After a year of being trapped inside clear across the world, yeah, an Italian summer sounds pretty heavenly right now. The sparkling lakes, lunch on a Terrazza with the crisp breeze kissing your face, and oh boy, an Aperol spritz in hand—please excuse us while we daydream. Although you may not be able to fit an international trip into your itinerary this summer, you can always bring a taste of Italy to you. We’re talking about Amaro, but what exactly is an amaro? Italian for “bitter”, amaro, or Amari (plural) are herbal liqueurs that are traditionally enjoyed as a digestive aid after dinner. In the production of amaro, herbs, spices, and other botanicals are macerated in a high-proof distillate, then aged, calling for deep, rich flavors that expand whether they’re sipped by themselves or served in a spritz. Yes, bitterness falls at the forefront, but with such a wide range of different Amari on the market today, flavors vary through syrupy sweetness and bright, fruity, even floral expressions. Plus, their alcohol content ranges between 16%-40%, so overconsumption isn’t as likely unless you’re pounding Campari sodas at brunch like it’s no one’s business, that is. (No judgment)
The most common Amari you’ve certainly at least heard of, some of them what we call a “gateway amaro”. Whether you have shared a ceremonious shot of fernet with the beloved chef or bartender in your life after dinner, sipped Montenegro over ice, or branched out a bit into the artichoke-based Cynar after bantering and debating with your friends over how it’s pronounced, ahem, (chee-nar). If you’ve found yourself to be fond of these delicate delights, Italian or not, we’ve selected five of our favorite Amari that you should be sipping this summer. Salud!
If you find yourself drawn to Campari, Don Ciccio & Figli have expertly crafted an excellent alternative. Produced in Washington D.C., Luna leans much more on the bitter side of the spectrum, with notes of woodiness from chicory and an herbaceous bomb of Gentian lutea: which is stellar for digestion. Much darker in color than Campari’s classic bright red hue, you also skip the extreme sweetness and lean more into a clean fruitiness of orange and prickly pear. Being relatively malleable, you could enjoy this one straight, or in one the best Negronis of your life.
HEIRLOOM PINEAPPLE AMARO LIQUEUR
From the team at the helm of famed and beloved Bittercube Bitters comes Heirloom Brand: a line of modern liqueurs that are created with quality and craftsmanship in mind. Truly unique in every way, Heirloom Pineapple Amaro is like if a woodsy amaro and a pineapple upside-down cake had a baby. Upon sipping, notes of caramel, cinnamon and vanilla are first introduced to your palette creating a warm, fresh-baked flavor to match notes of tropical fruit—while rich bitterness runs deep under hints of cherry cola. For a less traditional spin, we suggest throwing this particular amaro into a daiquiri. Talk about experimentation!
FORTHAVE SPIRITS MARSEILLE AMARO
If you want it darker, like Leonard Cohen said, feast your eyes (and your tastebuds) on this delightfully deep expression of sticky raw honey, chamomile, cinnamon, eucalyptus and lemongrass by Forthave Spirits out of Brooklyn, NY. The recipe is based off of that of four thieves in medieval Marsielle who were caught stealing from plague victims. In order to gain their freedom, they traded their top-secret recipe for their freedom. Try this one in a Brooklyn cocktail variation with your favorite rye whiskey, dry vermouth and maraschino liqueur. You won’t forget it or regret it.
GREENBAR GRAND HOPS AMARO
Straight out of the city of angels, Greenbar Distillery is the brainchild of two journalists who fell in love over 20 years ago while studying at USC. Breaking the mold with the inspirations of west coast IPAs in mind, Greenbar uses different types of hops as the bitter component in their amari, such as bravo, citra, and simcoe, as opposed to the typical herbs and spices used in amaro—all the while utilizing sustainable practices in their distillation process and packaging, mind you. One of the greatest examples of a New World amaro, impress the beer lovers in your life with this fresh new take on an old tradition.
Out of Tattersall Distillery’s massive catalog of spirits, perhaps the one we prefer to see on a local haunt’s back bar the most, is their amaro. With more savory aromatics of cardamom, fennel, sage, and *drools* dried porcini mushrooms, a round, mint finish ties this work of art together without over-complicating the flavor. Brighter, refreshing notes such as citrus call for a perfect variation of the Paper Plane alongside a more classic amaro, Aperol. Talk about a crowd-pleaser!