Amaro is a simple category of spirit at its core — it’s basically a bittersweet liqueur made using a variety of botanicals and herbs as flavoring agents. There are amari from all corners of the world, although the category is typically associated with Europe, specifically Italy (the word “amaro” is Italian, after all) with popular brands like Amaro Montenegro, Amaro Averna, and Cynar. But there is a vibrant and growing American amaro category, with many expressions made using herbs and spices that are native to the area in which they are produced.
According to Sother Teague, beverage director at New York City’s all-amaro-everything bar Amor Y Amargo, the current state of American amaro is booming. “Distillers that are already making a spirit see the financial sense in using some of their distillate to expand their portfolio by creating amari,” he said. “And, because there are no real rules as to what can be used, anyone can get in the game by using something they already make as the base. It also allows them to showcase their skills as makers, and often they use botanicals to show off flavors local to their distillery.”
Here are eight American amari that are worth checking out.
LA’s Greenbar Distillery makes two different kinds of organic amari, Grand Poppy and Grand Hops, both made using a molasses spirit base. Grand Poppy is infused with poppy, citrus, pink peppercorn, and artichoke (among other ingredients), while Grand Hops is meant to recall the flavor of California IPAs by using different kinds of hops as flavoring. Both veer towards the sweeter side of the amaro flavor profile.
Bully Boy makes whiskey, rum, and this excellent amaro in its Boston distillery. There are 26 botanicals in the recipe, including grapefruit, yarrow, fig, and several different types of hops – Amarillo, Cascade, Citra, and Galaxy. It’s 58 proof, which is a bit higher than other amari, but that boosts its potential as a cocktail or spritz component, or just a nice sipper on its own.
Fernet is a particularly divisive type of amaro, with strong menthol flavors that people either tend to love or hate. Colorado’s Leopold Bros makes this 80 proof version of fernet using bitter roots, rose petals, elderflower, chamomile, and honeysuckle. The spirit is then put into Chardonnay barrels for aging before bottling.
Don Ciccio & Figli brings the Italian amaro tradition to DC, where the company makes a wide range of amari, perhaps more than any other American producer. These run the gamut from sweet to extra bitter, including the artichoke-based C3 Carciofo, cherry and blossom-infused Cerasum Aperitivo, and the light and Aperol-like Ambrosia. The amari from Don Ciccio are both traditional and modern, combining the best of old and new world flavors.
Up north in Minnesota, Tattersall Distilling is making a really impressive range of spirits, including this amaro. According to the distillery, this red-tinged spirit is made from bitter roots and barks, finished with macerated citrus, and bottled at 30%ABV. They also make a fernet and several different flavors of crema liqueur.
This is another amaro from Colorado, this time from Breckenridge Distillery, which is better known for its whiskey (distilled in-house and sourced). The bitter is made using alpine herbs, bitter roots, and dried fruit. The distillery recommends drinking it in a Wee Bitter – adding a shot of the amaro to a pint of your favorite IPA.
Lo-Fi Aperitifs make vermouth and amari with low ABVs to mix or sip on their own without getting a huge buzz. The Gentian Amaro is made using a fortified wine base with added cane sugar and grape concentrate. Then botanicals like sweet citrus, ginger, cinchona bark, and of course bitter root extracts are infused into the mix. This amaro is light and very nice to drink with some ice.
Baltimore Spirits Company has been making a name for itself with its Epoch rye whiskey, but these amari are some of the most interesting on this list. There are three different expressions – a fernet aged in a rye barrel, a coffee amaro, and a Szechuan amaro that has just enough spice to wake up your palate.
Peach Street is another Colorado distillery making its own version of amaro, this one from a grape spirit base. Botanicals are macerated for around a month, according to the distillery. These include blue juniper, chamomile, cocoa nibs, Orris root, Tasmanian pepper berry, and many others. Agave nectar is also added to balance the bitterness.
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