Amaro liqueurs, or amari, are incredibly important, not only to Italian history and culture, but to cocktail culture. We’ve put together a brief history and how-to below, which includes some key recipes for the major amari brands available today.
What it is:
An amaro is an Italian liqueur that is primarily consumed as a digestif—an after-dinner drink meant to help aid in digestion. They are typically bitter in flavor—a result of the various mixtures of herbs, spices, barks, and aromatics that were steeped in high-proof spirits or wine in order to bring out their medical properties. A wide variety of herbs, spices, roots, and aromatics are used to create each type of amari, including but not limited to: juniper, wormwood, gentian, sage, thyme, mint, cardamom, saffron, ginger, fennel, and anise. Many more types of ingredients are used, but a good number of the amari producers keep their full ingredients list a secret within their companies. Amari are typically bottled today at between 40 and 90-proof (20 and 45% ABV).
Brief History of Amari:
For thousands of years, Italians have been creating amari—which translates to “sour” or “bitter”—to aid in digestion as well as a slew of other internal issues. While groups of people other than Italians have and still continue to make digestif liqueurs (Jägermeister, anyone?), the Italian branch of these after-dinner spirits has really been the most prominent over the course of time and are the only ones to be considered true amari.
While evidence of amari dates back to as early as the Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived from 460 -370 BCE, the major push in amari knowledge and consumption began around the 1300s, when monasteries began to grow the necessary ingredients to create amari. These were then packaged and sold locally by the monasteries. This tradition continued for hundreds of years and from these roots many of the current amari brands can trace their lineage.
Related: A Brief History of Fernet-Branca
How to Drink Amari:
Typically, an amaro is consumed straight and after your meal. Some Italians prefer to add a few drops of water, or mix the amaro into coffee, but overwhelmingly these should be taken and downed or sipped neat.
Many amari, too, are used as a bittering agent in cocktails, which we’ll get to next.
While this is by no means a complete list, here are some amari that you should stock up on—not only to take shots of, but to use in a wide variety of cocktails.
Aperol – The Aperol Spritz
- 3 parts prosecco
- 2 parts Aperol
- 1 splash of soda water
Method: Fill a balloon glass with ice and an orange wedge. Pour ingredients into glass in 3-2-1 order.
Averna – The Triple Crown (Created by Natalie Jacobs, Dutch Kills Bar, NYC)
- 1 oz Spring 44 Bourbon
- .75 oz Averna Amaro
- .75 oz Combier Pamplemousse Rose Liqueur
- .75 oz lemon juice
Method: Combine all ingredients in a tin, shake, strain, serve up in a coupe.
Campari – Negroni
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz gin
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
Method: Stir with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass filled with cracked ice. Garnish with a wide orange twist.
Cynar (and Cynar 70-Proof) – The Cynar Toronto (from Serious Eats)
- 2 oz rye
- .75 oz Cynar
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Method: Mix ingredients together in shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into coupe glass.
Fernet-Branca – The Hanky Panky
- 5 oz Italian Vermouth
- 5 oz dry gin
- 2 dashes Fernet Branca
Method: Stir ingredients together with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.
Montenegro – The Side Eye (Created by Jessie Dure)
- 5 oz Amaro Montenegro
- 5 oz Aquavit
- 1 Brown sugar cube
- Half dropper-full root beer bitters
- Orange peel
Method: Coat the brown sugar cube with the root beer bitters in a rocks glass and muddle. Add the liquid ingredients and stir. Add one large ice cube and stir again. Garnish with an orange peel.
Lucano – The Lucano Cup
- 5 oz Amaro Lucano
- 75 oz green apple juice
- 75 oz ginger ale
Method: Mix the drink directly in the glass and serve with a slice of cucumber, a slice of lemon and orange, a sprig of mint and ice.
Luxardo – The Hemingway Daquiri
- 1.5 oz white rum
- .5 oz grapefruit juice
- .5 oz lime juice
- .25 oz simple syrup
- .5 oz Luxardo
Method: Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Ramazzotti – The Chaplin
- 3/4 oz Ramazzotti Amaro
- 3/4 oz bourbon
- 3/4 oz dry sherry
- 1/8 oz Cointreau
- 1 dash orange bitters
Method: Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
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