Amaro’s rich and famous history dates to the period of Ancient Rome where nobles blood-thirsty for good food and sex would “imbibe” herb-infused wine for its revitalizing and revamping properties. The result was an Italian herbal liqueur that, by name, meant “bitter.” Now, this is not to be confused with bitters used for flavoring in, say, an Old-Fashioned. Amaro isn’t necessarily used as flavoring although some would argue that it isn’t bad in taste at all. Which is exactly my point. Amaro can be drank and is “portable.” Angostura bitters are not and should be used in shot form for any reason at all other than to help aid a cocktail in flavor.
Today, many versions of Amaro now exist though the spirit is almost always of Italian descent. What they all have in common, however, is the process through which the spirit is created. First, one infuses a base alcohol like grape brandy with a proprietary blend of herbs, roots, flowers and spices that yields an aged spirit with anywhere from 16-40% alcohol by volume. Not bad at all for a digestive.
Although Amaro can be enjoyed on ice or even neat in an after-dinner cocktail, this unique spirit or aperitif is also a key ingredient in many experimental and timeless cocktails floating around dimly lit speakeasies and cocktail bars around the world. Here are my favorites:
The darker, more complex evil twin of the classic Manhattan, this cocktail explodes as a spirit forward, more bitter version of its brother. The difference here is the use of an Italian Amaro instead of sweet vermouth which contributes heavily to the enhanced bitterness. Perfect for a rainy night shrouded in fog, this cocktail is sure to deliver a mysterious and elegant punch.
2 OZ RYE WHISKEY, 1 OZ AMARO, 1 DASH ANGOSTURA BITTERS, 1 DASH ORANGE BITTERS, MARASCHINO CHERRY FOR GARNISH.
Perhaps the most infamous of the bitter cocktails in the circulating world, the Negroni is one that any barfly recognizes instantaneously. Boasting a radiant, vibrant color, the Negroni resembles a shade of red similar to hibiscus. Another potent, spirit-forward cocktail that can be made with either gin or whiskey, the Negroni has something of a perfume-like flavor that can quench a thirst for bitterness just about anywhere.
1 OZ GIN, 1 OZ CAMPARI, 1 OZ SWEET VERMOUTH, ORANGE TWIST GARNISH.
This cocktail combines a full-bodied bourbon or whiskey and ripe plum juice that makes a bold and spirt-forward cocktail. Somewhat similar in taste to the classic old fashioned for its similarities in being substantially boozy, the combined flavors of bourbon with its caramel notes, the juiciness of the plum and bitterness of Amaro Lucano yields a cocktail full of flavor, sweetness and punch.
1 OZ BOURBON, 1 OZ AMARAO LUCANO, ½ OZ PLUM JUICE, ½ OZ LEMON JUICE AND ¼ OZ SIMPLE SYRUP
First off, wow, just wow. And might I add that this is a cocktail I just recently heard of at a phenomenal speakeasy on the border of Venice, CA. I mean, you know this cocktail hasn’t been around long when the name comes from a popular M.I.A song released in 2007. But that doesn’t mean this cocktail did not instantly knock people off their feet. This tasty combination of Bourbon, Aperol, Amaro, and lemon juice first rocked taste buds in the Little Branch Bar out of New York City. The flavors in this cocktail blend together nicely and give way to a smooth yet slightly dry drink enjoyed up in a chilled coupe glass with a lemon peel.
¾ OZ BOURBON, ¾ OZ APEROL, ¾ OZ AMARO LIQUEUR, ¾ OZ FRESH LEMON JUICE
For this last cocktail, I want to step a little bit outside the box. I mean, I may or may not have just named this cocktail I heard of from a bartender out of Culver City, CA called “Untitled.” So, really, either name works here. Now let’s dig deeper into this somewhat unusual and highly experimental cocktail. Tequila Goes to Venice is quite simple yet takes a bit of getting used to as tequila is rarely used in combination with Amaro. But we do have the ginger beer as well to offset the bitter, medicine-y taste of the Amaro as well as the juice from a blood orange to add a layer of sweetness and fantastic vivid color. In turn, we get a cocktail simple in ingredients require but a bit complex and surprising in taste. However, if you’re a fan of Amaro in any shape or form, I recommend giving this one a shot. It might just shock you.
1 ½ OZ BLANCO TEQUILA, 1 OZ AMARAO, ½ OZ FRESH SQUEEZED BLOOD ORANGE JUICE, 2 DASHES OF ANGOSTURA BITTERS, AND AS MUCH GINGER BEER AS IT TAKES TO TOP OFF THE COCKTAIL.