Food & Drink

Around the World, Sip by Sip (Part One) 

Quench your thirst for travel without leaving Seattle

By Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas November 9, 2023


Whether it’s a dry rosé that evokes the sense memory of a sunbaked afternoon in Provence, or a crisp pilsner that brings back a boisterous Prague beer hall, libations transport our minds to faraway lands. The next time you go out, bring the same sense of adventure you would to travel by sampling one of these exotic spirits from around the globe. Each of these sips has a surprising Seattle connection, with plenty of local taverns to sample and savor.


Fast Penny Spirits founder and CEO Jamie Hunt mixes cocktails in North Queen Anne.

Photo by Kristopher Shinn

Amaro (Italy)

Italian for bitter, amaro describes the bittersweet herbal liqueurs often consumed as an aperitif or digestif. Jamie Hunt fell in love with amaro on a trip to Italy in her 20s. “I was served amaro gratis after a meal and thought it was super interesting and delicious,” she recalls. “I started going to different towns and regions whenever I visited Italy to taste their version of amaro. Amaro is very regional, so it’s fun to taste around the boot.” 

In Sicily, she connected with Amaro Averna, an Italian liqueur in the Amaro category. “Amaro holds a special place in Italian culture, not only as a culinary tradition but also as a symbol of warmth, hospitality, and communal spirit,” Hunt says. “It is a drink deeply embedded in the fabric of Italian social life, carrying with it a sense of tradition, history, and conviviality.”

Her fascination with amaro led to years of experimentation with her own brand, Amaricano, and voila, Fast Penny Spirits was born in North Queen Anne. The women-owned business plucks ingredients from around the state, such as Rainier cherries and Theo Chocolate.

“I love to sip them neat or on the rocks,” Hunt says. “However, you can’t beat a good Negroni or Black Manhattan.” Around Seattle, there is no shortage of opportunities to sample amari. “I love Barnacle (in Ballard), as there is such a huge selection of amari and knowledgeable bartenders. However, there are so many places like Cantinetta, Roquette, Flint Creek, Bathtub Gin, Eden Hill, El Encanto, Sunny Hill, and Bar Americano in Edmonds. I could keep on going.”

Dragos Axinte, the founder of Novo Fogo in Issaquah.

Photo courtesy of Novo Fogo

Cachaça (Brazil)

Though sometimes classified as rum, cachaça pre-dates that spirit by at least 100 years, and is its direct ancestor. Made from fermented, distilled sugarcane juice, it is then aged in wood barrels, acquiring the terroir of the Brazilian forests that produce that exotic wood. Similar to champagne or tequila, cachaça can only be produced in Brazil.

For Dragos Axinte, founder of Seattle-based Novo Fogo Organic Cachaça, an independent producer of cachaça, his journey of discovery defines globalism and travel. “It started with falling in love with Brazilian soccer (and Pelé) as a kid in the 80s, growing up in communist Romania,” he says. “Then, my family moved to the USA and I became an entrepreneur. After many years of curiosity as a cocktail enthusiast, cachaca became a business opportunity. I took it quickly because I had been looking for ways to spend more time in Brazil, immersing myself in the culture and environment.”

Axinte finds that the cultural importance of cachaça to Brazil can’t be overstated. “Cachaça is so intertwined into the cultural history of Brazil, it is virtually synonymous with it,” he says. “Cachaça is blood and tears, slavery and revolt, poverty and struggle, emancipation and independence. But cachaça has also grown into a positive contributor to Brazilian life over the centuries, modernizing itself into a catalyst for celebration.”

Given its cultural legacy, sample it in Seattle with a bar that understands the tradition. Axinte suggests Rumba on Pike. (“They) understand Novo Fogo really well and can make a great cocktail with any of our expressions; go there for a flight and exploration.” The versatility of cachaça is a quality that Axinte extols. “It is s perhaps the most diverse spirits category in the world. So, I like to drink cachaça in many ways: in fruity cocktails, in stirred cocktails, neat, or as part of boilermakers, with coffee, with tea. The sky’s the limit with cachaça creativity.”

Sarah Soderbergh is the Seattle-based director of marketing for Singani 63.

Singani (Bolivia)

A similar passion for adventure, travel, and discovery animates singani’s arrival in North America. Singani is a brandy produced at high altitudes in the mountains of Bolivia, specifically made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Similar to cachaça, the spirit is more than 500 years old, and tells the tale of Bolivian history.

Sarah Soderbergh is the Seattle-based director of marketing for Singani 63. Her father, the director Steven Soderbergh, discovered it while filming on location in Bolivia and decided to launch his own brand in the United States. They partnered with fourth-generation distillery owners in Bolivia to preserve its authenticity. For the same reason, it was important to the Soderbergh family to get singani its own designation separate from Cachaça brandy, which it received in 2023 after an eight-year campaign. The Bolivian government joined the initiative five years ago, putting its stamp on the legitimacy of the enterprise.

As Sarah points out, “Bolivians have grown up with it as their everyday spirit. They usually drink it on the rocks, or in a Chuflay (similar to a mule), but distillery owners that we partnered with remember their grandmother cooking with singani and rubbing it on their chests when they had a cold. What a connection that is!”

She likes to drink singani straight up at home, on the rocks, or in a singani and soda. But around town you can find her at various bars that mix it into cocktails. 

“When I’m out and about, I like to see the creativity it brings out in the bar team — some of my favorites have been negroni, vesper, or daiquiri variations, but Singani really lends itself to fun curveballs. My favorite locations to sip Singani are all over the Seattle map. Right now, there’s a delicious cocktail at Flintcreek (Greenwood) called “Gunfighter’s Wife” (Singani 63, allspice, lemon, orange cordial, lambrusco). 

Other staples can be found at Baker’s, Tavern Law, Pablo y Pablo, and Foreign National.

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