What Is Cynar, And How Do You Say It?

Meet Cynar, every bartender's bitter secret weapon

It's no secret that Italian bitters, the distinctive, cocktail-friendly liqueurs that have enjoyed major player status overseas for decades, are finally taking center stage stateside. Campari and fernet are leading the botanical invasion, while the Aperol Spritz, the Italian summertime go-to, has officially taken the U.S. by storm. But according to top bartenders, midnight-hued Cynar is the lot's mysterious unsung hero. Get ahead of the cocktail curve and get to know this under-the-radar bitter.

Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar) is in the class of amari, a group of liqueurs famous for their stomach-soothing qualities and generally low booze content. Specifically, Cynar is a digestivo, an almost-medicinal Italian after-dinner drink. Like its fragrant famiglia, it's made by steeping herbs (13 in this case) in a neutral spirit. But what makes the spirit really stand out is its primary ingredient: artichokes.

Don't let this hearty flavoring agent fool you. "Cynar is quite beguiling," says Dave Karraker, VP of marketing and communications for the American division of Gruppo Campari, Cynar's Milanese parent company. "You expect it to taste as dark and brooding as it looks, but are welcomed with a liqueur that is bright and mixes in a cocktail so well."

Aside from being a staple of Italian cuisine, the thistle's subtlety creates a more even-keel product than chinotto, Campari's blood orange-like driving force, or Luxardo Aperitivo's tart cherries. And it's the spirit's lack of palate-punching bitterness that makes it so ideal for cocktails.

"Cynar tends to be sweeter than other amari, thus making it less aggressive, more approachable and great for drinks," says Eden Laurin, managing partner at The Violet Hour, a multi-award-winning Chicago cocktail bar that's been instrumental in spreading the bitters gospel. Take one sip of this sparkling rum, grapefruit juice and Cynar cocktail (see the recipe) from NYC's beloved bitters-focused bar, Amor y Amargo, and you'll get the picture.