Bitter, sweet and complex, amaro is a bartender’s best friend. Add to that the fact that it’s the perfect post-meal accompaniment, and it’s all the more reason the liqueur has been making its way to the backbars of restaurants and drinking dens across the nation.
Though there’s nothing new about the category (its origins date back to ancient Rome, when people would infuse wine with herbs as a restorative potion), the spirit has been gaining major traction lately for its powers as a digestif and its awe-inspiring range of flavors. “Something like Cynar, which is made from artichoke, is going to be very different from the grappa-based and citrus-forward Amaro Nonino,” says Miles Macquarrie, the beverage director of Watchman’s in Atlanta and Kimball House in Decatur, Ga. “In a cocktail, each will yield entirely different results, and that makes our jobs all the more fun.”
Now more than ever, distillers across America are realizing the potential behind the Italian liqueur and creating their own renditions, resulting in bottles being produced everywhere from Seattle and San Francisco to Charleston and Chicago. “The way global trade has evolved, we are able to get the world's best ingredients, allowing great amaro to be produced anywhere,” says St. Agrestis co-founder Louis Catizone. These are eight worth trying.
Amaro Cinpatrazzo (Chicago, $35)
After studying architecture in Florence, Pat Magner became enamored with the complexity of amari. From that point on, he and partner Cynthia Tegtmeyer made frequent trips to the country to taste through myriad offerings, experiences that eventually led them to make their own variation, Amaro Cinpatrazzo. Herbal, vegetal and balanced, their spin incorporates nearly 20 botanicals, from local honey to hydroponically grown sage, mint and arugula; it’s a rare find among amari. Enjoy it neat, or alongside brandy, gin or whiskey—all great accompaniments to this smooth sipper.
Breckenridge Bitter ($40)
Situated at an elevation of 9,600 feet, this distillery is one of the largest, and highest, in the state of Colorado, employing more than 100 workers and creating more than a dozen different products (from gin and vodka to rum and brandy). Its amaro hits its 10-year anniversary in 2020—just one more thing to celebrate in the aftermath of its highly awarded reception, including a Double Gold win at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. Consider it a big, unanimous nod to the balance struck within this bottle, which incorporates all-natural dried citrus peels, roots, spices and herbs, for which the team forages after the first snowfall, just below the timberline.
High Wire Southern Amaro Liqueur (Charleston, S.C., $30)
Compelled to bring high-quality, small-batch spirits to South Carolina, husband-and-wife team Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall founded High Wire Distilling Co., producing a focused spirits line comprised of something for everyone, including Jimmy Red bourbon, New Southern Revival rye and Hat Trick botanical gin. Realizing that many of the South’s native plants were perfect botanicals for a bitter liqueur, the couple felt confident enough to explore the world of amaro, a venture that led to a bottle that was light in body but bold in personality. Credit those characteristics to hyperlocal ingredients like yaupon holly and black tea, both of which the team sources within the Carolinas.
Letterpress Amaro Amorino (Seattle, $40)
It was countless hours spent at his grandfather’s liquor store in the heart of Rome that helped to inspire Skip Tognetti to create a lineup of his own premium Italian liqueurs and put the same care into every bottle, including the Amaro Amorino, named for Tognetti’s grandpa, Amorino. Medium-bitter in style, this amaro presents a strong citrus foundation, accompanied by baking spice, vanilla and floral notes, with Seville orange peel, allspice, nutmeg, chamomile and sarsaparilla, among others. Intended to be a digestif first and foremost, this amaro is best served on its own, as are Letterpress’s other Italian-style concoctions, including limoncello and arancello.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
Philadelphia Distilling Vigo Amaro (Philadelphia, $32)
Born in 2005 as the first craft distillery in Pennsylvania since Prohibition, this spirits destination has gained a loyal following for its gin and vodka expressions, including its Bay Seasoned vodka, Penn 1681 vodka and the award-winning Bluecoat American dry gin. Most recently, that lineup includes something a bit darker in palette (and on palate): Vigo amaro, a melding of flavors such as dried plums, nutmeg and cinnamon that are balanced with bitter undertones from gentian root and cinchona bark. At once sweet, spicy and floral, the bottle was made with the amaro novice in mind, but it bears enough complexity to appeal just as well to those experienced in the category.
St. Agrestis New York Amaro (New York City, $38)
Louis and Matt Catizone were exposed to amaro at an early age, when their Italian father would incorporate it into Sunday dinners and “suitcase” it back from the Motherland upon every visit. Inspired by all things bitter, the brothers, together with their business partner, Steven DeAngelo, launched a portfolio encompassing a bitter aperitivo, a ready-to-drink Negroni and, of course, an amaro. Expect upfront flavors of cinnamon, clove and allspice that lead into cooler notes of spearmint and peppermint, with just enough bitterness to keep it all balanced. Drink it on its own or pair it with rye whiskey for a complex twist on the Manhattan.
St. George Bruto Americano (San Francisco, $30)
This spirits company was founded in 1982 by Jörg Rupf, a native of Freiburg, Germany, who fell in love with the Bay Area’s budding food and drink culture and expanse of top-quality raw materials—resources he was accustomed to from his family’s distilling history in the Black Forest. What started as a modest fruit brandy project soon gave birth to a full-blown line of award-winning spirits, including favorites like the Green Chile vodka, Terroir gin and St. George single malt whiskey. Among them is the Bruto Americano, a liqueur brimming with bitterness from gentian root, citrus from California-grown Seville orange and woodiness from balsam fir. While typically considered a digestif, try this one with soda for an aperitivo, alongside a sampling of nuts, salumi and olives.
Tattersall Bitter Amaro (Minneapolis, $28)
Childhood friends Jon Kreidler and Dan Oskey may have started off on different professional tracks—bartending and finance, respectively—but a mutual fondness for the spirits world brought them together to open this Minneapolis distillery where they produce more than 30 different products ranging from bourbon and brandy to vodka and aquavit. They had their hearts set on amaro before they even launched the company—a zeal that reveals itself in one sip of the liqueur, a blend of 25 botanicals including grapefruit, gentian, cardamom and sage. Sip it solo or with any of the other brand’s brown spirits, particularly the rye whiskey.