Initially, only those bitter liqueurs that are produced exclusively in Italy are called such. However, unlike their close relatives, more sugar is added to these liqueurs to give them a more balanced profile. This makes them much smoother herbal liqueurs than traditional bitters.
Literally translated, the Italian word amaro means something like "bitter," indicating the flavor profile of the spirit genre. In this respect, one could guess at a close relationship to the German Kräuterlikör, also called Kräuterbitter. However, the southern European spirits differ greatly from the German variety. This difference begins with the selection of the respective herbs, or "drugs" as the distiller would say. Namely, only herbs of the respective region and homeland are used for the spirits, which is why primarily Mediterranean ingredients are found in the Amari. For the typical German herbal bitters and herbal liqueurs, however, only tart herbs from the forests, valleys and mountains of Germany come into question.
To be able to classify the bitters a little better, they are distinguished and categorized primarily according to their respective use. Thus it depends on whether it is drunk as an aperitif before the meal or as a digestif after the meal. For connoisseurs and aficionados, a good Amaro simply belongs to the conclusion of a tasty meal and is therefore primarily served as a digestif.
The roots of today's Amari go back very far and the spirits were first used for medicinal purposes, similar to the classic bitters, especially in the 17th century. Apothecaries and other healers created various formulas that were used as tonics against stomach upsets or other digestive ailments. There was not much difference from the classic bitter liqueurs, except that the addition of sugar in this case was to improve the taste and make the medicine more pleasant to sick people or even children.
A recipe by Hildegard von Bingen, from the 12th century, was considered the template for the herbal liqueurs of the time. This forerunner recommended the Heilkundige already at that time for most diverse cures and welfare methods, naturally with appropriate treatment success. In this recipe Hildegard von Bingen is said to have been inspired in turn by the Roman "vino hippocraticum", which was already used in the 1st century as a digestive remedy. The recipe is said to be based on wine, honey, cloves and other beneficial herbs and spices. In this case, the drink was used mainly after all-nighters as a pick-me-up and against nausea. Because the Italians were already at that time of the conviction that a good digestion was the basis for a general well-being. Of course, this also has a positive effect on the psyche and all kinds of illness-related complaints. Freely according to the motto: Digestion good, everything good!
With the time the Italians came then naturally on the idea to drink the Amari no longer only for medical purposes, but also for the pure benefit. Of course, always with the ulterior motive of preventing digestive problems or nausea! Even today, the digestive effect of herbal liqueurs is not denied, with amari being considered a sweet alternative to the classic bitter.
The regular production and trade of amari began in the 19th century, primarily based on the recipes of the old monasteries and pharmacies. Some of these date back to the 17th century and were thus saved from oblivion. With a targeted marketing strategy, the Italian manufacturers were able to quickly secure a great success, which means that you can now even buy Amaro worldwide.
Amari enjoyed its first great success and increasing popularity at the beginning of the 20th century, with the dawn of the age of cocktails. For here the tasty herbal liqueurs form an excellent basis and are still the basis of numerous recipes today. At first, cocktails developed into a supplement or alternative to coffee and tea, which were often drunk in company. Later, the cocktails and thus also the Amari found their way into the modern bars and mix up the party scene until today. But also in the private sector as well as in the gastronomy they are a real enrichment served as an aperitif or digestif.
In the 70s to 80s, however, Amari unfortunately lost some of its importance and was pushed into the background by other spirits. However, at the latest with the increasing health consciousness in the 21st century, the manufacturers were again able to achieve success. Today, there is almost no household in Italy that does not have a bottle of Amaro hidden in it.
To date, around 300 different Amari have been created, although the spirits market is naturally dominated by a few well-known varieties. These could also establish themselves internationally. The various manufacturers are either large private companies, although there are also products that are still made in the remote monasteries of Italy. This is exactly where you can buy the particular Amaro, if it is not distributed elsewhere, for example in an Amaro store. An example here is the Amaro-D'Abate, which is produced in the monastery Monte Senario. However, these are rather a minority and are also produced only in small quantities. The reason for this is the elaborate production, which is mostly still done by hand. Internationally known brands, on the other hand, are produced on a large scale and industrially in huge plants.
