An amaro refers to any liqueur that has a strong bitter component. Amari differ from cocktail bitters in that they are potable — intended to be consumed in a significant quantity, rather than just a dash or two. Most amari are Italian, and can generally be broken down into two main categories:

Aperitif

Digestive

These categories are somewhat fluid, but generally speaking, the darker the amari, the more it's meant as a digestif.

Most amari are blends of herbs and spices in a spirit base. This differentiates them from vermouth, which are wine based. Usually, the herb and spice blends are kept secret, and have anywhere between half a dozen to a hundred different botanicals. Typical bittering agents include wormwood (the basis for absinthe), gentian root, cinchona bark (the source of quinine), angostura bark, and quassia. Flavoring agents can include artichoke, bitter citrus, rhubarb, saffron, mace, kola nut, cubeb, mint, menthol and licorice.

Aperitif amari make fantastic summertime cocktails, and can be drunk over ice with a splash of soda. A spritz can be made with the addition of white wine. Digestifs are usually drunk very cold and without the addition of other mixers.

Amari labeled Fernet are typically strongly bitter — even more so than other amari. Many companies make a Fernet, including Branca, Stock, and Luxardo.

Some popular cocktails containing Amaro

  • Hurray Cocktail — Rum, Sweet vermouth, Curaçao, Amaro, Bitters
  • Amaro Andrea — Sweet vermouth, Amaro, Fernet Branca, Peychaud's Bitters, Bitters, Mint, Orange, Lemon peel
  • Smoke Signals — Amaro, Mezcal, Scotch, Añejo tequila, Lemon peel
  • Elevato Negroni — Gin, Sweet vermouth, Campari, Amaro, Zucca, Orange peel
  • Amaroland — Sweet vermouth, Amaro Lucano, Amaro, Fernet Branca, Orange bitters
  • The Sicilian Conquistador — Rum, Cynar 70, Amaro, Falernum
  • Melody — Sweet vermouth, Amaro, Jägermeister, Peychaud's Bitters, Pussanga
  • Caustic Negroni — Scotch, Sweet vermouth, Amaro, Averna, Vanilla syrup, Grapefruit peel
  • Runaway Horses — Apple brandy, Cardamaro, Amaro, Grapefruit peel
  • The Peace Cocktail — Rhum Agricole, Amaro, Bonal Gentiane Quina
(L-R) Torani Amer, Ramazzotti, Aperol, Campari, Fernet Branca, Branca Menta, Gran Classico, Amer Picon, and Del Capo
©2011 Z. Pearson