Batch 2

While we patiently wait for Batch 1 to finish, Patrick and I have moved forward to start producing Batch 2.  Because the production process for our amaro takes several months, and there are always unavoidable delays, we thought it best to be organized and proactive and start working on the next batch before we bottle Batch 1.  Once again, we started with a base of beautiful grape spirit, distilled by Travis Smith in his copper still at Spiritsmith in Sebastopol. Batch 2 will be double the size of Batch 1; it should yield around 1700 bottles.

We strive to go local as possible in producing our amaro.  The grape spirit comes from locally grown grapes (in Sonoma County).  The rosemary (which is a dominant flavor in the aroma) comes from our backyard.


We try to source as many of the dried herbs as close to home as possible.  Some are only grown in the Middle East and Asia, so we couldn't go local on all our ingredients.

bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb

bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb


Citrus is a very important component of our amaro.  We use fresh grapefruit peel, from California.  Patrick always has the enviable task of peeling the grapefruit (I hate that job).  Our amaro is truly "hand crafted."


The herbs will macerate for a period of three weeks, and we will stir periodically to infuse the flavors.  Once maceration is complete, we will remove the herbs, and after settling, we will rack the spirit to barrel.  

share the bitter love

If you had to ask us to describe what this amaro project is all about, the phrase "share the bitter love" would certainly be repeated.  Patrick has had bitter in his blood since I met him back in 2001.  When asked why he wants to make amaro, and why he loves it, his answer is always "it's bitter, like me."  Truth is, there's nothing bitter about him; he's just a big mush. But if he gets a whiff of the fact that the person he's talking to is interested in hearing about amaro, hold on, because he'll be talking bitter to you for a LONG time.

share the bitter love pink.jpg

One night, early in the amaro test production phase, after having a few drinks, Patrick said "I just want to share the bitter love."  That phrase stuck with us; we hashtag it to a nauseating degree but it's our ethos and I hope it is always true.


Vintage amari tasting at Maialino

Although Patrick and I have to travel often for blr wine co., our sales and marketing consulting company for small wineries, we almost always manage to have a great time on the road.  We get to eat at some of the best restaurants and taste some of the world's best wines.  Usually we travel separately; last week we were fortunate to travel together to New York for business. After pouring at the Polaner Selections Portfolio Tasting last Tuesday, we headed to Maialino, Danny Meyer's fabulous restaurant in Gramercy Park.  

The wine list at Maialino is always a treat, deep in vintages of wines from benchmark producers from nearly every corner of Italy.  We were dining with Nathan Kandler, the winemaker at Thomas Fogarty Winery, and it happened to be Nathan's birthday.  Jeff Kellogg, the wine director, steered us to a 1964 Gattinara Riserva from Nervi (quite a few years older than the birthday boy).

1964 Gattinara Riserva, Nervi

1964 Gattinara Riserva, Nervi

Gattinara is an appellation in Piemonte, the lesser known cousin to Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo is the grape, and Nervi is most certainly one of the top producers of the region.  The Nervi, though over 50 years old, was full of life, showing tertiary aromas of leather, forest floor, but still holding some of the pretty rose petal flavors often associated with Nebbiolo. We expected it to deteriorate during the course of the evening but it held on, incredibly pleasurable from start to finish.  I've had the good fortune of tasting a few 1964 wines from Piemonte, and this was one of my faves.

After dinner, it was time for some amaro!  Lucky for us, Jeff has a list of vintage amari from a collector, dating back to the 1960's and 1970's.

We asked Jeff to put together a flight of amari for us.  He knows his list and program the best, so we were comfortable in his capable hands.

He chose three amari for the flight.  The Cinzano (left) and Fernet-Branca (right) were both from the 1970's, and the Ramazotti was from the 1960's.  Naturally, Patrick's favorite was the Branca; Fernet is his favorite and Branca is his "mother's milk" (his words, not mine).  Although I preferred the first two, the Cinzano slightly edged out the Ramazotti, the herbal and alpine notes striking a strong chord.

What a memorable meal and fabulous way to celebrate Nathan's birthday. I do love this business!

Day 35

Day 35, checking in on the progress of Batch 1.  I think we were surprised how pretty the flavors are so soon.  Travis Smith (our distiller) used the term "golden sunshine" to describe it, which I think is a phenomenal description.  This is an amaro that is after my heart; I think our second amaro (the fernet, which is in test trials) will be made more to Patrick's palate (read: gnarly). Dominated by citrus notes, I return over and over to the term "alpine" as the rosemary has asserted itself since Day 1.  Rhubarb flavors on the mid-palate are framed by the distinct presence of myrrh.  Our little bit of amber sunshine will continue to rest in barrel for another few months.  Truly exciting!

Amaro Bilaro: Batch No. 1

After years of recipe testing, herb trials, spreadsheets, brainstorming, and many sleepless nights, we've embarked on Batch No. 1 of our first amaro!  But first, let me back up and tell you a little something about us.

Bilaro is a mashup of our last names, Bickford & LaRossa.  Amaro has been in Patrick's DNA for a very long time, long before we met up on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center at Windows on the World, where I was a sommelier. Wine was the center of our lives back them, but amaro was always in the background, it's bitter loveliness calling to us.  

Patrick loves sharing his passion for amaro with friends; there have been many late nights in our kitchens sharing amari till the wee hours.  In the days before liquids were banned on airplanes, Patrick filled a wine bag with amari after wine trips throughout Italy to bring back home. At one count, we had over 40 different bottles of amaro on the bar in our one bedroom apartment in NYC!

We had an amaro bar at our wedding.  Because one amaro wasn't enough.


Patrick and Susan in Riddle Vineyard, outside the town of Occidental


Fast forward about a decade, as we moved west to a different life, settling in Sebastopol, in west Sonoma County.  Sebastopol is in "west county," a unique place close to the Pacific Ocean that is filled with creative folk who embody a "can-do" spirit.  A mutual friend connected us to Travis Smith, who runs his beautiful copper pot still in Sebastopol at Spiritsmith. Travis is creative and energetic, a kind soul whose guidance helped shepherd us through the difficult months of starting up our brand.

Travis Smith

The still at Spiritsmith

And so we kicked off Batch No. 1 in early January, using premium grape spirit (no grain spirit) and macerating 13 herbs, spices and botanicals for several weeks.  We harvested rosemary from our home garden, and used as many local products as possible (there are some herbs that can never be sourced locally, unfortunately).  

Our love for all things bitter and vinous are happily married in Bilaro.  Our mission is to share the bitter love with friends old and new.  We are so excited for the future, and hope you come along for the ride!