“What was I drinking”
If you’ve ever been out drinking with a bartender, they’ve probably convinced you to try drinking some Montenegro, Campari, Aperol, or the “Bartender’s Handshake” Fernet Branca. One of two reactions were likely, 1: you enjoyed it and appreciated the complex herbal flavors, or 2: you wanted to slap them for not warning you that you’d be drinking something that’s akin in flavor to cough syrup. Either way you’ve just experienced an Amaro!
Amaro actually isn’t a brand or even specific type of alcohol, it’s essentially a classification of a variety of spirits that has been around for hundreds of years.
Amaro literally translated from Italian means “bitter”, and Amari (the plural form of the word) can be used to describe any herbal liqueur. These range in flavor from lighter orange and citrus flavors to bold heavy anise or mint, and have alcohol content ranging from just above 20 proof to nearly 100.
Generally drank as a “digestif” after a meal these spirits are presumed to help the body digest and calm any indigestion. There are also legends of hangover prevention associated with them, though we have no personal research to prove the truth of these claims.
Traditionally consumed without mixers, and slowly trickling into the cocktail scene since around 1920. Amari have become more and more understood and available in recent years. This means they are quickly finding their way into a variety of adventurous and herbaceous cocktails.
Some of our favorite Amari and their Cocktails are:
Aperol (11% abv): Red in color, orangey, herbal and wood flavors blend well into this very mixable amari.
Light, refreshing and easily sippable, close your eyes and the classic Italian aperitif cocktail might make you feel like you’re on a balcony with a view of the Mediterranean.
3 oz Prosecco
2 oz Aperol
1 oz Soda
Averna (29% abv): The flavor profile here is lighter with crisp notes of pine, juniper, and licorice
This cocktail is a newer spin on a classic. Taking the traditional Manhattan and switched out the sweet vermouth with Averna resulting in a richer, more earthy, more herbal finish.
2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Averna
2 dashes angostura bitters
Campari (24% abv): Bright, vibrant and above all bitter, Campari has a good middle of the citrus-herb spectrum flavor.
Classic cocktail exemplified, this drinks origins are direct from Italy itself, as a result of the popularity of the Americano in 1920, Count Camillo Negroni asked his local barman to add some gin, and thus the Negroni was born.
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Cynar (16.5% abv): Full of citrus, lavender, sage, and basil flavors, means that Cynar tastes a bit like walking through an Italian herb garden with a basket of fresh lemons, and that’s not a bad thing.
Lemon and Grapefruit accentuate the citrus notes of Cynar while balancing the smoke and wood notes of the scotch.
2 oz Scotch
1 oz Cynar
.5 oz sweet and sour
Squeeze of Grapefruit
Fernet Branca (39% abv): Definitely on the herbal end of the spectrum, Fernet kicks hard with menthol, cinnamon and anise flavors strong enough to “put hair on your chest”
The Hanky Panky was originally created in 1903, by Ada Coleman at the Savoy hotel. A boozy balance of gin, Fernet Branca, and sweet vermouth, this classic cocktail packs a smooth and savory punch.
1.5 oz gin
1.5 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet Branca
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Montenegro (23% abv): A fairly lightly flavored Amaro, rich in citrus and vanilla notes.
This boozy bitey beverage is one of our favorite after meal cocktails, the ginger flavors pair harmoniously with the fragrant aromatics in the Montenegro and create a delicious digestif.
1.5 oz Amaro Montenegro
2 oz Ginger Beer
2 oz Soda
Nonino (35% abv): Sweeter than most Amari, orange and mint are the most forward flavors.
An interesting twist on a classic, this cocktail came straight from the Grappa Nonino folks. Sweet, strong, bitter, and smooth perfectly matched in this drink.
See recipe here
Jägermeister (35% abv) (Yes, that Jager): Though not technically a true amaro, it’s herbal qualities of anise and its syrupy sweetness make it worth mentioning and it works well in a cocktail.
Surfer on Acid
You’d expect a Jagermeister based cocktail like this to be something you’d order from a beach bar on spring break, but the flavors are actually very mature in this almost Tiki cocktail.
1 oz Jägermeister
1 oz Coconut rum
2 oz Pineapple juice