Wine & Spirits: At Fiola, Bitter Is Better

Fiola Bar Manager ’s libations are balanced, creative — and light on the sweet stuff.

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Fiola's bar boasts a large list of Italian aperitivi. (Photo courtesy of Abby Greenawalt.)

Penn Quarter hotspot Fiola (601 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 202-628-2888) has been receiving critical acclaim at every turn these days — and with good reason, as Chef ’s dishes are inspired and authentic (don’t miss the meatballs topped with tomato and a sunny side up egg, or the rich, silky ravioli stuffed with buttery lobster and served alongside an ample chunk of the succulent crustacean.) But when you show up for your dinner reservation, don’t pass the bar on the way to your table without stopping for a sip, as the creative cocktails are just as much the star of the show as the Italian cuisine.

Bar Manager Jeff Faile is a man after my own heart. You see, I have a major propensity for bitter-based cocktails. Faile shares this fixation — his bar menu boasts 12 kinds of Amari, from Fernet Branca, to Cynar, to Punt E Mes. “Before I joined Fiola, I had become obsessed with Amari. I wanted to use them in every drink,” he says. “People assume all Amari are simply bitter, but there are so many levels of flavor there. The fun is finding out which herb or spice from one will show up when combined with one spirit or another.”

Bitter elements are woven throughout the drinks menu, which runs about 28 libations long, categorized into Aperitivi, Jeff’s Choices, Light and Dark. Traditional favorites, modern interpretations and Faile’s own concoctions are all represented. “I focus on a combination of classic drinks that are easy for people to recognize on a list, and originals which tend to incorporate Italian bitters, spirits and flavors” he says.

Straight to the Top ($13) combines Knob Creek Bourbon, French aperitif Bonal, orange and chocolate bitters, and Barolo Chinato, made by steeping Italian Barolo wine with the bark from the Cinchona tree, and then flavoring it with a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, coriander and vanilla. Coventry ($13) mixes bitter Amaro Averna and Maraschino liqueur with the peppery bite of Redemption Rye.

Faile features five riffs on the classic Gin-, Campari- and Vermouth-based Negroni. Photo courtesy of Gruppo Campari.

Most enticing to me on the menu are the five riffs of the Negroni. This classic drink is one of my go-to favorites for more than a few reasons. Its base (gin) is my favorite spirit. It contains my favorite bitter aperitivi (Campari). It doesn’t require any fresh citrus or infused syrups (great if I’m feeling thirsty but lazy). And, its simple 1:1:1 ratio is easy to remember — and easy to teach neophyte bartenders and curious cocktailian friends.

Faile’s variations playfully tweak the original formula. The effervescent Negroni Sbagliato ($13) tops Campari and Carpano Antica with Prosecco; the Negroni Inverno ($12) replaces the gin with Aquavit. And don’t be fooled by the clear appearance of the Negroni Bianco ($13): it’s potent, but perfectly balanced, and very aromatic because of the Dolin Blanc Vermouth (my favorite).

With spring here, Faile will be tinkering with seasonal ingredients — incorporating more gin onto the list (yay!), as well as warmer-weather fruits, berries and herbs. “Ultimately, I want the drinks to continue to be consistently good from one drink to the next,” he says. “As cliché as it sounds, you’re only as good as the last drink you poured.”

Negroni Bianco
Courtesy of Jeff Faile, Fiola, Washington, D.C.
1.5 oz Botanist Gin
1 oz Cocchi Americano
1 oz Dolin Blanc
Lemon twist, for garnish

Add all except garnish to a cocktail shake. Add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain over fresh ice in a chilled rocks glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Bitter End
Courtesy of Jeff Faile, Fiola, Washington, D.C.

1.5 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz lemon juice
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz Campari
3 drops of Fee Brothers Chocolate Bitters
Orange slice, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange slice.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.

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