Amaro | A guide to the Italian digestif

Where, when and how to drink Italy’s most bittersweet export.

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Amaro and espresso at Lula cafe

Amaro and espresso at Lula cafe Photograph: Martha Williams


The bitter truth
Amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is a category of digestif liqueurs that’s caramel in color, bittersweet on the tongue and about twice as potent as wine (typically 16 to 40 percent alcohol by volume). Like wine, amaro is an incredibly vast branch of liquor that’s made all over Italy (there are approximately 100 active brands), with flavors depending on where it’s made and who’s making it. At its most basic, it’s an herbacious liqueur with lots of earthy ingredients, including cinchona—the go-to source for quinine, the active ingredient in tonic water—which lends amaro its stomach-settling power. Other ingredients range from gentian and myrrh to anise and fennel, and those last two, especially, suggest what to expect flavorwise. But they’re only the beginning. Some amari are incredibly light and sweet, such as Bologna’s fruity-floral Montenegro, a favorite of both RPM Italian’s Paul McGee and Lula Cafe bar manager Jeffrey Hansen. Much more common in cocktails is Sicily’s smooth, caramel-like Averna, one of Italy’s best-selling amari.

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