“What’s that?” I asked a bartender friend in Minneapolis, pointing to a bottle. “Tuaca? Some Italian liqueur.” It sounded familiar. Where had I heard about it? It finally hit me: a Gary Regan column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Regan had been pleasantly surprised that the recipe book the company sent him had some inventive cocktails (like 2 oz. Tuaca with two dashes of soy sauce and a pickled ginger garnish).
So I asked the bartender if he’d let me taste it. Tuaca (about $26) is a 70-proof brandy-based “vanilla citrus” spirit that traces its heritage back to the Medicis, the powerful family that ruled Florence 500 years ago. The recipe for it was apparently created for the family, and then brought into production in 1938 by two men related by marriage, Gaetano Tuoni and Giorgio Canepa (the Tu and the Ca which make up the name that sounds so un-Italian). It’s tasty and aromatic, and not quite as strong as straight brandy.
Then I asked the bartender to mix me a cocktail of two parts Maker’s Mark whisky and one part Tuaca over ice. I was stunned by how delicious it was. It managed to preserve the power of the whisky without sweetening it too much. They blended quite seamlessly.
Tuaca is distributed in the U.S. by the same people who do Jack Daniels, so I was surprised that I didn’t see a simple suggestion to combine the two on the Tuaca website. No matter. It’s an obvious pairing that most Tuaca drinkers will likely discover anyway.
But Regan is right: the Tuaca recipes, created by the mixology consultants at Hush Cocktails, are both simple and novel. The “Tuacan Heat” is just Tuaca with a dash of hot sauce, garnished with an olive and a slice of chorizo. The “Tuaca Tuscan Spice” is an ounce each of Tuaca and mango nectar with a half ounce of lemon juice and a bit of cayenne pepper. What I like about these cocktails is that they are less about mixing obscure spirits or just adding a rotation of fruit juices, and more about simple combinations of surprising flavors.
That said, I have yet to try Tuaca with anything but whisky. I’m hoping that will soon change, and I’ll be looking for it the next time I’m sitting at a bar.