Amaro means bitter in Italian, but that simple moniker doesn’t do justice to this liqueur’s alluring complexity. Originally, this class of bittersweet herbal liqueurs was often used medicinally or as a digestif to make the post-dinner recovery period less uncomfortable. While amari (the plural of amaro) can be delicious on their own, these days they’re usually cast in supporting roles in cocktails next to a stiff spirit like whiskey or rum. Amari can also perform beautifully as an understudy for vermouth in a classic recipe (for example, try swapping it for sweet vermouth in a Manhattan for a richer, more layered experience).
We love picking up new bottles to experiment with in cocktails, and we also enjoy the tradition of serving guests a pour (1-1.5 ounces) of amaro at the end of a meal. It cleanses the palate and creates a shared experience. Each amaro is thoroughly unique, making it a category that’s difficult to organize but rewards exploration.
Italy is the axis mundi of amaro production. Back in the day, the spice trade flowed through this country on its way to Europe. Just as people will invariably produce alcohol from anything fermentable, it seems the Italians were quick to make delicious and complex spirits when given an abundance of exotic spices and local herbs. We are all the better for it and now see contemporary amari produced all over the world.