Production and Botanicals
To make Amari, the various Italian herbs, spices, roots and peels are first steeped in alcohol. This process, also called maceration, requires a certain amount of time, during which the alcohol absorbs the different aromas. This process is also known from the production of gin. The alcohol used is usually distilled from grain, but wine can also be used (vermouth). Sugar syrup is then added and the spirit is aged in bottles or oak barrels.
Each producer or spirit brand has its own recipe, which differs in the combination of ingredients used. However, particularly popular and frequent ingredients (botanicals) in Italian amari are, for example, thyme, lemon balm, juniper berries, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger bulbs, orange peel, lemon peel and fennel seeds. But also artichokes, violet roots, chamomile, lime blossoms, mint, anise, gentian, elderberry, rhubarb or pomegranate can be found in the aromatic variety. The following is an overview of the most important botanicals and their benefits.
Fennel has been known for thousands of years for its digestive properties and is therefore even considered one of the classic medicinal plants. Fennel seeds are particularly aromatic and somewhat reminiscent of anise in taste, only far milder. They give the amari a refreshing taste.
Chamomile is also a very well-known medicinal herb. It is preferably brewed with hot water and thus used as a tea beverage for stomach complaints. Chamomile has a mild, yet slightly bitter taste, which makes it perfect for aromatic enhancement of amari.
Similar to fennel, anise has a particularly aromatic taste that is slightly sweet, but at the same time pungent. Therefore, the spice is also said to have a digestive effect. In the classic bitter, but also amari, this ingredient is particularly popular and gives a sharper flavor.
Thyme is an enormously aromatic spice, with numerous essential oils that are said to have a positive effect on digestion. The refreshing taste is complemented by a slightly bitter note and accompanied by a spicy fragrance. Thyme is therefore a very popular ingredient in herbal liqueurs.
Lemon balm is an excellent kitchen herb and convinces with a refreshing, slightly tart taste accompanied by lemony notes. It is also known in use as a medicinal herb and is said to eliminate stomach cramps, for example. In terms of taste, it enriches numerous amari with its lemony freshness.
Whoever hears of mint immediately thinks of the refreshing, slightly pungent or burning taste. This is due to the essential oil menthol, which triggers a sensation of cold on contact with the skin. This is why mint was once considered an analgesic and soothing remedy. Today, mint is often drunk as a tea, but it is also a popular ingredient in amari.
The aromatic spice cinnamon is also known to most people and is an indispensable ingredient in numerous recipes. A distinction is made between the genuine Ceylon cinnamon with its pleasantly sweet aroma and the Cassia cinnamon, which is more intense in flavor accompanied by a slightly bitter and peppery note. Both are used in numerous Amaro recipes and refine the taste.
This spice has numerous essential oils that excellently combine pungency and sweetness. The pungency is similar to that of eucalyptus and is particularly refreshing. The aroma of amari is often enhanced with cardamom.
Ginger also has a pungent aroma, which is accompanied by a slightly bitter note. Ginger is very well known in medical science and is said to fight nausea excellently. This is exactly why the aromatic tuber was used in ancient amari recipes.
Orange and lemon peel
The addition of orange and lemon peels in amari formulations is said to add fresh notes to the bitter aroma. This makes the taste a bit more pleasant and the spirit is not too dry on the tongue.
Juniper berries have a full-bodied aroma that is complemented by resinous, sweet and peppery notes. In this respect, they are comparable in taste to pink peppercorns. The woody, refreshing scent is said to further enhance the aroma of amari.
Gentian root reminds with its smell of dried figs and also convinces with a decreasing sweetness. However, this is accompanied by intensely bitter notes, which together blend perfectly with the bitter taste of the Amari.
Elderberries are known to be a particularly intense taste sensation and have a bitter-tart aroma. When this is combined with a slight sweetness, the result is a very special, refreshing taste. This is why elderberries are often used in beverage syrups. But elderberry is also popular in the recipes of various amari.
The taste of artichokes is difficult to classify. Depending on which variety is eaten and how the vegetable is prepared, the taste turns out sweet, nutty or bitter. All three flavors are popular in amari recipes and make for a particularly aromatic combination.
Violet root is known for its floral aroma and is a welcome ingredient in a wide variety of spirits. This is also true for the well-known herbal liqueurs. Here it rounds out the flavor with additional earthy notes.
Amari can also be flavored with the aromatic linden blossom. If the lime blossoms in summer, its inflorescences can be processed further in autumn and winter. In doing so, they convince with a refreshing-aromatic taste, which is accompanied by a slight sweetness.
