Amaro may be little known and an acquired taste outside of its native Italy, but the bitter herbal liqueur is being picked up by the world’s top bars at the moment, as mixologists experiment with cocktails and flavour combinations.
The name ‘amaro’ literally translates as bitter and is made from a neutral spirit to which spices, herbs and fruit are macerated before being cut with a sugar syrup. No two brands of Amari are the same. As over 100 ingredients (including mugwort, wormwood, star anise, myrtle berries, orris root, liquorice, saffron and bitter orange) can go into one liqueur, tastes range from sweet, to spicy to exceptionally bitter.
Though traditionally served neat as a shot, a trend among Italian restaurants in the U.S. for mixing the liqueur in cocktails, has spread to a number of top bars.
The savoury, sour and bitter possibilities of the drink are attracting experimental mixologists. Audrey Saunders, the co-owner and head mixologist of the Pegu Club in New York has created drinks using Branca Menta including a Manhattan-style drink with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Cynar.
Other venues to take it up include the Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, where cocktails mixed with Amaro, bitters and spirits such as gin, are being offered on the menu.
Another iconic Italian bitter liqueur finding favour at the moment is Cynar. The bitter tasting liquid has traditionally been served straight as an aperitif or digestive, or mixed with soda, orange juice, or tonic. However, with bitter liqueurs proving popular among craft bartenders, Cynar is being taken-up as a cocktail ingredient, particularly in the U.S.
Uses vary from its substitution for Campari in a classic Negroni, or the more adventurous Cynar Flip, where the liqueur is shaken with a whole egg, and served as a foam over ice.
Fernet, a typically bitter subcategory of Amaro, is also experiencing a resurgence, with new brands hitting the U.S. market, including one by sambuca makers Luxardo, and Fernet Leopold from Leopold Bros. of Denver.