The drumsticks are long gone, the glorious mountains of mashed potatoes and stuffing devoured. You've constructed your perfect final combo bite: a little turkey, a smear of cranberry sauce, a pillow of sweet potato casserole, and the meal is done...well, almost.
Once you've found your second stomach (you know, the one reserved for pie), it's time to consider the after-dinner drink. That drink should be a little stronger, a little sweeter, and a little spicier than the wine or beer you served with dinner. Enter the amaro.
Designed to soothe the stomach and aid digestion, these often-but-not-always-Italian bittersweet liqueurs are a reason to stay at the table a little bit longer. Some of these potions pack a menthol punch or a wallop of bitterness (those aren't for everyone), while others go down easy, like spiced caramel. Some have prominent hints of saffron and clove; others have so many different herbs and roots in their top-secret recipes that it's tricky to pick out anything familiar. Many have been sipped for hundreds of years—and these days, we have access to a growing variety from around the world.
Emblazoned with a pretty Art Deco–style label, a bottle of amaro makes a great gift for your Thanksgiving host. Here are four bottles to seek out, all favorites of ours that are sure to please both amaro experts and novices alike.
Cynar (pronounced chee-NAHR) is often identified by the artichoke on the label, but that's just one of the many flavors you'll find in this complex liqueur. And while I'm a fan of the rich, sweet, and vegetal 1950s original, I'm really excited about the new Cynar on the block. Cynar 70 is 35% alcohol instead of 16.5%, and the extra booze makes a marked difference, rendering the liqueur a bit less sweet and accentuating its bold, spicy flavors. It tastes a bit more focused, all the silky chocolate and licorice-y herbs standing at attention instead of lolling around in your mouth. It echoes the flavors of gooey pecan pie filling, but its blast of herbal bitterness and alcohol cuts through the pie's sweetness, getting you ready for your next bite.
If you're a fan of mulled wine, this Santa Barbara–made concoction is for you. It starts with a fortified blend of mostly Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Sangiovese, flavored with sage, thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, and mint, plus dried orange peels, caramelized simple syrup, and assorted barks and roots. Aged in oak barrels for about two years, Margerum Amaro is almost port-like, with vibrant cinnamon and clove flavors, finishing with just the slightest hint of bitterness. Thanks to its warm spice and rich fruitiness, Margerum's an easy drinker with a slice of pumpkin pie.
Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
Nonino is perfect for new amaro drinkers. Made by a famed grappa distiller in northeastern Italy, the base is a distillate made from moscato, ribolla gialla, and malvasia grapes, infused with herbs and aged for five years in small oak barrels. It's softer and lighter than many amari, with prominent butterscotch and citrus flavors and very little bitterness. Think of it as a sippable, orange-laced caramel sauce for your apple pie. Vanilla and nutmeg notes are a natural complement to the cinnamon-spiced fruit and buttery crust. (More of a cocktail drinker? Add bourbon, Aperol, and lemon to make a Paper Plane.)
Some amari are mostly sweet; others slap you in the face with bitterness. Lucano, which dates back to 1894, balances the best of both traits. This silky liqueur is a little bolder than the Nonino, but still friendly for beginners. It tastes mostly of cola and maple syrup, with a little mint and lavender. It's great tipped into your coffee (or your whiskey), but its buttery texture and berry notes also make it excellent with a crumble-topped cranberry apple slab pie.
Note: All amari provided as samples for review consideration.