation - one that represented their British heritage a little more - and that's how Dispense was born.

dispense - vb: To share, to prepare and distribute

They studied recipes from the 17th Century's 'London Dispensatory' - a catalogue of London’s rich history of tonics and liqueurs - then intertwined their findings with the intense aromas that they associate with Sicily. Together, they've crafted something that is not just uniquely British, but something that still encapsulates the heat and charm of a Sicilian Summer. Ideal right?

24 botanicals are used to create "a rich and heady liqueur, where fragrant citrus notes embrace the warmth of cardamom and clove". Length, complexity and bitterness are heightened with British hops, milk thistle and hyssop, and their signature vermouth is made with wine from one of England’s best producers. The process takes around six weeks, thanks to three different macerations, then it's racked, clarified and bottled by hand.

In order to make their Amaro the best of the best, Asterley Bros have done something a little different; they put a call out for people to be part of a Beta Testing. Once they'd finalised their recipe, samples of Beta Blend #1 were posted to a number of thirsty participants (including me) with instructions to taste and leave feedback on how we found it.

As soon as all the feedback is in, they plan to publish the results, take on board what people have said, then create a new Beta Blend, #2. Don't worry though, Asterley Bros are always looking for opinionated people to taste their artisan spirit, so if you'd like to be part of this tasting experience, then stick your name on the waiting list HERE.


I drank my sample of Dispense Amaro as suggested; neat, at room temperature, in a tasting glass.

Rich caramel and both bitter and sweet orange flavours were apparent on the nose. There was something a little rum like about it and, as it opened up in the glass, it became quite nutty with chocolate undertones.

Taste wise, it had a sweet, silky smooth mouthfeel at the start, then bitter herbs and spices became pretty prominent on the back of the tongue. I'm not entirely sure I could pick any specific aromatics out, but it seemed quite clove-like with Christmas spices. There was a peppery heat as you swallowed, along with a typical menthol finish. The bitterness increased somewhat after drinking too, so it had a good length.

It seemed quite big on the citrus peel front - perhaps a little pithy - and that caused me to think that it may be missing something in the sweetness department; quite deceptive considering it's viscosity! As I took a sip, the back of my tongue was going crazy with all the interesting flavours, but the tip of my tongue barely got a look in (it felt like it was missing out!).

I enjoyed drinking it neat, but if I were to own a bottle, I'd probably try using it in cocktails. I imagine that would give it the added sweetness oomph it needs, and would bring out some more of the aromatic flavours lurking in there.

It's fabulous to be part of Asterley Bros Dispense Amaro's progression, and I'm looking forward to seeing other people's opinions! Roll on Beta Blend #2...

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