Argonaut Wine & Liquor

Argonaut Spirits School: Amo l'Amaro!

Hello again, booze travelers! Summertime is nearly upon us. We at Argonaut have started stocking our bars for cocktail parties and backyard barbecues. We've got our whiskey, the rosé and pinot are chilling, and the cooler's full of pale ales and pilsners. We need something to impress the guests, though; something that goes well with barbecue, that helps beat the heat, and mixes well into evening cocktails.

Italy has the answer! They've been drinking this stuff called amaro for centuries. Amari (the plural of amaro) are traditional bittersweet liqueurs made by macerating (basically, a fancy word for steeping) all sorts of roots, vegetables, botanicals, and fruits in either wine or spirits and sweetening the result. What you end up with is a complex, refreshing liqueur that brings old-world tradition to new-world palates. Amaro is traditionally drank straight as a digestive after a rich meal, but nowadays, more and more bartenders are reaching for them to add a beguiling element to craft cocktails.

Don't let their dark appearance and often confusing foreign labels dissuade you from trying them, though! Every amaro is different, ranging from delicate and citrusy to powerfully bold and bitter. With a little bit of insight into their world, everyone can find an amaro suited to them. Soon, you'll find yourself reaching for your favorite bottle of this Italian tradition at your next cocktail party, after a big meal, or when another glass of whiskey just isn't cutting it.

We've selected a few of our favorite amari, including a couple of locally-made gems that prove that Colorado can do it just as well as Italy. They're arranged from gentle to bold to help you find the amaro that's right for you. As always, you're welcome to stop by the store and ask one of our spirits experts for more insight into our selection. Let's dive in!

For the First-Timers: Cardamaro and Amaro Nonino

Cardamaro is a Moscato-based amaro from Milan, giving it a lighter, sweeter profile to begin with. An unusual infusion of cardoon and blessed thistle gives it an earthy, floral flavor and six months of aging in oak leaves it smooth and slightly oxidized, reminiscent of sherry. An awesome amaro for someone looking to try it for the first time; it appeals to sherry drinkers and Highland scotch aficionados alike.

Amaro Nonino comes from a family of traditional grappa distillers in Friuli. They use this traditional grape brandy as the base of their amaro, along with a complex bill of flavorings including licorice root, tamarind pods, and saffron. On top of that, it's rested in a barrel for 5 years! The result is exceptionally soft, complex, and worthy of a spot on any great bar shelf. (Author's note: this is hands down my favorite amaro, and it can be pretty tough to find. Get it while you can, it's amazing!)

Passione i Palisade: Averna Amaro and Peach St. Amaro

Averna Amaro is as classic as Amaro can get. Made in Sicily, Averna offers a traditional roster of flavorings that perfectly balance fruit (lemon, pomegranate) with botanicals (anise, juniper). This is the go-to bottle for bartenders; substituting Averna for vermouth in a Manhattan makes a Black Manhattan, a broad-shouldered, complex, and delicious alternative to the standard drink. If you like a good Manhattan, it's something you need to try!

Peach Street Distillers Amaro is a perfect example of what Colorado distillers can do. Just as good as any Italian amaro, this bottle instead shows off local botanicals from around the Rockies balanced with more exotic fare. Vanilla bean, rose petal, and candied orange make their appearance, backed up by a hearty 90 proof spirit that won't get lost in a cocktail. The flavors are subtle and approachable, but the proof shows that this isn't an amaro to take lightly!

Old School Cool: Caffo Vecchio Amaro del Capo and Meletti Amaro

Caffo Vecchio Amaro del Capo is as much a mouthful to say as it is to drink! Literally "Caffo's Old Amaro from the Cape," Caffo shows off Calabria's love of strong flavors with mint, anise, and licorice making for a bracing spirit. "Serve chilled" is right on the label for a reason: cold temperatures help restrain the bite of this traditional digestive. Though the label shows beachfront sand and cacti, this amaro also works well as an apres-ski...or super well with smoky barbecue. Trust us on this; sweet and smoky works so well with bittersweet mint that it's a shame barbecue aficionados stubbornly stick to whiskey and beer. Spice it up a bit!

Meletti Amaro dials it back a bit, offering more of a traditional profile. Made by a family of distillers stretching back centuries, this amaro from Ascoli-Piceno returns to traditional botanicals of anise, saffron, and orange for a profile reminiscent of chocolate oranges with a bit of florality. It may strike as medicinal, but not overwhelmingly so, more suggestive of roots and berries than anything harsh. For the price, it's a good place to start, especially if you want to experiment with amaro in cocktails. Mix it with lemon juice, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters to make a simple, cool, and refreshing amaro sour!

Fear No Fernet: Fernet Branca and Fernet Leopold

Fernet Branca has made a resurgence lately as the preferred post-shift drink of many a bartender. Fernet is its own subset of amaro, based off of medicinal spirits but tweaked for more modern, casual drinking. Its strong, medicinal profile is an instant pick-me-up, the type that leads you to forge new friendships with those who took the shot with you. Branca is the absolute classic, with gentian root, cinchona bark, and rhubarb (along with many others) providing a potent mix of flavors that will make you want to pound your chest, howl at the moon, and keep the party going. Or, you know, help settle your stomach after a good penne a la pesto.

Fernet Leopold is renowned local distillery Leopold Brothers' take on Fernet, something pretty much no other American distilleries are doing. They keep the strength but do away with the medicinal notes, instead using locally-harvested botanicals such as honeysuckle, elderflower, and chamomile to provide a distinctly floral palate. A dose of local mint (grown right at the distillery!) gives a bracing but sweet finish that perfectly complements the botanicals. This isn't something to be missed, and at a price like Argonaut's, there's no excuse to not pick up a bottle and try it for yourself.

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This bulletin was authored by, edited by, and resulted in the demise of the thesaurus of Kris Garrand: assistant liquor buyer, home bartending advocate, and guy who thinks more about obscure Italian spirits than any mortal should.

You can reach him at 303-831-7788 ex. 222 or by e-mail at kris@argonautliquor.com with any questions or comments, or to place an order or product request.

"Bevici su – Il bar non porta i ricordi. Sono i ricordi che portano al bar."


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