Learn more about spirits -like the apple gin or mezcal- brings me a lot of joy. I explored the basics and ingredients of cocktails. The more I discover, the more I know I have so much to learn. I knew amaro was often served as an after dinner drink, but that was about it. I hadn't even heard of the plural, amari, until I started reading it. If you want to be a little more up to date, here is my introduction to amaro. And, of course, I've included a few of my favorite amaro cocktails to help you fully explore this delicious liqueur.
What is amaro?
Chances are, you already own a bottle (or eight, like me) of an Amaro liqueur. If you are not sure, this list will help you see what qualifies. So what is an amaro? The word "amaro" means bitter in Italian. It is a bitter herbal liqueur between 16 and 40% ABV. Amaro was first invented in the 12th century for medicinal purposes and a collision of commercial roots. Wine from the Middle East and spices from Europe. Alcohol has helped preserve the medicinal properties of the herbs and roots.
The modern category is attributed to Gaspare Campari who sold a bitter-style appetizer all over Italy in the 1840s. (If you are unfamiliar with bitters, read this article.) He spent 20 years developing the first version of Campari, which included a red dye made from mealybug insects. Although the modern Campari recipe has evolved, it remains true to the key markers of an amaro. These include an alcohol or neutral wine base and a blend of many herbs, roots, flowers, peels and citrus peels. A sugar syrup is added and the mixture is aged in bottles or barrels. The end result is a balanced herbal liqueur. There are eleven main categories of amari, including light, medium, vermouth (made from wine) and fern (dark and minty). Amari are generally made in Europe, but some are made in North America.
Ways to enjoy Amaro
There are two main ways to enjoy an amaro. The first is to sip a pure amaro (without ice) as a digestive after a meal. It's also a great way to figure out which types of amari you prefer. And the second is to taste it in an amaro cocktail. With a wide range of flavor profiles, there are many ways to modify a recipe you may already like. The complexity and texture of a velvety amaro can take even the most humble of drinks to something truly awe-inspiring.
Classic Amaro cocktails
Classic cocktails are generally known by most bartenders. While many modern cocktail bars invent their own drinks, they can usually make one for you. Most of them have been around for a long time and highlight the flavors of amari. They tend to be made from ingredients that you are likely to have in your standard home bar. Here are two very different amaro cocktails to try. The recipe for the Ford cocktail was published in George J. Kapeler's "Modern American drinks, Circa 1895. And the Aperol Spritz became a popular alternative to white wine and soda in Italy in the 1950s.
- 1 oz London Dry Gin
- 1 oz dry vermouth
- 0.5 oz Benedictine
- 3 dashes bittersweet orange
- 1 lemon zest (for garnish)
Add all the ingredients (except the garnish) to a mixing glass with ice.
Stir for about 30 seconds until it is properly diluted and cold.
Strain into a chilled Nick and Nora glass and serve with a lemon zest.
- 1.5 oz Aperol
- 2 oz prosecco
- 1 splash carbonated water
- 1 slice Orange
Fill a wine glass with ice.
Add Aperol to the glass, followed by the prosecco.
Garnish with a little sparkling water and an orange slice.
Amaro special cocktails
I refer to this section of amaro cocktails as "special" because of their unique flavor profiles. You probably won't find these drinks in every bar, which makes them fun to create at home. The first photo is the one I recently discovered and shared called the ruby diamond and offers mezcal, gin and Campari. In the center is the White Negroni created by Wayne Collins in 2000 at Death & Co. (A classic Negroni uses sweet vermouth instead of dry vermouth and replaces Campari with Suze.) And the latest amaro cocktail that I want to share with you are the paper plane. It is named after the song by MIA (both released in 2007) and was invented by Sam Ross, co-owner of Attaboy and Diamond Reef in New York City. Granted, I bought a bottle of Amaro Nonino just for this recipe.
- 1.5 oz Gin
- 1 oz Suze
- 0.75 oz dry vermouth
- 1 torsion orange peel
Add all the ingredients (except the skin) to a mixing glass with ice.
