“Amaro,” the word for “bitter” in Italian, is also a broad and loosely defined category of bittersweet, Italian-born, herbal spirits flavored through maceration. While consistently enjoyed in Western Europe for hundreds of years, only recently has American interest and excitement in amari (plural for amaro) been renewed. In San Francisco, one can visit places like Locanda and Trick Dog just to taste the range of amari available in the U.S. today.
One of amaro’s unique traits is that it epitomizes a true sense of terroir; the flavors of these liqueurs are defined by either the botanicals that grow in the region in which they are produced, or by ingredients heralded centuries ago for their medicinal benefits. The bitterness of amari is one of the reasons they are so versatile in cocktails. It balances quite well with sweeter spirits like rum and bourbon.
We’re excited to offer a fantastic selection of Italian amari so you can explore the terroir and history of Italian spirits. Which is your favorite? Be sure to try our new amaro cocktail recipes, created for us by Josh Harris of The Bon Vivants and Trick Dog, and experiment on your own! Tweet us your favorite amaro cocktail!
Meletti Amaro | Marche, Italy | $19.99
Meletti is a bit astringent for an amaro; its somewhat hot and bright entry is tamed quickly by sweetness. The initial flavors are of orange zest, chocolate, and licorice. Subsequent sips show cardamom and cinnamon. In 1870, Silvio Meletti began producing a popular anise-flavored liqueur bearing his name. Years later, he added an amaro to the line. Meletti is unique in a few ways, principal among them is the addition of saffron—quite an expensive ingredient indeed.
Lucano Amaro | Basilicata, Italy | $26.99
Silky like a liqueur, both bitter and sweet in varying degrees, aromatically complex, and quite simply delicious and fascinating. A sophisticated exploration of over 30 herbs, including Roman absinthe, wormwood, clary sage, orange peel, elderberry, and aloe. Amaro Lucano’s roots go back to 1894 in the tiny village of Pisticci, of the Lucania region in the province of Matera, where Pasquale Vena created a special recipe in the backroom of his famous cookie bakery, which is still a well-kept secret today.
Montenegro Amaro | Bologna, Italy | $29.99
This bitter is flavored with licorice root, saffron, and orange peel. Despite its light rust color, this Amaro from Bologna has rich herbal aromas that segue to deep, slightly sweet flavors and a citrusy finish. Amaro Montenegro, “The liqueur of the virtues,” was created in 1885 by distiller and herbalist, Stanislao Cobianchi. The name Montenegro is a homage to the second queen of Italy, Princess Elena Petrović-Njegoš of Montenegro, on occasion of her marriage in 1896 to Victor Emmanuel III, the Itlian sovereign at the time.
Varnelli Sibilla Amaro | Marche, Italy | $54.99
Named after the impressive mountain range in the Southwestern corner of the Marche, this spirit is a must-try for amaro fans. The flavor profile definitely leans toward the drier, more herbaceous end of the spectrum and will seem quite bitter if you are used to Averna or Montenegro. The botanicals are wood smoked before maceration which adds a degree of complexity seldom found in Amari. Mountain honey is used sparingly to balance the bitter flavors. I have found Sibillia to be a delicious digestive, but also quite delightful at the shore when mixed with tonic and an orange rind.
Contratto Fernet | Piedmonte, Italy | $44.99
Based on the original 1920s family recipe this traditional Fernet puts a heavy emphasis on anise, licorice, saffron, clover, and chamomile. The grappa base complements the complex floral aromas well and the layers of flavor don’t come across as too bitter or too sweet. There are so many wonderful ways to drink this old-school liqueur.
Amara Amaro d’Arancia | Sicily, Italy | $34.99
Made in Sicily from blood oranges grown near the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, it’s a citrus-dominated liqueur with only a slight bitterness that marries well with hints of baking spice. The finish is like the purest expression of citrus peel I’ve ever tasted in a spirit, giving the Amara a versatility that is simply off the charts. You can sip it after dinner as a digestivo, add soda water to make a spritz, mix it into a Negroni, or simply pour it over ice.