I wanted to give a brief summary on a very underappreciated liqueur, amaro. Here's the low-down on three of my personal favorite amaros to try in your next cocktail, at a bar and in your own home. So what exactly is an amaro? Amaro translates to "bitter" in Italian and is known for medicinal flavor profiles. This Italian liqueur is made from a neutral-grain spirit with the addition of herbs, spices, roots and other goodies. This is a liqueur known for aiding in digestion.
You can find Italians sipping on these red and brown syrupy liquids after a meal to aid in digestion, and I highly recommend taking a page out of their book and trying them straight (my personal way to drink them). They are also on the rise in the cocktail world! Try them in lieu of vermouth in whiskey cocktails for a delicious spin on a classic.
Here are three amaros worth your attention. Try them on their own or in a cocktail (don't worry, I included some amazing recipes).
Averna hails from Sicily and dates back to 1859! Talk about some deep roots! Originally made by monks at Saint Spirito's Abbey, the recipe for this amaro was bestowed upon Salvatore Averna who was a benefactor to the monastery. He began making it for his friends and family, but it was his son Francesco who took it to fairs in Italy, and worldwide. Averna was owned by the same family for four generations, selling in 2014 to Campari.
Averna is great to pair with desserts. It has a great viscosity that holds flavors of licorice, citrus and chocolate. A great cocktail that features this lovely amaro is the Black Manhattan.
- 2 oz. Henry McKenna 10 yr bonded Bourbon
- 1 oz. Averna
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
While the house of Nonino has been around since the late 1800's, Nonino has only been in production for the last 25 years! It is, however, extremely well known and held in high regard in the cocktail community. Nonino differs from other amaros in a few ways; both in its base, a whole-grape, no-stem grappa, and in how it is finished. It spends time in nevers, limousins, and ex-sherry casks before being bottled. This is a fantastic introductory amaro for those that tend to shy away from bitter liqueurs.
As soon at it passes your lips, Nonino tastes as though you've just bitten into the freshest of oranges! On the back of the palate is where you appreciate the elegance of this amaro. A slight burn from the 35%ABV is noticeable, as are the delicious flavors of cinnamon, licorice, tamarind and rhubarb. Truly a fantastic amaro! I would be remiss if I didn't include a recipe for my favorite Nonino-using cocktail, the Paper Plane.
- ¾ oz. Old Grand-dad bonded Bourbon
- ¾ oz. Amaro Nonino
- ¾ oz. Aperol
- ¾ oz. lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Last, but definitely not least, is Cardamaro, the only wine-based amaro in the U.S.! Now to pop your bubble: this is not a cardamom flavored amaro! But the flavors in this oak aged amaro are unlike any other I've tasted. It's infused with cardoon and bledded thistle. Cardoon is also known as artichoke thistle and blessed thistle is in the artichoke family. Oak aging gives this amaro the viscosity of a sweet vermouth without the bitterness of a traditional amaro. Think of it as a more toned down version of Cynar (artichoke amaro).
Here's a fun cocktail to try with Cardamaro.
- 1 1/2 oz. High West Double Rye
- 1 oz. cardamaro
- 3/4 oz. lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. simple syrup
- 1 egg white
Dry shake the egg white and simple syrup for 15 seconds. Add ice and remaining ingredients and shake for 20 seconds. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a few dashes of Angostura bitters.