Luxardo Amaro Abano
It’s hard to say where our story begins. Is it Toronto where we first braved and grew to love the bitterness and complexity of the Italian amaro? Or is it San Francisco where we were overwhelmed by the copious selection and had bartenders pour us countless flights of liqueurs and vermouths foreign to us? It’s clear where it ends, anyway. The beautiful irony of the world we inhabit is that sometimes the nearest place to acquire a bottle of a particular Italian liqueur you sampled in California happens to be a small town in rural Québec.
That trip to California had opened our eyes to the possibility that you don’t have to wait for something to come to you. You can go out there and get it. We are referring, of course, to liquor. It’s an uncomfortable truth that the liquor selection in Ontario, though it has and continues to serve us well, is not quite as thorough as one might perhaps wish1. A place like Cask in SF or Astor Wines in NYC is a bit of a promised land to us. Once smitten with the breadth of selection at such a place, it becomes hard to think of anything else. But one night we cut through the fog of envy and realized that though our neighbours to the northeast also have a government monopoly on liquor distribution, theirs is run by a different government. No doubt there would be some overlap in inventory, but surely there must be outliers as well.
A survey of the SAQ catalogue revealed that Luxardo Amaro Abano was available in the province. We had enjoyed this liqueur during our visit to the Burritt Room in San Francisco. Great! We’ll pick some up next time we're in Montréal, we thought. And that’s when we learned of Louiseville.
Somehow this town of seven thousand inhabitants, just outside of Trois-Rivières, turned out to be the one place in either Ontario or Québec to carry that particular liqueur. Who had decided that the lone liquor store in this tiny town would be the spot? Had there been a local with a taste for Italian digestivos or was this the work of a commission, basing its decisions on surveys, market research and spirited debate? Was there a bustling Italian community tucked away in rural Québec or had we perhaps stumbled upon a settlement of artisanal cocktail enthusiasts? Occam’s razor would have us believe that the Luxardo had been available throughout Québec in the past and most inventory had been sold off, but where is the charm in that? Surely there was some mystery, some drama to this remote town.
Just how remote was it? We looked it up on the map. A six hour drive, one way, in the best of conditions. We would have to wait. We had plans already to be an hour southwest of Montréal in the coming holiday season. From there the trip to Louiseville was a much more manageable couple of hours.
But waiting could prove risky. Surely there was a chance that some kindred spirit would also pick up on the trail and snatch up the liqueur before we had a chance. For months we checked and re-checked the inventory statements on the SAQ website. We had been burned before. This past fall, the LCBO had quietly discontinued a favourite2 amaro of ours, Ramazzotti. As soon as we heard the news we checked up on the stock levels and were comforted by rows of numbers and locations spanning the province. We breathed sighs of relief and made plans to pick up a few bottles at some nebulous point in the future. We were caught off guard when, just weeks later, we checked again and supplies had dwindled down to a handful, some in Ottawa and the remainder scattered among remote outposts such as Pelee Island. And then overnight 7 bottles disappeared from Ottawa. Panicking, we reached out to a friend in the capital whose heroism in securing the last few bottles shall not soon be forgotten. All this to say, we knew there was a risk in waiting. But day after day that digit 4 remained steady and without change.
Time passed. Seasons came and seasons went3. The snow arrived and soon after, so did the day of reckoning. We had found ourselves across the border with a day to spare. Having consulted our maps and packed our bags, we set out on our pilgrimage to Louiseville. The journey there was straightforward. It was a grey day but the weather was otherwise mild and the driving conditions pleasant. Our greatest difficulties involved navigating two roundabouts. We have a fondness for roundabouts.
As we pulled up to the parking lot of the SAQ we could hardly believe we had arrived. A glimmer of doubt crossed our minds momentarily. What if those four bottles had been a mistake? A glitch in the inventory system, an oversight or some cruel trick. No matter. We would soon find out the truth.
Scarcely had we crossed the threshold of the store's entrance when we were kindly greeted with a sample of a local sparkling wine and an offer of assistance. We mustered up what little French we had and managed to string together, “Nous cherchons un amèr”. Our host motioned to the french aperitifs but we shook our heads. “Non, c’est italien… Amaro Luxardo”. At those two words her eyes lit up with recognition and she disappeared into the back storeroom. She returned promptly bearing a dusty bottle with a charming label that we recognized instantly.
And here we were. Having crossed time and distance we were united at last. Lovers in bitterness. We wish we could say that the skies brightened or that the birds sang, but the world remained as it was. The only change was internal, the giddy beating of our hearts.
Dear reader, when we arrived in Louiseville there were four bottles of Luxardo Amaro Abano. We left two behind for you.
Was it all worth it, you ask?
We have no regrets.