The variety of flavors of rhubarb ranges from sour to mild to tart. In addition, there are refreshing, but also bitter notes, the latter due to the oxalic acid contained. The aroma combines particularly well with lemon or orange.
Pomegranate is a popular fruit variety with a tart aroma and a fruity sweetness. This combination combines well with other flavors and makes spirits more fruity.
Differentiation of amari by styles
Based on the different ingredients, amari are distinguished by their respective styles, with three very well-known varieties: Fernet, Medium and Vermouth. In addition, there are also Alpine, Carciofo, Tartufo, Cina, Rabarbaro and Miscellaneous. All styles differ in their characteristics and in their special taste features based on the use of certain botanicals.
Fernet-Amaro are the most bitter of the three varieties in terms of taste and are popularly known as bitters. Well-known brands here are Luxardo Fernet, Fernet Stock and Fernet Branca.
So-called medium amaro has a lower alcohol content, which is on average 30%. In terms of taste, these varieties have a balance between the bitterness and sweetness. Well-known brands here are Ramazzotti, Lucano, Averna or Montenegro.
Varieties classified as Vermouth-Amaro are becoming increasingly popular, because for their production, instead of alcohol distilled from grain, high-proof wine is used. This aspect, of course, influences the taste of Vermouth, which in this case is characterized by lemony aromas and is generally somewhat sweeter. But the distinctive notes of wormwood herb can also be tasted out. Unlike the other two styles, however, Vermouth also has a lower alcohol content, averaging 15 to 20%.
These particular amari are flavored with Italian Alpine herbs and have an alcohol content of 17%. Well-known brands are Braulino and Zara.
This particular style features artichoke on the ingredient list. It is perfect as an aperitif. Cynar is particularly well known here.
If you are looking for amari with black truffle, you will find it in the Tartufo category. They are produced in the truffle-rich region of Umbria because of the special ingredient. The alcohol content is 30%.
These exceptional amari are made with the use of cinchona bark. This plant originates from South and Central America, but now thrives in typical mountain regions worldwide. This is also the case in the Italian Alpine region.
As the name suggests, rhubarb is used in the recipe for this style. This gives a particularly aromatic, but also mild flavor.
These particular varieties are very varied in taste, since honey, unripe green walnuts or fennel are used in their preparation.
The Italians are generally particularly good at producing high-quality and finely flavored bitter or herbal liqueurs. Whether an "Amaro di Angostura", a "Lucano" or a "Mandragola". The selection is very large and in our Amaro Shop you can buy numerous varieties of Amaro.
Taste profile and character
Since Amari is usually made with a whole range of different herbs or other herbal ingredients and then macerated in neutral alcohol or even wine, the result is quite different flavor profiles. The only thing that remains the same is the addition of sugar, which makes the spirit a tasty liqueur. The alcohol content is on average between 16 and 45%. Characteristic for an Amaro is the dark color and, of course, the sweet-bitter aroma.
The specific flavor profiles vary, of course, from product to product. In summary, however, these liqueurs always have a full body and a long-lasting finish. Notes of spices and herbs are particularly prominent here.
How is an Amaro drunk?
Of course, these excellent liqueurs are quite suitable for drinking neat. For this purpose, they are served in tall shot glasses and ice or a little lemon juice is added. On cool days, however, Amari can also be warmed and served with orange peel, for example. But we also recommend you try these wonderful drops in a classic cocktail, like the "Old Fashioned". You will be amazed at how well these smooth liqueurs work as an alternative to the otherwise very strong and intense cocktail bitters. There are no limits to your imagination.
The most famous Italian Amaro producers
In Italy, the sweet and bitter herbal liqueurs are so popular that there are quite a number of manufacturers and brands that produce and distribute the delicious spirit. Quite a few of them are even known worldwide and are popular far beyond the Italian borders. First and foremost, of course, is Ramazzotti, as well as Averna or Fernet Branca. These brands are part of the inventory of bars all over the world, where they are served either neat or as the basis of excellent cocktails. Below is an overview of the most famous Italian brands and producers:
Punt e Mes
In our Amaro Shop you are guaranteed to find a suitable, tasty liqueur as a base for classic cocktails. If you are more in the mood for pure enjoyment of an Amari, you will also quickly find what you are looking for. If you have any questions, we will of course be happy to advise you at any time.