These beginner liqueurs can expand your bar in all kinds of new directions. 

By Chris Malloy
July 06, 2020
Advertisement

One of the best ways to diversify your drinking is with Italian amari (singular: amaro). This category of drink, a liqueur usually enjoyed before or after meals, has a whole lot of range. An amaro is a neutral base infused with spices, peels, barks, fruits, vegetables, and other flavorings, yielding an intense drink of deep complexity. They can have a dozen flavorings or a few dozen, and what they contain varies by region, by the preferences of the maker. Some are many decades old and deeply embedded in drinking culture, like Campari and Aperol.

The big names and the micro, village-specific amari tend to share some qualities. They are generally bitter, often sweet, and veer into worlds of nuances. Italy knows hundreds, if not thousands, of amari. Here are five, each great for mixing or sipping neat.

Aperol.

If you have interest in cocktails, you’ve probably heard of Aperol. It’s the business ingredient in an Aperol spritz, a cocktail featuring the amaro, Prosecco, and a splash of soda. Aperol has, for an amaro, a minimum of bitterness. Charged with ingredients like gentian and rhubarb, the liqueur’s dominant note might be orange. It is fruity and sweet for an amaro, with a sunset orange-red color that matches its flavor.

One Great Use: Aperol Spritz.

Campari.

Though similar in color to Aperol (but with a more red hue), Campari, the other most popular amaro, is a completely different liqueur. A sharply bitter sensation lasts from beginning to end, with some other notes unspooling as well, like grapefruit. Campari has a magic. As a cocktail ingredient, it has a ton of range. It shows up, most famously, in the negroni. But it has far more range, even appearing in tiki cocktails like the Junglebird. This versatile amaro is a must.

One Great Use: Negroni.

Amaro Montenergo.

Not quite as widespread as the first two amari on this list, Amaro Montenegro is nonetheless one that you see on Italian restaurant and cocktail menus time and again. With this amaro, we enter a world of deeper sophistication. The rust-orange liqueur has a universe of tiny nuances. Leading them on is lush orange flavor, like the best and freshest oranges you’ve ever tasted, lengthened with many intermingling small notes like coriander and earthy sweetness. This one is minimally bitter, nicely sweet, making it a crowd-pleaser.

One Great Use: sipped neat.

Cynar.

And now we delve a little deeper into the curious world of amari, into stranger zones of flavor, and into vegetables. Cynar is famously known as the artichoke amaro. Yes, it contains artichoke, but it also contains many other ingredients, and you wouldn’t know there was artichoke in here unless you knew before you sipped. Cynar has an herbaceousness. It has both sweet and bitter, neither in unshy amounts. This cola-brown amaro features a spiffy red label with an artichoke bulb, a good bottle to look at on the bar.

One Great Use: as a substitute for Aperol in an Aperol spritz, or for Campari in a negroni.

Strega.

Strega has its fans, but also its share of enemies. This is a fierce amaro, one that, with a name that translates to “witch,” was named well. Its flavor is all over the map. Some 70 ingredients give Strega its flavor, including cinnamon and juniper, and the spicing is intense. At 40 proof, Strega is more than twice as strong as other amari on this list. It has a deep yellow color from saffron. Strega is an amaro with no training wheels, a bottle you graduate to in time.

One Great Use: on the rocks, for an unvarnished, next-level amaro experience.