Stir until cold (about 30 seconds).
Pass over a large ice cube in a highball glass.
Squeeze the orange oil from the skin on the drink and drop it on the ice cube.
- 0.75 oz Bourbon
- 0.75 oz Aperol
- 0.75 oz Amaro Nonino
- 0.75 oz lemon juice
Add all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake until frost forms on the outside of the shaker cans.
Strain into a chilled cut glass and garnish with a small paper plane.
A little time put into preparation makes for an enjoyable evening. Drinking cocktails should be a fun and relaxing experience, so take a while to think about ingredients in advance, to avoid any rushing around last minute.
One of the foundations of many cocktails is sugar syrup. This can be prepared in advance. Here’s my tip for easy to prepare simple syrup : Add 200 gm white sugar to 200 ml boiling water. Stir till sugar is dissolved, and liquid is clear. Allow to cool then bottle
If you mix lemon juice 50 : 50 with simple syrup, you should have a solid mid-line sweet-sour balance. But remember, every palate is different. tera find your own point of balance, mix 15ml fresh lemon juice with 15ml simple syrup, and then dilute the mix with up to 90ml water. Congratulations, you’ve just made fresh lemonade ! If this tastes too sweet or too sour, adjust by adding a little more citrus or syrup. Using this method of calibration, you can adjust any petit cocktail recipe to suit your own palate.
Ice is the single most over-looked ingredient at any home bar - you’ll be surprised how much you can go through. Cocktails need ice like baking needs ovens. If popping to the boutiques for ice isn’t an option right now, keeping a freezer bag topped up with ice will ensure you don’t run out unexpectedly. For best quality home-made ice, try using a silicone ice tray with a lid, to prevent your ice from absorbing unpleasant odours. And wash your ice tray after each use.
Where possible always go for premium spirits, the freshest herbs, and the best juices you can get your hands on. For instance, the taste difference between cheap juice and pressed juice is more than worth the small extra expense.
Try to use glassware appropriate to your drinks. It’s entirely possible to drink a martini from an old coffee mug, but that misses the point of drinking a martini !
If you can make a Whiskey Sour, you can make a Daiquiri. If you make a mean Negroni, you can riff on a Boulevardier. Once you’ve mastered the Manhattan, have some fun in Brooklyn on your way to Martinez. Cocktails exist in family trees. Once you are comfortable the basics of each category the world is your oyster !
You can pre-mix punches in advance - an old trick from the godfathers of bartending in the 19th century. You can bottle punch and store it in the fridge, ready to use on the day, or later that week. If done properly, quality and consistency are assured. If your punch has a fizzy ingredient, such as champagne, only add this your glass just before serving.
If you follow the Punch Ratio, you can’t go far wrong : 1 part sour ( citrus ) 2 parts sweet ( simple syrup ) 3 parts strong ( spirit ) 4 parts weak ( juices etc ) And don’t shy away from warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, to make that punch really sing. Don’t have those spices to hand ? No problem, a few dashes of Angostura bitters will do the trick.
We all have a few unloved ingredients lying around that need using up. For instance, that last bit of red wine in the bottle ? Try drizzling it over your Whisky Sour, and voila, you’ve got yourself a delicious New York Sour ! Do you have some nice but neglected spice mix in the kitchen ? Try mixing a teaspoon or two into your simple syrup as it cools to give your next cocktail an added dimension. Seasonal fresh herbs make a wonderful aromatic petit cocktail garnish.
So now, you’ve hit your stride and you’re getting creative in your home bar. Great ! Our top tip for cocktail creation ? Write down the juste specifications as you are making it. It’s not always easy to perfectly recall the recipe for that killer petit cocktail the next day !
If all this sounds like a bit of a chore, then keep an eye open for delivery services available from many local petit cocktail parcs. After all, with the finer things in life, it’s nice to sit back, relax and let the professionals do all hard the work.