How often has this happened… you’ve just wrapped up dinner, and you’re the perfect level of full and pleasantly tipsy. Everything’s perfect and right in your world, and then… the dessert cart rolls up (maybe just metaphorically- maybe the dessert cart is the tub of ice cream in your freezer.) Well, of course something sweet sounds nice, and that slice of chocolate ganache looks amazing, so you order it. Then you eat it. And then… you’ve upset the balance. Having overdone it, you’ve sailed right past the sweet spot and now you’re stuffed and vaguely uncomfortable.
We’d like to suggest an alternative to that routine – namely, the European tradition of consuming digestif liqueurs after a meal. The tradition of imbibing bittersweet herbal drinks after dinner is common to many European countries, but for our purposes today, we’re going to focus on Amaro (Italian for “bitter”)– the pinnacle of after-dinner drinks, in our opinion! Amari come in a multitude of styles, ranging from 16-45% alcohol, depending on method of production, but the general idea is the same – a proprietary blend of carminative (digestion aiding) herbs, roots, barks, flowers, and citrus peels macerated in alcohol and aged in casks. The end product can be somewhat sweet (thereby scratching that dessert itch,) but never cloying because of the counterbalance of bitterness which keeps the whole experience ultimately bracing and refreshing. Though they’re usually served chilled and neat, you may enjoy them over ice, with some club soda, or (depending on which) an orange slice.
Amaro Nonino might be the best introduction to the style – with milder bitterness, 70 proof, and a mild sweetness, this one can be sipped like an easy cordial.
If you’re looking for something less alcoholic, consider Pasubio – a wine-based Amaro at 17% alcohol that has a flavor profile of mint, pine, berry, and a hint of smokiness.
In my personal opinion, Amaro dell’Etna is the perfect Amaro – a 29% abv blend of orange peel, vanilla, cinnamon, anise, a tangle of savory herbs, and behind it all the telltale volcanic minerality of its mountainous namesake. Perfect on its own, or blended 50/50 with bourbon for a simple, dynamic cocktail.
Finally, Fernet is the most bitter Amaro style and not to everyone’s taste, but its most well-known producer Fratelli Branca makes a lower-proof version with mint that’s very accessible, while still packing the herbaceous punch of the original.
We’re convinced that we can get you on-board with Amaro as a part of your dinner routine at home or dining out – come grab one of us and let us help you with these and other adventurous Amari we stock every day!
By Tom Breeding, Beer Director