Everyone loves a complex drink, and the good news is that things don’t have to get complicated for you to enjoy something complex at home. Alongside your highballs and Negronis, you should be adding another bartender favorite to your repertoire this week: the Mezcal and Montenegro.
The Montenegro and Mezcal (also known as an M&M) is the easiest drink you’re not making at home. It takes just two ingredients, can be served as a shot or over ice, and will help you up your bartending game.
It starts with the bottle you know the least about: Amaro Montenegro. Though it might be considered an obscure bottle by the public, Montenegro is a pantry staple among the bartending community. It’s an Italian Amaro more than a century old—a bittersweet and rich liquid whose signature flavor notes of caramel and orange come from a complex recipe involving 40 botanicals.
A Bartender’s Handshake
Those flavors make Montengro a perfect foil for complex and bold hard liquors, including whiskey and mezcal. The simple M&M started as a bartender’s handshake—a simple, under-the-radar drink served from one bartender to another.
“The M&M is an amazingly delicious shot,” says Tad Carducci, an award-winning mixologist, bar consultant, and Amaro Montenegro National Ambassador. “It’s a little bit edgy, and a little bit sophisticated at the same time. Smokey, spiced, herbaceous, bittersweet and refreshing. Whether neat or chilled, it’s a perfect entrée for those who don’t yet know mezcal or amaro, but is sure to make them instant fans of both.”
It’s a little bit edgy, and a little bit sophisticated at the same time.
We likely have NYC bartender Robert Krueger to thank for sharing the drink with the public, according to drinks expect Aaron Goldfarb, who detailed the history of the drink at Punch. “He found that more-savory spirits worked particularly well in his Montes, especially rye and mezcal, whose smoke and bite could be mellowed out by Montenegro’s lingering bittersweetness,” Goldfarb wrote. “Sometimes he would add a dash of chocolate bitters and an orange twist, hinting at a potential evolution for the drink.”
Taking It to the Next Level
What this all boils down to, in other words, is that you can get a lot of mileage from Montenegro from thinking of it as an ingredient with the following characteristics: sweet, caramelly, and citrusy.
Those three things are exactly what you add to spirits like whiskey, tequila, and mezcal to get drinks like the old fashioned and the margarita. It’s the sort of alchemy that draws in cocktail lovers: the idea that two unusual ingredients (two acquired tastes, for that matter) can come together and make a universal crowd pleaser.
So how can Montenegro up your cocktail game? The easiest application is an M&M, which can be taken as a shot (equal parts Montenegro and mezcal) or, as Carducci advised us, served over ice (and perhaps tweaked to 2 parts mezcal and one part Montenegro).
But from here, the drink becomes your playground. Add a couple dashes of mole bitters. Replace the 2 parts of mezcal with rye, and you’ve got a simple old fashioned.
But our favorite use for Montenegro is in a modified Negroni. It stays an equal parts cocktail, but you’ll replace Campari with Montenegro, red vermouth with white, and finish with either gin, tequila, or mezcal.
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