Italy’s after dinner drink (called a digestif) is the perfect way to end a delicious meal. It’s the “But wait…there’s more!” drink that reassures you that the dinner isn’t over quite yet: there’s one more delicious thing to look forward to.
What is amaro?
Amaro is a dark drink with an alcohol content between 16% and 35%. It is designed to settle the stomach after a meal (which it truly does: it was once prescribed by doctors to aid aching tummies!).
The word “amaro” actually means “bitter” in Italian, but don’t let that fool you: yes, this herbal liqueur does have a slightly bitter flavor, but it is usually balanced with citrus notes. In most cases, herbs, roots, flowers, bark, citrus peel and sugar syrup flavor either a neutral spirit or a wine, and the concoction is then aged either in barrels or in the bottle.
How do you drink amaro?
The most common way is to simply drink a small (1 ½ ounce) serving of chilled, neat amaro after dinner. Many also enjoy it on ice or with a spritz of tonic water.
Different types of amaro
Amaro was often made at monasteries, which dotted the Italian countryside for centuries. Each one had their own recipe using local ingredients, so today there are many different styles of amaro: in general, the drink is categorized based on the ingredients used, although some are categorized based on the general style, the alcohol content, or the ingredients used.
A light amaro is lighter in color than other styles, and typical has more citrus flavors. Examples of this lighter style include Amaro Nonino, Amaro Florio, Amaro del Capo, and Harry’s.
A medium amaro tends to have this citrus flavor alongside a bitterness and sweetness, making a nice balance of all three. Typically, medium amaro is 32% alcohol by volume. Examples include Ramazzotti, Averna, Lucano, Luxardo Amaro Abano, and Amaro Bio.
An incredibly sharp, bitter amaro that is incredibly popular in Argentina. Examples include Fernet Branca, Fernet Stock, Luxardo Fernet, Amaro Santa Maria Al Monte. (Admittedly, I can’t stand this stuff.)
An alpine amaro, which is typically around 17% alcohol content, is flavored with “alpine herbs” and can have a smoky flavor. Examples include Amaro Alpino, Amaro Zara, Amaro Braulio.
Unlike other amaros, which are typically made from grain-based alcohol, vermouth amaro is wine-based. It is sweeter with more citrus, and very closely resembles the aperitif vermouth. Examples are Amaro Don Bairo, Amaro Diesus del Frate.
This amaro is made with artichoke (no joke!). Typically, this is actually drunk as an aperitif. Examples include Cynar and Carciofo.
This amaro, made with black truffles, has a 30% alcohol content, which is significantly higher than the majority of other amari, which are typically at 17-18%. This drink is popular in Umbria, where truffles reign supreme.
Made from the bark of the Cinchona calisaya, this is a drink that originates in Turin. The oldest and most popular brand, China Martini, is based there.
The list goes on… there is Rabarbaro, made with rhubarb; miele (honey), fennel, unripe green walnuts (amaro nocino), even metals (try the Ferro China Bisleri, which contains ferrous ammonium citrate!).