What is Amaro?
Amaro simply means bitter in Italian, and refers to a category of liqueur made by distilling wine or neutral spirits with herbs, spices or other botanicals. Amaro typically refers to Italian products, but with such a loose definition, can be (and is) produced all over, whether it uses the Italian terminology or not.
Amaro is usually served as a digestif; true to its name, it is quite bitter (though in varying degrees, and is often balanced with sweetness), helping settle the tummy after a big meal. Like dessert wines, this after-dinner drink doesn’t need to be served in large quantities – just a little tipple, served neat or with an ice cube, and perhaps a slice of orange, will do the trick.
There are many producers of Amaro, and the product ranges widely from region to region, from maker to maker. The processes are usually very old and often ambiguous, hence the very wide range in expressions – I like to think of Amaro as the Italian moonshine.
Amaro ranges widely in flavour, body, alcohol (about 15% – 40%) and colour (from burnt orange to syrupy brown)
The word that comes to mind when I think of any Amaro is medicinal. Common ingredients used in maceration include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Lemon verbena
We’re pretty into Amaro at our place. What looks like a fully stocked bar is actually just a plethora of Amaro (if you wanted a vodka soda, sorry). Here are five of my favourites we almost always have on the shelf:
Applewood Okar Amaro
Most of our Amaro collection is Italian, but there are others we love from ground the globe. Australian producers at Applewood Distillery have recently tweaked and launched this product, which uses native botanicals such as currants, riberries, blood limes and saltbush. This is a bright, medium-bodied Amaro with a beautiful balance of bitter citrus peel, fresh herbs and rich, dark fruit.
Many Amaros host a long list of ingredients, made with a complex recipe – all part of the allure, yes, but also the reason behind their wonderful taste. Lucano is no exception – made with 30+ herbs, its taste is distinctively herbaceous, with warm notes of citrus and florals.
Montenegro is a fairly common Amaro – it is well balanced, with a fair bit of bitterness, herbs and fruit, particularly orange. This is a spicy, rich and sweet option, but still aids in digestion – a good place to start for beginners.
Nonino is another one of the more commonly-seen brands of Amaro, and for good reason – it’s lighter in colour and body, with high notes of citrus. It’s quite bitter with a just a hint of sweetness, and burns slightly on the way down – a sip of this will cure what ails you.
This Amaro is heavy on the pine with quite a bit of smoke and earthy herbs coming through – floral notes and some sweetness balance it out though, making this a complex and delicious option for a post-dinner tipple.
If you are new to Amaro and want to see for yourself which ones you like best, I recommend exploring the after-dinner drink section at restaurants, rather than buying by the bottle since each one can be very different to the next. Only after you become familiar with some of the names you like, look for them in bottle shops, Italian speciality stores or order them online (which is the best way to get obscure bottles!). The ultimate way to source them? A trip to Italy, of course.
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