Italian for “Bitter,” amaro will be a familiar taste to anyone who spent the summer knocking back Campari and Aperol-based cocktails (and based on drink menus lately, that was most of us). But while the two amari liqueurs in those still skew somewhat sweet, their richer cousins — digestivo amari, which are meant for post-feast consumption — are pleasantly bracing. And it’s time they got their due, too.
With a musky flavour evocative of a cabin in the woods, amaro actually dates back to Italian monasteries. Back in medieval times, monks brewed the elixir — made by infusing grape brandy with a choice blend of herbs — for its supposed ability to aid in digestion. During Prohibition, certain brands were even able to dodge the booze ban by masquerading as stomach-soothing medicine. Do they actually have magical properties? We certainly think so.
Mix It Up
While amari are traditionally enjoyed neat at the end of a meal, their bitterness can make them a great balancing force in cocktails, too. Emily Copeland, head bartender at Toronto’s Northwood, has a habit of talking anyone who orders a shot of Jägermeister into a shot of Fernet-Branca instead. And, in the wake of the Negroni’s surge in popularity, she’s finding that more people are “pleasantly surprised by the taste.” If they’re especially won over, she has several drinks to recommend. Here’s one of her favourites to recreate at home.
• 2 dashes of grapefruit and hops bitters
• 1 1⁄4 oz Jim Beam Black bourbon
• 1⁄4 oz Amaro Monenegro
• 3⁄4 oz lemon juice
• 1⁄4 oz maple syrup
• 1⁄2 oz peach liqueur
Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.
Stock Your Bar
Six flavourful options worthy of a place in your liquor cabinet.
The traditional choice but also the most noble — it’s named after Princess Elena of Montenegro. A gentle, orangey flavour makes it a great introductory amaro.
Skip the seasonal onslaught of fun-sized Oh Henry! bars and opt instead for this more refined mix of caramel and nutty notes.
A fernet is a subset of amaro that’s less sweet, more bitter, and extra strong. This one’s a spicy, syrupy blend of cardamom and saffron.
Made from a recipe dating back to 1868, it’s the sweetest of this bunch, leaving a luscious aftertaste of chocolate and cola. In other words, it’s a second helping of dessert.
Particularly beloved by bartenders, this dark brown option gets its earthy flavour from an unconventional source: artichokes. (Well, those and 13 other botanicals.)
A silky, light amber liquid. Combining herbs from the Fruili mountains, it’s aged in oak barrels for five years to acquire a distinctively smoky taste.