Why It Works
- Bittering agents and flavoring ingredients can be adjusted according to preference, so you can experiment with each new batch until you find your own ideal combination.
- Sip your amaro straight up as a digestif or add it to cocktails.
Many cocktail ingredients were once prized for their supposed medicinal qualities. Gin, tonic, and lime were used as treatments for malaria and scurvy long before we started drinking the combination recreationally, and whiskey was thought to be effective as both a form of anesthesia and an antibiotic. In what we can grudgingly call progress, modern doctors just aren't likely to prescribe an Old Fashioned or a shot of Fernet.
Amaro is yet another item from behind the bar that started out as a way to cure what ailed us—it was once used as a treatment for everything from an upset stomach to cholera. Really, "amaro" (or amari, in the plural) is just a general name for a bitter, herbal liqueur. The Italians, who know a lot about what and when to eat and drink, traditionally serve an amaro after a meal to aid digestion. Looking for French amari? Look for the word "amer" on the bottle.
What's Available to Buy?
Amari have been popular with bartenders for some time, and they're now in demand by more people on the other side of the bar. There are a bunch of different types and brands to choose from. The most ubiquitous (and least beloved) is Jägermeister. But some more, ahem, refined options that aren't too hard to find include Averna, Ramazzotti, Amer Picon, Cynar, Torani Amer, and Fernet Branca. They vary in flavor and bitterness—Averna, for instance, is on the milder side, while Fernet Branca will smack you upside the head.
If you're looking to make an exact copy of a particular brand of amaro, I'm going to stop you right there because trying to duplicate a proprietary mix of dozens (even hundreds) of ingredients could just frustrate you. And no one should be sad or mad when making an amaro, because it's actually really easy and fun to do.
But decide what flavors and characteristics you want, and you can create your own, unique bitter liqueur. It's up to you how bitter, vegetal, citrus-y, or nutty your homemade amaro will be. So, should you DIY or buy? The answer is both!
Just like any bitters recipe, you'll need three types of ingredients: at least one bittering agent (usually an herb or bark), flavoring ingredients (herbs, citrus, and vegetables, for example), and the base (a high-proof, neutral spirit, in this case, though some can be made with wine as well). I adapted a recipe from Luscious Liqueurs (at Amazon) for an herbaceous and clean amaro that is on par with Averna when it comes to the level of bitterness.
Your amaro is made for sipping straight-up or on the rocks after a meal. But it can also add an interesting twist to cocktails like a Manhattan. The bitterness is also a nice counterpoint to sweet and tart flavors—in a drink featuring cranberry juice, for example.
Another surprisingly good companion for bitter liqueur is dark cocoa, which you can play with in cocktails.
You'll need to do a bit of taste testing and tweaking to suit your special amaro recipe, but it'll quickly become obvious that DIY amaro likes to be mixed as much as it likes to be sipped in a leisurely manner after a big meal.
1 teaspoon anise seeds
6 fresh sage leaves
6 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (about 1 sprig's worth)
1 allspice berry
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon gentian root
3 cups 151-proof neutral grain spirit (see notes)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
Grind the herbs and spices (including gentian root) with a mortar and pestle until roughly broken up. (Or pulse a few times in a food processor.) Transfer to a sealable glass jar and pour in the alcohol. Let steep at room temperature for 3 weeks, shaking frequently.
After the initial steeping time, bring sugar and water to a boil at medium heat. Cook until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.
Pour cooled syrup into the steeped mixture, reseal jar, and let rest for an additional 2 weeks, stirring frequently. After 2 weeks, open jar and taste. If stronger flavor is desired, re-seal jar and allow to steep for an additional week.
Strain through cheesecloth to remove solids, then filter through coffee filter or fresh cheesecloth into a sealable bottle. Store at room temperature for up to 6 months.
Gentian root can often be found at Latin markets and specialty herb shops. You can also order it online from companies such as Lhasa Karnak. Use the cut root, which looks like bits of bark, rather than the powdered variety. If you have another bittering agent on hand, such as cinchona bark leftover from making tonic, you can use that as a substitute. If you can't get a high-proof neutral grain spirit like Everclear, use the highest proof vodka you can find.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 7g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|