BITTER AND BALANCED BEFORE OR AFTER A MEAL, OR BETTER YET IN A COCKTAIL!
Amaro means “bitter” in Italian. It refers to a number of bitter herbal liqueurs. With hundreds of years of tradition, the category is a place where producers can express themselves through the manifestation of the unique botanicals of their regions.
Amaros can range from floral and lightly bittersweet to astringently bitter. For the most part, dark and densely spiced amaro is served neat as an after-dinner digestif. Those labeled “aperitivo” tend to be lighter in body, low in alcohol and ideal, as their Latin-derived name defines, to “open up” one’s appetite before a meal. Both categories can easily be lengthened with club soda or sparkling wine for a spritz-type beverage.
In a bartender’s arsenal, amari are a go-to ingredient, adding complexity and spice that are especially comforting in cold weather months. Most people are familiar with Campari, which lends an herbal, bitter root flavor to a Negroni, or Aperol’s vibrant orange color and bittersweet flavor in an Aperol Spritz. But there are so many more bottles to explore.
Leave it to Italian hotspot Storico Vino to swap an Italian amaro in a riff on a Sazerac. Amaro Montenegro dates from 1885 and is made from a secret blend of 40 botanicals from the four corners of the world. It’s soft and pleasant with Mediterranean coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, oregano, cloves and both bitter and sweet orange peel. It falls right into the comfort zone of the wine bar’s stirred Andiamo Banana, which includes Bulleit bourbon, Cognac, Montenegro and Crème de Banana.
Meletti is a rich, aromatic, almost spicy amaro that is an easygoing swap in a cocktail. At their new location at Westside’s The Works, Fox Bros Bar-B-Q puts the bittersweet profile next to bourbon, a little Hogshead Whiskey and Old- Fashioned Bitters. Swapping amaro for sweet vermouth makes a classic cocktail feel more sophisticated, and the hint of Hogshead’s Scotch-like smoke complements a menu of barbecued meats.
Created in 1952, the recipe for Luxardo’s Amaro Abano includes an infusion of cardamom, cinnamon, cinchona, bitter orange peel and condurango, an herb often used in medicinal concoctions. It’s dark amber in color and has a warm, bitter citrus flavor. At Aziza, bar manager David Chapman includes it in his Manhattan-like Applewood. He stirs together spiced rye and Pommeau de Normandie, a French apple-based aperitif, and adds layers with Oloroso sherry and Amaro Abano.
Sipped by itself, Cardamaro has the harmonious balance of sweet and bitter made with wild herbs such as artichoke leaves, cloves, cardoons, licorice root, marjoram and the aromatic properties of thistle. Find it in Atlas’ Holy Smokes, mixed with specially barreled bourbon and Aztec chocolate bitters. An addition of Benedictine enhances the texture and body with its coppery hue and notes of gingerbread and saffron.
Ecco Buckhead’s Cloak & Dagger is made with mezcal, rum, banana liqueur and Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar). The strange blend of ingredients coalesces into a cocktail that sips like a deep, bold and fruity mezcal old fashioned with unconventional balance. The sweetness of banana liqueur balances the smokiness of mezcal. Cynar is the backbone of the drink, tempering sweetness with vegetal notes. The Italian bitter aperitif, created in 1948, is made from the artichoke leaves and a secret infusion of 13 botanicals.
With warming spices and herbaceous botanicals, a sip of amaro as an aperitif or digestif or in a cocktail can feel like a lifesaver on a cold winter day.
Fox Bros Bar-B-Q at The Works
Drinks columnist at Simply Buckhead. Food, spirits, and culture writer.