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Jan 7, 2014 08:09 AM

Which amaro for cocktails?

Astor Wine and Spirits is having a 15% off all amaro today.

I have and LOVE cynar. I just picked up some Campari. I've tried Luxardo Bitter and didn't love it in a negroni.

What would others suggest for versatile amaro for mixing in cocktails?

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  1. You have the two most popular and useful: Campari and Cynar. Great start.

    Luxardo Bitter is similar to Campari, although more floral. I would consider the two redundant in all but a large amaro collection.

    I would pick a pie-spiced brown amaro for a new addition. Averna is popular (e.g. Black Manhattan). Ramazzotti is also excellent, with a bit of a cola flavor (but not in a bad way). It makes a killer Paper Plane variation (which I call Paper Airplane, although there is considerable name confusion around the drink and its variations). Amaro Nonino is grappa based and similar to Averna, but dryer and, alas, more expensive. It is used in the original Paper Plane with Aperol.

    Aperol is like wimpy Campari. Bright orange in color and flavor, it is not particularly bitter and alone and tastes like bitter orange soda pop with a subtle rhubarb aspect. In cocktails, however, can be magic. The combination of Campari, Aperol, and lemon or lime make a surprisingly convincing bitter grapefruit flavor.

    CioCiaro is used as a substitute for Amer Picon and tastes of bitter orange. I like it a lot. Lucano is somewhat similar.

    Fernet Branca might be the king of amari. Bitter, not particularly sweet, spirit-proof, and strongly menthol, it tends to take over a drink. It may take a long (perhaps infinite) time to learn to like it, but it is important in cocktails, sometimes used in dash amounts. It can also be sipped. Luxardo make a version, too, which is similar.

    Some consider Punt e Mes a vermouth and some an amaro, but it is superb. Use it wherever you might use sweet vermouth. I consider it indispensable, but I'm an amaro nut.

    My favorite sipping amari are Sibilia and dell'Erborista. Both are extremely bitter, delicious, not sweet, and hard to find (at least in Boston). They would be excellent to find on sale.

    Becherovka is from the Czech Republic, is mild, and cinnamon flavored. I used it in lieu of cinnamon syrup sometimes.

    Zucca is made from rhubarb (although you probably wouldn't know it). It may be used in lieu of Campari or Cynar for interesting variations. It comes in a liter bottle (like Cynar), making it affordable.

    For more ideas and references, google for Amari Italian bitter liqueurs.

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    16 Replies
    1. re: EvergreenDan

      Dan - thanks so much. Very helpful.

      BTW, I am fairly obsessed with your website. It has changed my cocktail-making very much for the better.

      1. re: EvergreenDan

        man, that's one handy amaro post. many thanks.

        1. re: EvergreenDan

          Are Cynar and Campari actually amaros? I would have thought they were both considered an aperitivo.

          Fernet, now that's an amaro.

          1. re: EvergreenDan

            To add to the list, some are amaro, and some are aperitif/digestif: Montenegro amaro, Gran Classico bitters, Meletti amaro, Byrrh, Cappeletti amaro, Cardamaro amaro, Guilliamette and Dolin Genepi, and Tempus Fugit Kina Lavion D’or. All work wonderfully in cocktails, or by themselves or with seltzer.

            1. re: JMF

              Cardamaro is a really interesting one, especially when discussing what is or is not an amaro, since it's wine based. Good product for cocktails, in any case.

              Montenegro, an Italian friend referred to as "the Bud Light of amaro." I heartily agree.

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                I didn't mention Cardamaro because I found it very hard to mix with. You'd think it would just drop in where sweet vermouth goes, but I didn't have much luck. It is pretty expensive, given the small bottle, but it is delicious all by itself (perhaps with a bit of lemon).

                And I agree about Montenegro, although it can work where you need a bit of orange + pie spice. Until you mentioned it, I had forgotten that I had a bottle. I guess that says something.

                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  I don't know...I really like the saffron aspects in it, though, doesn't get used all that often.

              2. re: JMF

                I classify anything that is bitter as an amer/amaro/bitter. Almost all amari are intended as either an aperitivo or digestivo.

                Gran Classico is also like Campari, but without the red color and with a large floral aspect. I would consider it redundant with Campari until you have a good collection.

                Meletti has a strong chocolate note. It is unique and makes some great drinks, although classics don't call for it. There is a great Lemon Meletti Flip that I discovered.

                Byrrh is a lot like a sweet vermouth with a stronger red wine aspect. It may be used where sweet vermouth goes for an interesting variation.

                L'Avion D'Or is a bit like Cocchi Americano.

                And Cocchi Americano goes where Lillet goes, but with more bitter. It's probably stretching it to call it an amaro since it isn't THAT bitter.


