Eating local has never been easier. Folks want to know that whatever’s on their plate either grazed or grew nearby, and chefs, purveyors, and supermarkets are responding to the locavore call with everything from strawberries to steak.
But what about how you’re washing it down? Drinking local can be a challenge: unless you only crave craft beer, chances are that your sophisticated palate requires a little shipping and handling. There’s amazing hooch made all over the world for which there is simply no regional facsimile — the Merrimack Valley is never gonna be the Loire — but there are a few local distillers looking to change that.
Bully Boy Distillers in Roxbury is one of them, doing their best to make drinking local synonymous with drinking well, and the release of their new Amaro brings us all a little closer to that dream. “Amaro,” Italian for “bitter”, is a broad category of bittersweet herbal aperitifs great for sipping before a meal, mixing into a cocktail or settling your stomach after dessert. It’s so ubiquitous you might not even know you’re a fan, but if you’ve ever refreshed yourself with an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni before your meal, then you’re familiar with the concept. (If you don’t know the idea behind an aperitif, stop reading now and go order a Negroni.)
The thing that makes this release so special for Boston and local drinking culture as a whole is that American amaro is basically a nonexistent category. Until now, it’s been the provenance of old Italian families with secret recipes and the big booze corporations that fund their advertising. Bully Boy, founded and run by boozehound brothers Will and Dave Willis, threw their small hat into a big ring with this Amaro, drawing inspiration from their Italian ancestors but crafting a liqueur that is distinctly American.
New England was once the rum capital of the world, so instead of a neutral spirit base, Bully Boy Amaro uses rum as a flavorful foundation to firmly plant its roots in Beantown. It also nods to the thriving local craft beer scene with the use of four American hop varietals to amp up the bitterness. And while most amari (plural of amaro: now you know Italian) rely on lemon peel and orange for a citrusy kick, Bully Boy went with grapefruit to harmonize with the hops.
To sweeten things up, they kept things natural with honey-like yarrow and sugary, earthy fig. Bully Boy Amaro is complex, with over two dozen botanicals in every batch, but also quaffable, weighing in at just 58 proof. This labor of love took the distilling team over two years to perfect: they had to wait three weeks for each round to steep every time they wanted to tweak an ingredient (don’t worry, the final product is blood-, sweat-, and tears-free), so you’d better appreciate that subtle hint of rhubarb.
Enough talking about it, it’s time to get your hands on a bottle. After a series of release parties all around town (at Pammy’s, Coppa, and Urban Grape — sorry you missed ‘em!), you’ll be able to find it in bars and liquor stores across Boston. Bring a bottle home and sip it straight, give it as a gift this holiday season or stir a more patriotic Negroni with Bully Boy Amaro instead of Campari. But if you want the full experience, go visit the luxurious Bully Boy tasting room at the distillery on Cedric Street in Roxbury, where you can taste the Amaro along with the full Bully Boy lineup in cocktails from Head Distiller Dave Willis and Bar Manager Alex Koblan.