A concise guide to amari

 Cocktail

When you stumble across a cocktail recipe on the internet that features an unfamiliar ingredient, it can be next to impossible to determine whether or not you will like it. Since it can be cost-prohibitive to purchase an entire bottle of an unusual spirit or aperitif just to try it, many times these recipes get passed over as not worth the risk. 

Most drink recipes assume familiarity with the ingredients so there is no discussion of the flavor profile. It can also be difficult to properly describe the flavors of a spirit. One class of liqueur in particular seems to defy description: amaro. That's why I was happy to discover Saveur Magazine's field guide to Italian amaro

Even Sother Teague, who was just named mixologist of the year at the annual Wine Enthusiast's awards, struggles to adequately explain the characteristics of these diverse ingredients. He begins with the most basic definition: a bittersweet liqueur. Teague elaborates on this simple description to note that "most bitters are a three-pronged construction: alcohol in the base, bittering agent in the middle, flavoring on top." All three of these characteristics can vary in amaro, which started in Italy but have since spread across the globe. 

Some producers start with neutral grain spirits, others choose grappa. The bittering agents can be flowers, bark, or other ingredients. The flavoring ingredients are voluminous, and some amaro contain dozens of different herbs, fruits, spices, and other botanicals, making a simple description exceedingly difficult. 

Despite this challenge, Teague provides concise outlines of the flavor profiles of the most popular amaro listed in drink recipes, beginning with the familiar names of Campari and Aperol, which he categorizes as "easy-going". From there, Teague branches out to items like Montenegro, Nonino, Vecchio Amaro del Capo, and continues to describe an additional eight amaro. This is a handy guide for anyone who wants to experiment with amaro but does not feel confident in choosing one blind (that would be me). Cheers!

Photo of Paper plane cocktail from Bon Appétit Magazine

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