Just when you thought you had a handle on Italian amaro—all those ancient-looking bottles with their secret blends of herbs and mystery—along comes France’s version, amer. Amer, a category of bitter-edged liqueurs similar to amaro, isn’t completely mainstream yet, but it’s slowly starting to pop up on liquor shelves and cocktail menus around the country.
The best-known amer is, of course, the hardest to get your hands on: Amer Picon. This bitter-orange liqueur is named for its creator, Gaétan Picon, a Frenchman who created the quinine-spiked elixir after he contracted malaria while stationed in Algeria. The original shows up in a number of classic cocktails, but today, Amer Picon is only available in France. If you see it behind your favorite bar, odds are the bartender brought it over after a visit to the old country.
Luckily, there’s still a small but growing number of others to choose from. In 2012, Bittermens was the first company to bring amers back, releasing multiple bottlings. For most U.S. drinks enthusiasts, this was its introduction to the category. Amere Nouvelle is a close facsimile of Amer Picon, with an appropriately bitter-orange profile, while Amere Sauvage has a more austere and bitter flavor profile, thanks to a hefty dose of gentian; and Hiver Amer (aka Winter Bitter) has an orange-and-spice profile that’s surprisingly appropriate for Tiki drinks.
More recently, Bigallet China-China appeared on the scene, imported from France. It skews a bit more sweet and liqueur-like, braced up with just enough bitter orange to make it truly addictive, which explains why bartenders have embraced it in cocktails.
The latest entry to the fray are amers from Wolfberger distillery, imported from Alsace, France. The portfolio includes hoppy, floral Amer Fleur de Joie, ginger-accented Gingembre and Amer Orange, which in some ways is similar to Bigallet China-China (and presumably Amer Picon).
Others exist too, although in many cases they are available only in certain areas, such as Torani Amer (California only). And some bartenders have dabbled in making their own bespoke versions (perhaps the best known of these is from Seattle’s Canon, Jamie Boudreau’s Amer Boudreau, which uses Ramazzotti as a base, then adds an orange tincture).
So with amers now more readily available, what’s the best way to drink them? The ones with more pronounced sweetness, like China-China and Gingembre, make for great post-meal digestifs on their own.
But it’s also worth taking them for a spin in cocktails. The classic Amer Bière (“bitter beer”) is the most straightforward, a Highball composed of an ounce or more of amer (try the Fleur de Joie or Amere Sauvage for this), poured over ice and topped up with lager. Or try an updated version of the classic Picon Punch the Wolfberger Punch.