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September 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Bottle Reviews

While a good number of bars are making their own cocktail flavoring bitters, few folks in the states have dared to tread in the realm of bitters meant to be enjoyed as an apertiveo or digestivo (or their Francophone equivalents). The folks who make Calisaya are one of those few. Their product prominently features the bark of cinchona calisaya trees, which are the source of quinine, and a bittering agent in most cocktail bitters. It’s in Angostura and Pechaud’s, for instance.

Pouring a sample into the glass, it’s a somewhat cloudy, almost dusty looking liquor. When I put it up to a light I can see a trace of sediment, but that’s not a big surprise when you consider its primary component, cinchona calisaya. The dust from that bark is very fine, and very hard to filter out. Looking at the spirit in the glass, it also has a little sugar or glycerin as it leaves good-sized legs that slowly dribble down.

Nose: The nose is a tad woody, and maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but the nose is a bit dusty, too. There’s also some slight traces of alcohol in the nose, and unlike other bitters that are meant to be sipped this one doesn’t have a sweet nose. It’s more dry, with some spice, and pepper. There are also hints of citrus to it. I’m not sure if it’s grapefruit peel and pith, or maybe orange.

Taste: First taste is sweetness, cinnamon, cardamom, grapefruit and orange. This definitely fires up the salivary glands. Mid-palate is strong bitter from the cinchona. The mouth feel is dry, and a touch thin, but not really astringent. There’s also a taste reminding of allspice or Chinese five-spice powder. There’s some lingering cardamom and maybe some coriander. It is a tad medicinal, but not like a gin or some over-the-top bitters like Fernet or Zwack Unicum. Also, there’s a lingering aftertaste similar to roasted chicory. It’s a pleasant bittersweet taste that continues on for a while.

Finish: It’s far lighter and dryer than something like a Cynar or Campari, and with a pronounced savoriness that lingers long after the sip. I would use this as a before-dinner drink, or appertivo, on it’s own, or in variations of recipes calling for Campari, Aperol or Cynar, or as a nice slightly dry summer tonic as a before dinner drink. Definitely recommended.

Notes: Ms.Boozenik suggests that the flavor profile on the finish lines up with the flavor of raw hazelnuts. Coincidentally, Cottage Grove is located smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s largest hazelnut growing regions.

Calisaya, (Elixer Liqueurs, Cottage Grove, Oregon) 70 proof, $47.35

(Sample provided by Mr. Boozenik’s wallet)


3 Responses to “Calisaya”
  1. Thank you for the bottle review. And thank you for appreciating how complex it is to produce an “amaro”. We’ve been tinkering with the formulation for a good couple of years, and we are really pleased with the final outcome. Bartenders and mixologists really like it and that, along with endorsement like yours, is the best clue we are on the right path.


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  1. […] reading the informative post on Calisaya from the Boozeniks , I was anxious to try this relatively new local bitter. Leave it […]

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