A Primer on Amaro

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In most spirits, flavor comes from the base of the distillate (e.g. apple flavor in Calvados) or from the method of aging (e.g. oak flavors in Bourbon). The class of aromatic liqueurs known as amari (Italian for "bitter"), however, begins with a neutral base of grappa (grape pomace brandy) and derive flavors from an infusion of spices, herbs, roots, fruit, and other botanicals -- though the exact recipe of any given producer is usually secret. Amaro was originally developed as a medicinal tonic designed to aid digestion, and most have a distinctly bitter flavor balanced by a level of sweetness.

Italian amari can be divided into those that are better served before or after a meal, and the alcohol content is usually a clue here; lower-alcohol amari such as Aperol and Campari make better aperitifs and mixers, while higher-alcohol examples such as Averna and Fernet are best served as digestifs after a heavy meal.

NameRegion of OriginPrimary FlavorNotes
AperolVenetoOrange, Gentian, RhubarbOne of the lightest bitters; used in a Spritz.
CampariPiemonteQuinine, Rhubarb, OrangeGreat with soda or on the rocks with a twist.
AvernaSiciliaHerbs, Roots, CitrusA sweeter style, great for beginners.
FernetLombardiaHerbs, Roots, Spices One of the most famous amari; intensely bitter with anise and mint.
Branca MentaLombardiaFernet & Mint OilA gentler variant, notes of pine & menthol.
RamazzottiLombardiaRoots, Orange Peel, AniseWell balanced, notes of root beer.
NoninoFriuliAlpine HerbsAged in barrique, very smooth and balanced.
MontenegroEmilia-RomagnaOrange and RoseVery light and gentle.
MelettiMarcheOrange Peel & Gentian RootBalanced sweetness with a nutty quality.
SibillaMarcheHerbs, Spices, and Wild Mountain HoneyQuite bitter and herbal with a touch of sweetness.
Cio CiaroLazioBitter OrangeCitrusy and herbal.
CynarLombardiaArtichokeVegetal and herbal.
CardamaroPiemonteMoscato wine with Cardoons & ThistleOne of the only wine-based amari.