Oftentimes, bitter flavors are a sign that something is not quite right. In the cocktail world, though, a little bitter means that all is very right with the world.
These tongue-tingling, low-alcohol elixirs have inspired a bitter movement out of the Italian motherland and into American distilleries. From Campari-inspired offerings to liqueurs flavored with homegrown roots and herbs, this new range of amari doesn’t yet rival that of Italy, but it’s certainly on its way to becoming its own category.
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Bittermens started by making bitters in 2007, so it’s safe to say this company knows a thing or two about bitter booze. Amère Sauvage Gentiane is one in the company’s line of six liqueurs, and has one important ingredient in common with many other amari and cocktail bitters: gentian root. It’s not just there for show. The root takes center stage in this super low-proof amaro, giving this amaro a particularly bitter flavor. While it may be a bit heavy for solo sipping, there are plenty of cocktails that will make it feel right at home.
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
The newest member of the American amari ranks is this aperitif from Leopold Bros simply called “Aperitivo.” The ruby-hued liqueur is remarkably similar in color and flavor to Italian Campari, a staple in any cocktail bar. Aperitivo does, however, have a more pronounced bitterness than Campari, thanks in part to a base flavoring of (surprise!) gentian root, as well as grapefruit peel, coriander, sarsaparilla and hyssop.
Leopold Bros also makes a Fernet Highland Amaro that’s boozier at 40-percent ABV.
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Since 2013, Brovo Spirits has been making amari with the help of Seattle bartenders. Each batch of the lady-made liqueur was intended to have a limited release, but three of its offerings proved so popular that the distillery made them available year-round. They’re called #1, #4 and #14, and were created, respectively, with the help of bartenders John Ueding, Patrick Haight and Mike Ryan, and are all made with ingredients sourced from Washington State farmers.
#1 has notes of clove, cardamom, citrus, galangal and peppercorn. #4’s recipe is heavy on citrus with notes of eucalyptus and cayenne, and the last, #14, has what Brovo calls a “sophisticated chocolate flavor.”
Hometown: Breckenridge, Colorado
Hailing from the Colorado mountains, Breckenridge Bitter is made with “alpine” herbs that are harvested by hand, as well as a slew of other traditional bitter roots and herbs. Gentian root and genepi are the base flavors in this high-altitude aperitif, but the flavor gets even more nuance from 16 other herbs, botanicals and fruits.
Hometown: Golden, Colorado
While most American amari are relatively new, Golden Moon Distillery’s Amer dit Picon takes a page out of its Italian ancestors’ book by using a recipe that dates back to the 1830s. The inspiration is Gaetan Picon, a 19th-century distiller responsible for the almost two-century-old bitter liqueur Picon. The distillery uses a blend of herbs, spices and botanicals to recreate Picon’s original orange flavor.
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly known as the capital of booze (though plenty of it is consumed there). After all, even George Washington’s distillery was in Virginia, not the District itself. But this domestic bitter liqueur calls the district home. Made from a blend of 30 roots and herbs, Amaro delle Sirene was inspired by an Italian liqueur that was last made on the Amalfi Coast in 1931.
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Looking to add bitter chocolate notes to your cocktails? This Windy City–made liqueur that launched last year might be your solution. It’s made from a base of the distillery’s proprietary rum. Sad truth: This Midwestern amaro is only available in the Chicago area.