                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  An aperitivo may in fact be
                  bitter, but no Italian would call Campari an amaro.

              3. re: EvergreenDan

                Great list, Dan!

                Love the idea of using Becherovka in lieu of cinnamon syrup.

                I haven't spent the $$$ on the dell'Erboista but your praise has me convinced.

                Have you tried the Braulio amaro, yet? Tasting notes?

                JMF -- I've been loving that Kina Lavion D'or with Leopold's Nay Strength gin in an Innocenti lately. Those two are really great products, IMO.

                1. re: cacio e pepe

                  Go for dell'Erborista. You won't be disappointed. Be prepared to wear your big boy / girl pants though.

                  Yes, I have Braulio. I enjoy it straight, but haven't successfully mixed with it. My failure is for lack of trying. Promising and, as I recall, moderately priced. Pretty mild, so a good place to start if you want to serve a little amaro after dinner.

                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    I've got:
                    -Fernet Branca
                    -Gran Classico
                    -Amargo Vallet
                    and a couple others I can't recollect off the top of my head.

                    I'm happy to continue to collect, but Nonino and dell'Erborista scared me off a bit with their high price tag. Sounds like you get what you pay for with some of these higher end amari though. I'm pulling the trigger on the dell'Erboista now.

                    With respect to the Braulio, I'm just wondering if it's a little redundant. Some of the amari I have don't necessarily stand out enough to be missed in the collection. I'm always excited to mix with these, but mostly I just have a shot or two straight after a meal. Even then, a few always leave me reaching for a different bottle to satisfy me.For instance, Montenegro won't be making a comeback once the bottle is downed and I'm fairly certain that I'll pass on Lucano in the future, too.

                    1. re: cacio e pepe

                      I'm a big fan of Nonino. It's one of the most complex and nuanced amari I've ever tasted, even though it's fairly light on the palate (viscosity wise) and not tremendously bitter. Really enjoyable.

                      As I mentioned in another thread I personally favor the (cheaper/higher proof/filtered) Sibilia over the dell'Erborista.

                      1. re: davis_sq_pro

                        Just when I think I was out . . . they pull me back in!!!

                        It looks like the shelves are going to get more crowded rather than less crowded in the near future.

                        1. re: cacio e pepe

                          The Nonino is spectacular, especially in a paper plane, equal parts Nonino, bourbon, Aperol, and lemon juice. Shake over ice, strain into a coupe glass and enjoy! One of my favorite cocktails.

              4. I wish you hadn't mentioned that sale. I am tempted to drive down this evening and stock up. I just got two checks in the mail...

                1. Fiola, an excellent Italian restaurant in Washington, DC makes a wonderful cocktail called a Negroni Aranciata that my husband loves. I'd like to surprise him and serve this at an upcoming birthday dinner.

                  After doing some sleuthing on the internet for the recipe, I can across a reliable web site that lists the ingredients for the drink: Citadelle Gin, Amaro Nonino, and Dolin Blanc


                  I'd really appreciate some help from the group to to figure out the quantities of each of these ingredients.

                  Below, I've also included another link. This one has a picture of someone's entire meal at Fiola which happens to include a Negroni Aranciata. I've included the link in case anyone wants to look at the color to help figure out proportions.



                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Indy 67

                    A regular Negroni has equal parts if all the ingredients. I would start there, and taste, if it isn't quite right, you pull back on an ingredient, but it's likely they are equal portions. If not you get to drink the failed experiments!

                    1. re: Indy 67

                      I agree that equal parts are likely, but since they have a whole page of Negroni (Negronis?), that might not be the case. Also, Nonino is expensive; sometimes a recipe might be tweaked to even out the cost of the ingredients (despite the $14 drink price).

                      So just call the restaurant. I've yet to be refused a recipe. I suggest you call when a bartender will be on duty, but not busy.

                      The name is interesting. Aranciata means orangeade or orange drink. San Pellegrino Aranciata is a bitter orange drink. I don't really get orange from the ingredient list. Maybe it refers to the color orange?


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                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                        Regarding the name... Here's a link to yet another web site -- also a DC based site -- about Dolin vermouth. The Blanc version includes orange peel in its ingredient list, but you're right that the recipe doesn't have any clear "orange" identity.

                        The first time my husband and I ordered this drink, we assumed we would taste a noticeable orange flavor. That didn't turn out to be the case, but we loved the drink regardless.


                        Thanks for both the replies.

                    2. I just bought a bottle of Elisir Novasalus and tried making a negroni with it along with equal parts Gin and Campari and found it to be way too bitter. I think I need to mix it with something other than Campari which is also bitter but much sweeter. I usually use a cheap red vermouth. Any suggestions?