Category Archives: Amari

MxMo: Amaro

mxmologoIt’s that time of the month again, dear readers–Mixology Monday! Our host this month is Charming Chuck Taggart, and he’s chosen the theme amaro. Now, as you might recall, I’ve covered the topic of amari before. To sum up, though, amari are bitter, herbal liqueurs, consumed primarily over ice, either before or after dinner. Jen and I first encounted this class of spirit with Campari, probably, when we first tried the classic drink, the Negroni. We’ve since branched out and tried many other amari–Cynar, Aperol, Fernet Branca, Ramazzotti, I could go on. You can say we enjoy these drinks, both alone and mixed into cocktails.

Since we like amari so well, we try to seek out new ones when we can afford them. (Some weeks, we can barely afford wine or gin, let alone esoteric liqueurs.) We happened to be in the Italian section of Providence, Federal Hill, on Saturday, and stopped in at Gasbarro’s Wines and Spirits. The boys at Gasbarro’s had several amari we haven’t yet tried, including Fernet Branca’s minty sibling, Fernet Branca Menta.

I selected a slender and elegant bottle of Inga Amaro Mio. I haven’t found a lot of information about this product, so I’ll just share with you my impression. I’d say this is a pretty good gateway amaro. First, the price is right–Gasbarro’s wanted $12.99 for a 375-ml bottle. Trust me, a little of this stuff lasts a long time, so a smaller bottle is a great place to start. Second, it’s tasty. It’s not as bitter as many amari, so it’s not as challenging at first sip. It’s still not freaking Mtn. Dew, but it’s no Campari, either. Third, the bottle is gently curvy; it would make a sexy addition to your bar, and let’s face it–we all want our home bars to look sophisticated.

One more thing before I get to the recipe. Now that we’re entering into peak produce season, I’m challenging myself to really use our farmers’ markets as a resource for making cocktails. And I want to go beyond the basics of berries, stone fruit, and tomatoes that you might automatically think of when you consider fresh produce in drinks. So this weekend, we stopped by the table of Farmacy Herbs. Mary, the herbalist, always has a collection of dried herbs and tinctures (which I want to eventually tinker with for bitters), but on this particular morning, she also had two fresh herbs–lemon balm and anise hyssop. For this drink, I wanted the delicate flavors of the lemon balm.

Bitter Wood Cocktail

This cocktail is adapted from one version of the Blackthorn cocktail–in this case, gin, sloe gin, and vermouth. (There are at least two other drinks with this name, both of which are somewhat different formulations, but that’s a topic for another post.) I kept the gin and the sloe, but ditched the vermouth. I dub this drink the Bitter Wood, to play off the Blackthorn name and to celebrate the pungency of the amaro.

Bitter Wood Cocktail

  • 1 oz. Bluecoat gin
  • 1 oz. Plymouth sloe gin
  • 1/2 oz. Amaro Mio
  • 1 sprig lemon balm, for muddling
  • 1 leaf lemon balm, for garnish if desired

Technique: Measure liquid ingredients into mixing glass. Add lemon balm sprig. Muddle gently. (Lemon balm is in the mint family, and as with mint, if you over-muddle it, you’ll release unpleasant compounds into your cocktail.) Add ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and add garnish, if using.

Averna Amaro

One thing that’s common in Europe, but relatively uncommon in the United States, is the drinking of straight (or neat) liquors or liqueurs, either before dinner (apéritif/aperitivo) or after (digéstif/digestivo). Sure, there are people here who enjoy a scotch or brandy after a big meal, but it’s not really an everyday part of American drinking. I am here to advocate in favor of this refined and civilized practice. Here I sit, after taking in a rich meal of roasted chicken and bread salad, and I am sipping Averna amaro, gently chilled with a single large ice cube, to cleanse my palate and help me relax a bit before bed.

Amari, if you don’t know, are herbal liqueurs from Italy, typically enjoyed after the meal. The word amari literally means “bitter.” Italy has a host of amari, at varying degrees of bitterness, but today, I’m going to talk about Averna. A bittersweet amaro, Averna is made from a blend of flowers, herbs, dried fruits, and spices, resulting in a complex taste with a lingering finish. A pleasant, satisfying sipper, a little Averna goes a long way as you unwind in the evening. No need to sip it solely as an digestivo, either. Because it cleanses and opens up the palate, it’s equally good as an aperitivo.

Lately, however, bartenders have started mixing it into cocktails. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Gary Regan offers up a couple of recipes mixing Averna with another Italian quaff, Campari. Of the two recipes, we’ve tried La Dura Vita and found it quite yummy.

La Dura Vita

  • 1-1/2 oz. gin (Gary suggests Plymouth; I used Beefeater to good effect)
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1/2 oz. Averna amaro
  • lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir. Add garnish. Smile.