If you’ve ventured into the cocktail world, odds are you’re familiar with the bitter Italian liqueurs called amari. But less familiar still, even to well-versed mixologists, are the French versions known as amer. They’re worth seeking out, especially as one of our very favorites—Bigallet China-China Amer—is ideal for complex, satisfying winter cocktails. (No need for the whole mouthful of names; China-China will do for our purposes.)
Like other liqueurs of its ilk, China-China has bitter and sweet elements, but it’s on the more accessible end of the spectrum. Orange takes front and center, as the liqueur is made with both sweet and bitter oranges. It’s strong on the caramel, rich and substantial, with other spices and aromatics—cinchona bark, clove, gentian—bringing in earthy undertones and real complexity. And, up at 40% ABV, it packs a punch, enough to act as a starring ingredient in cocktails in its own right.
Here are three winter-friendly drinks we love, from the vibrant and fruit-forward, to the sparkling and dynamic, to the deeper, darker nightcap.
Easy: Sparkling China-China
This bubbly drink isn’t a spritz, exactly—it’s too rich and hearty for that—but perhaps we’ll call it a winter spritz. Together, the orange notes of China-China and the sparkling wine keep it bright and drinkable, while the caramel character of the amer pairs with rich sweet vermouth. A crowd-pleaser, coming together in seconds, and a great aperitif for a big winter feast.
Instructions: In a wine glass with ice, combine 1.5 ounces of China-China, an ounce of sweet vermouth, and three ounces of sparkling wine. Add a dash of orange bitters, too, and stir briefly. Garnish with a half-moon slice of orange.
Intermediate: China-China & Rum
If you’re an Old Fashioned fan, and looking for a stiff nightcap, here’s a drink for you: a great dark rum paired with orangey, bittersweet China-China. Bitters add further depth and character. Substantial, complex, and once you’ve got the bottle, dead simple.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of dark rum (we’re using Mount Gay Black Barrel), half an ounce of China-China, half an ounce of simple syrup, two dashes of Angostura bitters, and a dash of orange bitters. Stir until very well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a long orange twist, twisted over the surface of the drink to spray its citrus oils all over.
Advanced: Cognac & Pear
Pear and orange is a flavor combination that works perfectly for winter, and in looking for a spirit to pair with the two, we’re reaching for rich, sophisticated Cognac. No need to splurge on a pricey, older XO Cognac here; any VSOP will do nicely. The result has pleasant, layered fruit flavors without becoming sweet or cloying; let’s call it a dessert drink for those without a sweet tooth.
Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle (that is, smash up) ¼ of a medium Bosc pear, until well-muddled. Add 1.5 ounces of VSOP Cognac, half an ounce of China-China, half an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, half an ounce of simple syrup, and two dashes of Angostura bitters, along with ice. Shake until very well-chilled, then double-strain into a large rocks glass with fresh ice. Top with two ounces of club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with pear slices, fanned out over the surface, and/or a few short paper straws.
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