Guide to Amaro: Everything you need to know about this bitter liquor

According to mixology legend, the current fascination with amaro began when bartenders in San Francisco began drinking shots of Fernet Branca, a molasses-hued, minty, bark-flavored witches brew, as a rite of passage. You could argue that the Negroni craze tuned in American tastebuds to this complex, herbal-and indeed, bitter-class of liqueurs (the name "Amari" translates to "bitter" in Italian) . But Italians have sipped and distilled amari as a disgestivo forever—passing down precious family recipes originating from herbal remedies used as far back as Ancient Rome.

Even today, the recipes for commercial amari contain top secret blends of roots, bark, citrus peel, fruit, herbs, flowers, and spices. These aromatics are infused into spirits, typically grape brandy, and sugar is sometimes added during the process. There are dozens of brands made in Italy alone and others from Germany, France, Austria, and the Netherlands. They range from about 16 to 40 percent alcohol. Traditionally, amari is enjoyed neat, after a meal to ease the tummy. But, there's no shame in mixing it with a splash of soda as an aperitivo, or using as a component in a cocktail.

The flavor profiles between brands of amari can also vary; some are sweet and fruity, others are earthy and herbal—and everything in between. Before investing in one brand, try tasting a whole range of amari next time you're you're visiting your favorite bar. e. I finally poured ¾ of a bottle of an engine-oil-black and pungent amaro down the sink that had been recommended by an inexperienced liquor store salesperson as a component for a special cocktail I was making for a party. Needless to say, my mud colored drink wasn't very popular.

I've since done my own research. Here are five varieties to launch you on your own amaro adventure:

aperol.com

Aperol

One of the lightest amari, Aperol tastes of bitter orange and rhubarb. It's the basis for the crowd pleasing and dead easy Aperol spritz.

Aperol Spritz

Two parts Aperol

Three parts Prosecco

One part soda

Build ingredients over ice in an old fashioned glass or goblet to achieve a pretty layered effect. Garnish with a slice of orange.

thespruce.com

Campari

You can't talk amaro without mentioning Campari. It was the first to catch on as an aperitivo served before the main meal. Try a classic Campari and soda, or of course, the Negroni.

Negroni

One part gin

One part sweet vermouth

One part Campari

Stir in a mixing glass with ice until very cold. Strain into a chilled glass up or on the rocks. Garnish with an orange twist (a strip of peel squeezed over the cocktail to release the aromatic oils).

GQ.com

Nonino Amaro

Another easy-sipping version that's aged in oak barrels to further soften the taste. It's a good starter amaro that's fantastic neat and also in mixed drinks, including one of my favorite cooler-weather cocktails:

The Paper Plane

One part Nonino Amaro

One part bourbon

One part Aperol

One part strained lemon juice

Shake well in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Serve in a coupe glass, up.

chowhound.com

Cynar

Yes, it's made from artichokes, but don't be scared. Think of it as your gateway into the darker side. Cynar is a mid-range amaro, in terms of bitterness, with less sugar and more woodsy notes. You can swap it for Campari in your next Negroni or try this easy cocktail.

La Alcachofa

One part Cynar

Two parts reposado (aged) tequila

Stir in a mixing glass with ice until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (a strip of peel squeezed over the cocktail to release the aromatic oils).

averna.com

Averna

Thick and caramel colored, this amaro from Sicily and has been made from the same recipe for nearly 200 years. It has notes of pomegranate, rosemary, citrus peel and juniper berry.

Black Manhattan

Two parts Rye

One part Averna

A couple of dashes of Angostura bitters per cocktail or one dash Angostura and one dash orange bitters

Stir in a mixing glass with ice until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

The bitterness of amaro can be an acquired taste, but sipping with soda is a sensible way to try it—or just go bold like the bartenders, and grab a bottle of Fernet. By the time you get to the bitterest dregs, your palate will be fearless!