The quickest way to turn a bartender into a poet is to ask him about the best amaro, a beguiling liqueur made with a (usually secret) blend of herbs. In Italian, amaro means bitter, but this liqueur is a wildly complex category that ranges from citrusy and herbaceous to minty and medicinal with varying levels of bitterness.
A quick explainer: Amaro is made by infusing a base alcohol like brandy, wine, or neutral spirit with a blend of herbs, roots, citrus essential oils, flowers, and spices.
“Amari are whimsical—the product of an alchemical process that extracts the essences of flowers, spices, and herbs,” says Ektoras Binkos, the beverage director and co-owner of Sugar Monk in Harlem, NY, who also makes his own line of amari. “I love them because they’re the most interesting of all spirits, layered with so many unusual flavors and captivating scents.”
In Italy, amaro is most commonly served as an after dinner drink. But there’s a strong case to be made for using this versatile liqueur in cocktails, too, like a black Manhattan, which substitutes Amaro Averna for vermouth.
“They add tremendous complexity to a cocktail, bringing a range of flavors from floral to vegetal, earthy to bright—along with mysterious ancient scents like myrrh and sandalwood,” Binkos says.
If you’re new to amaro, Binkos recommends drinking it neat, slightly chilled with an orange or lemon twist, so you can get a fair introduction to its complexity.
Ahead, eight of the best bottles of amaro recommended by bartenders and spirits experts.
Best Amaros to Sip Neat or Mix in Classic Cocktails
1. Amaro Montenegro
Complex and mysterious, amaro is steeped in history and many brands have closely guarded, storied recipes. One of the most famous is Amaro Montenegro, which has been made with the same secret blend of 40 herbs since 1885 when it was first dreamed up in Bologna, Italy. Some amari can be biting and astringent, but Montenegro has a subtle bitterness. “While it’s a favorite of dyed-in-the-wool amaro fans, it’s also gentle enough to coax those who might be hesitant in the realm of bitters,” says Tad Carducci, bartender and director of outreach and engagement for Gruppo Montenegro. For a drinkable dessert, try the “M&M.” It pairs equal parts Amaro Montenegro with mezcal, Carducci recommends, or Montenegro and tonic with an orange slice as a simple alternative to a gin & tonic.
[$34.99, 750 ml bottle; totalwine.com]Get it
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