The world of herbal liqueurs is vast and diverse—but there’s good reason to argue that, like a lot of things, the Italians do it best.
Amaro: Your Go-To Winter Drink
Meet the new regular of your at-home bar.
What Is Amaro?
“Amaro,” which translates to “bitter” in Italian, is a category of liqueur that is categorized by the macerating or distilling of bitter ingredients such as bark, herbs, spices, citrus, and flowers. They can be aged and flavored with other components, as well, like warm spices, vegetables, and botanicals. The world’s most famous amaro is by far Campari (with Aperol as a close second), which can be found at practically any bar you’ll go to.
As such, the pool of flavors and aromas among amari is quite varied. Amari can run the gamut from overwhelmingly bitter to syrupy sweet, and, taste-wise, it’s possible to find examples that are dominated by floral, herbaceous, medicinal, vegetal, or citrus flavors. The best examples of amaro are well-balanced in flavor, sweetness, and bitterness.
But, How Do I Drink It?
Traditionally, amaro is served as a digestif, but in actuality, with so many different types amari on the market, it is appropriate to drink in nearly any circumstance. It is fantastic on its own—straight up or on the rocks—or mixed into a cocktail.
Many other cultures make fantastic herbal liqueurs that can be categorized as amaro, as well. However, Italy is its birthplace and holds the market-share on its production, which is why we’ll focus on examples from it here.
So, Which Kind Should I Buy?
While most of us are familiar with Campari and Aperol, there are a few other big-name amari on the scene that deserve a spot on your bar:
A low-alcohol, artichoke-based amaro whose flavor is rounded out by 13 other different plants that give it an earthy flavor with a caramel finish. It is a perfect mix-in for cocktails, but is most often served on its own over ice and garnish with orange peel.
Made from 40 proprietary ingredients, Montenegro is one of the best-selling amari in Italy. With notes of orange, black cherry, and cucumber, it falls on the sweeter, lighter side of the amaro spectrum and is a good introductory bottle for those just getting into herbal liqueurs.
This amaro is one of the oldest on the market, created in 1815. It tastes of orange peel, warm spices, and herbs that offer a pleasant bitterness. It is most often drunk on its own as a digestif.
Fernet is a sub-category of amaro that is defined by its elevated alcohol-level, more intense bitterness, and mentholated style.
Originally sold as a pharmaceutical product, Fernet Branca is its most famous brand. It is characterized by a strong eucalyptus flavor that is complemented by a variety of botanicals and spices. Nowadays, fernet is a favorite spirit among bartenders and is often used as an ingredient in cocktails.
With notes of cola, licorice, vanilla, Averna is sweet but not overwhelmingly so. It is one of the best-selling amari for its versatility as a digestif and a mix-in for cocktails.
Worth the Search:
Amaro Nonino Quintessentia:
One of the most elegant amari on the market, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia is aged for five years in barriques and repurposed sherry barrels. Warm spices and notes of orange peel and caramel match its gentle herbaceousness. It is best enjoyed on the rocks with a peel or wheel of orange
Cardamaro Vino Amaro:
Warm spices, hints of pine, and a light herbal bitterness define this refined amaro. As a lighter amaro, it does great in cocktails in place of vermouth or sherry, as well as on its own.
Meletti is a favorite among amaro enthusiasts but remains one of the most affordable amari on the market. Its signature ingredient, saffron—along with violet—is responsible for its floral notes, which are rounded out by cinnamon and gingerbread spice.
Interested in learning more about amaro and corresponding cocktail recipes?
Check out Brad Thomas Parsons’ book “Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs”.
Published on February 4, 2017