Amazing amari


Until fairly recently, only dedicated cocktail enthusiasts, or perhaps those who had traveled to Italy, knew much about amari, bittersweet herbal liqueurs often served as an aperitif. If you did know an amaro, it was probably the popular Campari, one of the keys to the Negroni cocktail. But lately, amari of all types have exploded onto the cocktail scene. And, as usually happens when any liqueur becomes popular, it bleeds over from cocktails into cooking and baking.

First, a primer on amari. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of these bittersweet concoctions. Amaro is typically produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, fruits, and/or vegetables in alcohol (neutral spirits or wine), combining this base with sugar syrup or caramel, and allowing the mixture to age. Popular varieties include Averna (herbal), Ramazzotti (citrus/spice), Amaro Nonino (grappa-based), Cardamaro (cardoon), Cynar (artichoke), Fernet Branca (mint), Luxardo Amaro (vegetal), and Rabarbaro Zucca (rhubarb). Since this category of liqueurs isn’t as strictly defined as some other Italian products, the differences in flavors and even proofs of the liqueurs vary wildly, ranging from 16 to 40 percent alcohol.

So how is an amaro used? In Italy, it’s often consumed straight as an after-dinner drink, with soda or tonic as an aperitif, or used in cocktails. Modern bartenders are finding new ways to use the bittersweet cordials, substiting them for nonpotable bitters, such as Angostura and Peychaud’s, and swapping them for vermouth and other liqueurs in cocktails. Robb Jones of Saffron in Minneapolis, Minnesota even makes an ice cream featuring Cynar.

A quick search of the EYB library naturally reveals a slew of amari cocktail recipes, and if you are looking for a particular amaro, you will find recipes for Cynar, Campari, Fernet Branca, Cardamaro, and more. If cocktails aren’t your thing, there are other options. Campari is frequently paired with citrus in ice creams and sorbets. It’s also found in these pistachio and grapefruit macarons. Amari are found in other cakes and cookies, such as these Amaro-spiked amaretti cookies.

Are you a fan of amari, and if so, what is your favorite use?

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  • FuzzyChef  on  March 30, 2014

    I'm a big fan of amari, especially Vecchio Amaro del Capo, which is a mixed herb amaro. Nothing is so perfect after a good Italian meal. Well, maybe amaretti and Vin Santo or a really good grappa. But I love amaro, and straight up … I don't find that it mixes well with things.

  • PatriciaW  on  March 31, 2014

    Well I have to admit the only one I thought I knew (and can easily get) is Campari – but I just realized that of course Fernet Branca qualifies and I have a bottle languishing in the back of the fridge. Thanks to EYB I'll be able to give it a bit more action.

  • Rinshin  on  April 1, 2014

    Another thing I have to try! I have several same glasses as the top picture.

  • Rinshin  on  April 1, 2014

    Another thing I have to try! I have several same glasses as the top picture.

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