Italian amari – or “bitters” – are traditionally an afterthought: the herbal, bittersweet full stop on a lavish meal. But a new generation of bars and bartenders is now rediscovering these dusky digestifs, serving them up at all hours in drinks both mixed and neat. Like many alcoholic drinks, their roots are medicinal – but amari can range hugely in style from minty and fresh, to spicy, to smoky and caramelised. Each blend of spirit, sugar and spices, peels and plants is unique; esoteric and often hard to find, they’re catnip to drinks geeks.

The backbar at Amaro, west London
The backbar at Amaro, west London
Maialino (vicino), New York
Maialino (vicino), New York © Giada Paoloni

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in both knowledge and interest,” says Cory Holt, beverage director at Danny Meyer’s trattoria Maialino (vicino) in NYC, which lists more than 35 amari going back to the 1970s. His latest crush is Bernard Rabarbaro, a rhubarb root amaro from a tiny producer in Piedmont: “It has all the punch and aromatic smoke you’d expect from this style but it’s much more nuanced and gentle on the palate.” He recommends it neat, “in a small, chilled glass”.

Two amaro cocktails to try

Paper Plane by Sam Ross

Amaro Nonino rose to fame off the back of this modern classic, which was created by Sam Ross at The Violet Hour in Chicago.

20ml bourbon
20ml Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
20ml Aperol
20ml lemon juice

Pour the ingredients into a shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon

Black Manhattan by Elon Soddu

This aromatic twist on the Manhattan was created by Elon Soddu at Amaro Bar in Kensington

50ml bourbon or rye
20-25ml Averna or Amaro Lucano
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Pour the ingredients into a shaker with ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with orange

The tiny Caffè Rubik in Bologna (home of Amaro Montenegro) is more pavement than it is café – but this amaroteca houses more than 150 amari. Sitting kerbside at a small metal table, I sip two amari on ice: Genzianotto Amaro, an earthy “modernist” amaro with black chocolate bitterness; and Amaro Maffei, a grass-green amaro made by a family in Puglia from wild fennel.

Amari are artisan by nature – many can be hard to find outside Italy. But at Amaro in High Street Kensington, Sardinian head bartender Elon Soddu always has a few new discoveries from home on the go: the monastic-looking Amaro Dell’Erborista from the Marche region, a nutty, chocolatey, unfiltered amaro for sipping with coffee; and Amaro Formidabile, a handsome new-wave amaro from Rome that’s glossy chestnut in colour with spicy-sweet notes of fiery cinnamon balls and aniseed: “great as a substitute for absinthe in a Sazerac”.

A Manhattan at Amaro,
A Manhattan at Amaro

Soddu also stocks classics such as Averna; the artichoke amaro Cynar; and Braulio Amaro Alpino, an alpine amaro from Lombardia that combines comforting notes of sweetened coffee with cooling blasts of pine and eucalyptus. (At Porchlight in NYC they serve this amaro as a boilermaker with a bottle of Barrier Money IPA.) Cocchi’s excellent Dopo Teatro is a bit more unusual: it’s a hybrid of amaro and rosso vermouth. Based on the post-show nightcap historically popular in Turin, it’s amaro in a mellow mood: try it in place of vermouth in a Negroni or a Manhattan, or just with ice and an orange twist.  


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