Amaro (singular), amari (plural) is a bitter Italian liqueur whose origins go back centuries to the times of herbal tonics and elixirs. Macerations of herbs, botanicals, seeds, roots, barks and spices were blended into grape brandy or wine bases, then aged, filtered and served in small portions as both an aperitivo or digestivo.
Although its more common usage was to begin or end a meal, today it is a welcome complement to spicy foods, charcuterie and fruit desserts. It is also a thirst-quenching addition to a cocktail, such as the Bootsy Collins served at The Belmont.
Amari are part of the Italian drinking culture and are regionally specific. They are typically artisanal, small-batch products that reflect the heritage of the region from which they are prepared.
Bitter in flavor, they are not the same as bitters (Angostura, Bittermens, Peychauds, Fee Brothers, for example) that are used to flavor cocktails, soups, stews, or baked goods. Rather, they are beverages in their own right served as wine or as cocktail bases.
Italian amari reflect the flavors of the terroir where they are created.
You will find rosemary- and thyme-flavored amari in northern Italy, citrus flavors in the south. All share a common flavor thread of dry, bracing and bitter.
Mixologists are behind the growth of this beverage category as they blend amari into cocktails for its “drying” power and complex flavor structure.
Skilled mixologists temper a cocktail's impressions on your palate (especially the mid-palate) by the judicious use of amaro.
Negronis and Americanos, amari flights, and the consumption of aperitifs have fostered the 20 percent growth in these bitter-based drinks.
Some common brands are: Aperol, Averna, Cynar, Fernet-Branca, Nonino, Montenegro, Braulio, Ramazzotti.
Fernet-Branca is frequently called the “bartenders' handshake” from the “courtesy pours” that bartenders will extend to each other.
Easily available around town wherever you purchase your wine and spirits. Also look for amaro- and amari-based cocktails at: Al Di La, The Belmont, Edmund's Oast, FIG, Husk, The Gin Joint, Indaco, McCrady's, The Thoroughbred Club and Wild Olive.
Amaro prices: $16-$44
Cocktail prices: $8-$15