Italy has long been known for its bitter liqueurs, and many people are hesitant to dip their toe in since “bitter” is not typically a popular sensation in America. More’s the pity, since brands like Campari, Cynar, and Fernet Branca have a lot to offer whether used in mixed drinks like the Negroni (or my very own Mot D’or), or taken on the rocks.
So let’s talk about Aperol. If you’re looking to become more acquainted with the world of Italian aperitifs and digestifs, then it’s a great place to start. It’s inexpensive and arguably the least aggressive of its kind. Very similar in flavor profile to Campari, it contains less than half the alcohol and is far less bitter. This allows its other flavors—a combination of herbs, barks, and bitter orange—to really come through. It’s those orange notes that really set it apart: they’re more pronounced in Aperol than they are in Campari, and I wanted to create a drink whose ingredients would complement and enhance them.
The Starfire is a result. It adds curacao (an orange liqueur) and orange bitters to the mix. Gin provides the oomph, and dry vermouth keeps things smooth. The green Chartreuse rinse adds a little depth, but can be safely ignored if you don’t happen to have a bottle of Chartreuse. With only a quarter ounce of Aperol in it, this cocktail takes an ingredient that’s already pretty gentle and really spreads it out. I’ve had Manhattans that were more bitter than the Starfire!
I strongly recommend you give this drink, and Aperol in general, a shot. If it leads you into trying the other Italian liqueurs and developing a taste for them, so much the better! They’re delicious.
This article is a modified and enhanced version of a post that ran on my nightly cocktail blog, DrinkShouts. Liquors in parentheses are what I used when I made this recipe, and are included as suggestions.
The Starfire Cocktail Recipe
- Rinse a chilled cocktail coupe with green Chartreuse and discard the excess.
- Combine other ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into the rinsed glass. Garnish with an orange twist.