Because Thanksgiving is a holiday completely dedicated to the act of eating a gigantic meal, it’s an excellent time to begin familiarizing yourself with the wonderful, stomach-soothing tradition of digestivi. Italian dinners often conclude with this final beverage course, starring a subset of bitter herbal liqueurs known as amari. These flavorful quaffs pair beautifully with dessert courses (yep, including pumpkin pie), and many amaro drinkers also believe that these drinks help to ease the bloated, overly full feeling that makes so many of us desperate for a post-Thanksgiving nap.
We asked a group of bartenders and beverage experts to recommend their favorite amari to sip after the Thanksgiving feast concludes, and they told us that these 10 versions are especially well-suited to that purpose.
NYC’s Amor y Amargo counts as one of the most highly acclaimed bitters bars in the world, so we figured that there could be no better person to consult about the best Thanksgiving amari than legendary bartender and Amor y Amargo beverage director Sother Teague. In this situation, Teague opts for Punch Fantasia by Varnelli: “Hailing from the marsh region of Italy, it’s a rich rum-based amaro that’s packed with the flavors of the ensuing season. Coffee, caramelized fruit, hazelnuts, praline, and bitter butterscotch, followed by wispy hints of smoke and leather. I prefer it neat or warmed in a mug with hot water or coffee.”
Artichoke-flavored liqueur sounds like a bizarre concept to many, but Cynar devotees know that this amaro contains a rich herbal profile that’s more versatile than you may expect. Beverage manager Angela Ryskiewicz of Brandon’s on La Brea in Los Angeles says that “Cynar is my go-to amaro for sipping, and would be a perfect end to a Thanksgiving meal. The balance between bitter and sweet is a perfect palate cleanser, and the blend of herbs and plants can help you digest a big meal.”
A northern Italian amaro made from grappa, the region’s signature grape-based brandy, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia’s blend of bitter and sweet flavors helps to balance out both the palate and the digestive system after the overwhelming dinner spreads so common at Thanksgiving. It’s a particular favorite of beverage director Ervin Machado of Big Time Restaurant Group in South Florida, who tells us that “[Amaro Nonino Quintessentia] offers the perfect ‘agrodolce’ (bittersweet) combination of flavors. This amazing, balanced liquor is a take on Nonino’s famous grappa with a shiny new profile; they are introducing an off-dry finish to their already-amazing grappa, [which proves] a little more forgiving than the usual [finish on a] dry grappa. [After Thanksgiving dinner,] I recommend Nonino Quintessentia on the rocks with an orange slice.”
When we asked bartender Evangeline Avila of The Violet Hour in Chicago to name her preferred Thanksgiving amaro, she had an easy answer: “A wonderful amaro to serve on Thanksgiving dinner is Braulio, which comes from Valtellina in Lombardy, Italy, in the Italian Alps near the Swiss border. This amaro is perfect to taste after a large meal not only because of its digestive properties, but because Braulio isn’t as sweet as most amari. Braulio won’t counteract with a rich cranberry glaze or a sweet pumpkin pie, but it’ll subtly guide you into the next season — winter — because of its apres-ski vibes. It has a cooling effect where gentian, juniper, and wormwood are showcased; it’s wonderfully aromatic, but also extends itself with a piney, floral bitterness, which is a perfect ending for a Thanksgiving dinner.”
The herbaceous nature of amaro cuts through the richness of Thanksgiving dinner, making it a welcome restorative at the end of the meal. An especially herb-forward version can be found in Cardamaro Vino Amaro, a Piedmontese digestif with flavors particularly well matched those of common Thanksgiving dishes. “Cardamaro Vino Amaro is light and easy to drink, with a low ABV. The herbal notes from the cardoon and blessed thistle (both artichoke relatives) pair well with pumpkin and turkey. And it [has] medium acidity, so it is filling more than quenching,” explains Cardamaro fan Clayton Rollison, chef/owner of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar in Hilton Head, SC.
Hailing from a region of Italy known for the country’s most active volcano, Amaro dell’Etna isn’t afraid to play up that heritage, boasting strong mineral notes and an overall flavor blend that makes you sit up and take notice. Beverage director Rachael Lowe of Spiaggia and Maddon’s Post in Chicago considers Amaro dell’Etna a fitting sign-off for Thanksgiving dinner, telling us that “the origin of this amaro dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, and it was only recently exported to the United States. A combination of around 25 different ingredients, this digestif is produced from flavorings sourced from the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily. Base aromas are a combination of orange, licorice, and dates, plus many more; I find this to be a perfect combination of bitter, and sweet, providing one with the perfect finish to their meal.”
One of the more well-known amari on the market (and, therefore, a pretty easy bottle to find at liquor stores), Montenegro Amaro Italiano pairs harmoniously with the Thanksgiving-dinner pie course, according to assistant liquor manager Justin Marcotte of Molly’s Spirits in Denver, CO. “Montenegro Amaro Italiano Liqueur is an Italian Amaro made with 40 botanicals. It’s moderately sweet, and not so rich that it will overpower your pie. It’s lower on the bitterness scale, so the bright citrus and subtle cinnamon notes mingle well with any post-turkey treats,” Marcotte insists.
Like Montenegro Amaro, Fernet-Branca can be found at just about every well-stocked liquor store in the country … and that’s because it’s a long-standing favorite among knowledgeable amaro drinkers and newcomers alike. Bartender Kirsten Couturier of Buffalo Traders Lounge in Grand Rapids, MI thinks highly of Fernet’s compatibility with the eternal struggle of feeling overstuffed after the Thanksgiving meal, explaining that “a lot of us look forward to Thanksgiving dinner each year, but we know that post-dinner ‘turkey coma’ all too well. Fernet-Branca is the perfect after-dinner beverage because it helps aid in the digestion of a heavy meal. With notes of saffron & cardamom, the flavors often remind me of the holidays, even when they’re nowhere in sight. Before you reach for that slice of pie, pour yourself a Fernet-Branca.”
“Amaro is essential after a big meal,” beverage director Ryan Gavin of Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar in NYC says in no uncertain terms. As for his specific amaro of choice for closing out a Thanksgiving smorgasbord, Gavin tells us that his “current favorite is from the Marche region of Italy. Amaro Sibilla is sweet, strong, and bitter. It has the perfect balance to assist with the digestion of that last turkey leg that you probably didn’t need. Either keep the amaro in your fridge and serve it neat, or serve it over a few cubes of ice. If you can’t wait ’till after dessert, Amaro Sibilla poured over vanilla ice cream is just perfect.”
Several of our surveyed bartenders agreed that a sweeter amaro can be a nice replacement for a “dessert wine” with the Thanksgiving pie course. To that end, wine director Dan Allen of Panzano in Denver, CO recommends Ramazzotti, stating that “for a digestivo after Thanksgiving, I’d lean toward something a little more sweet, such as Ramazzotti. This amaro has hints of caramel, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a slight cola finish. These complex flavors lend themselves nicely to a slice of traditional pumpkin pie. Amaro is the ultimate belt loosener, and it will help make room for that second helping of pie.”
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