Courtesy of Ortolan Rosolio
About 30 different varieties of heirloom garden roses go into Ortolan Rosolio. Here, it's paired with vodka and lemon juice in The Californian.

Add a bottle of Ortolan Rosolio to your bar cart and you’ll keep returning to its versatility.

Kristin Scharkey  – August 6, 2021

With his mother’s summer rose bushes going crazy outside his childhood home in Berkeley, Robert Collier decided to experiment. Heading into the kitchen armed with years of restaurant experience and a diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, he ended up with a Champagne and rose gellee.

Complete with whipped cream swan profiteroles “swimming” on top, the gellee made it to a brunch in wine country. But that was just the beginning. Collier kept playing around with the blooms.

The California native started incorporating roses into his cocktails, applying the same techniques he’d learned from other liqueurs. He remembers running “little distillates” and other “experiments” with single varieties to understand their impact on flavor. “Oh my god, this smells like the garden!” Collier said of his initial recipe.

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A rosolio was born. 

That was almost 10 years ago, and Collier continued to perfect his apéritif. The result is now on the shelves of shops and markets throughout the Golden State. Compared to the more well-known Italian liqueur amaro, Ortolan Rosolio is far from bitter, lighter on the palate, and, in this case, centered on roses.

“With amaros, the focus is on packing a whole lot of flavor into the taste,” Collier says. “With rosolios, the emphasis is on creating something more ethereal, that impacts the olfactory more than the tongue.” 

About 30 different varieties of heirloom garden roses go into Ortolan Rosolio, a “true modifier” that can be combined with any spirit, co-founder Robert Collier says.

Courtesy Ortolan Rosolio

About 30 varieties of heirloom garden roses go into the rosolio from Appanage Brands, co-founded by Collier and Amy Navor. The pair source flowers from farms in wine country near Santa Barbara and Sonoma, all boasting different flavors and colors and scents.

“Our roses are the ‘seconds’ or ‘waste’ that our conscientious farmers don’t sell to the floral industry,” according to the duo. “We help them to minimize their waste, increase their farm’s productivity, and realize another source of income that makes them more competitive against conventional rose farmers.”

Add a bottle of light pink Ortolan Rosolio to your bar cart and you’ll keep returning to its versatility. You can sip it neat over ice, with an orange twist or a sprig of mint. Pair it with lime juice and sparkling water, and watch it change color—from amber salmon to a brighter pink—due to the interplay between the acidity and rose pigments. 

“If you try to do beautiful things, then good things are going to come of it,” Collier says.

How to Drink the Rosolio

Ortolan Rosolio is a true modifier that can be added to any spirit, Collier says. Just don’t mix it with peaty scotch.

“I really meant it to be something where you can take any spirit and a little citrus, or something acidic,” Collier adds, “mix them together, and have a really complex and delicious—but easy to make—drink.”

For starters, try sparkling water and a good squeeze of lime. “People really like it in a spritz,” Collier says, though his favorite is with non-dosage Champagne.

Craft a mezcal margarita with one ounce each of mezcal and Ortolan and three-quarters of an ounce of lime juice— plus a bar spoon of agave syrup, if that’s your thing. Or, you can take a martini approach, combining 1.5 ounces of dry gin and one ounce of Ortolan. Just don’t forget a green olive, Collier says.

“We like to think it enhances classic cocktails, so think of something you like and try incorporating,” Collier says of the rosolio. “Bartenders are coming up with amazing things that I would never have thought of.” 

In Sebastopol, for example, Fern Bar serves an Ortolan cocktail called Hot Girl Summer, made with mezcal, guava, aloe, lemon, chia, hibiscus, jasmine, and cinnamon. “It’s amazing,” Collier says.

In the winter, Collier combines equal parts pear brandy and Ortolan, stirred martini style and served with a sprig of fresh thyme. For an Old Fashioned, Collier uses bourbon instead of rye. “No need for a sugar cube or bitters unless you want the latter,” he adds, “served with an orange twist.” 

The team behind Ortolan has plenty of recipes on their website, but we’re sharing one with you here. Ortolan and Soda is a simple and light way to enjoy the apéritif. Cheers!