The Bitter Truth

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Amari, the plural of amaro, an Italian term for “bitters,” refers to distilled spirits containing an infusion of bittering compounds such as herbs, roots, or barks. Basic elements are the aromatic herbs gentian, rhubarb, quinine, saffron, calamus or sweet rush, and centaury, among others. Bitters were originally produced to soothe and relax the stomach after meals, and therefore are often referred to as “digestives.” They are also used as ingredients in some cocktails.

Aperire, a simple Latin word that means “to open,” is the origin of the word apêritif–a beverage that usually “opens” lunch or dinner as a stimulant to the appetite. Most apêritifs are initially sweet with a somewhat bitter aftertaste because of the use of quinine (or cinchona bark). This slight harshness whets the appetite and cleanses the palate.

Although Italy certainly produces the lion’s share of amari, you’ll also find delectable offerings from Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, and the United States. There is no one correct way to serve amari–they are great served neat, at room temperature, chilled, or on the rocks. Each can be served in a tall drink, with sparkling mineral water and a wedge of lemon, lime, or even orange as a garnish. A maraschino cherry on top provides a finishing touch.


1.jpg(22 proof) was developed in Veneto, Italy, by Silvio Barbieri in 1919. Made from an infusion of more than 30 aromatic herbs, spices, and roots– including bitter orange, gentian, and rhubarb– Aperol has a luminous, distinctive deep orange color and is made from grain-neutral distilled spirits with natural orange flavors.



2.jpg(48 proof) was first developed shortly after 1862 by Gaspare Campari, a master drink maker by the age of 14 and a native of Castelnuovo southwest of Milan, Italy. This ruby-red, bitter beverage is a mixture of more than 68 aromatic extractions from herbs, roots, plants, and fruits. Campari has a bouquet and taste of bitter orange, cherry, ginger, lemon, licorice, orange zest, and strawberry, with a bittersweet aftertaste.



3.jpg(60 proof) is a dark brown, bittersweet mixture of carefully selected herbs and spices that was conceived in 1873 by Italy’s Paolucci family.



4.jpg(34 proof) is a zesty, bittersweet apéritif made from artichoke leaves and herbs, conceived in 1950 by Angelo Dalle Molle. The late A. Charles Castelli, said the organic acid cynarin in Cynar “makes what follows taste softer, taste better.” The brown digestive has a bouquet and taste of almonds, herbs, honey, and walnuts and is bittersweet, with a hint of orange in the aftertaste.



5.jpg(80 proof) is a dark brown, extremely bitter tincture introduced in 1845 by Bernardino Branca in Milan, Italy. Fernet contains more than 40 herbs and spices (among them, cardamom, chamomile, cinchona bark, gentian, myrrh, rhubarb, saffron, and sage) in a base of grape alcohol, and it is aged for one year in oak barrels.



6.jpg(60 proof) was created in 1815 in Ausano Ramazzotti’s small shop in Milan. The naturally bitter apéritif is produced from 33 medical herbs and roots, including gentian, cinchona bark, rhubarb, cinnamon, oregano, sweet orange from Sicily, bitter orange from Curaçao, and other ingredients from around the world.




6.jpg(70 proof) is a dark red, bitter liquor made from 56 botanicals, fruits, and herbs–including aniseed, citrus peel, ginger, ginseng, juniper berries, licorice, poppy seeds, and saffron–that are steeped in alcohol and aged for one year. The name is German for “the hunter,” and the bottle’s label depicts a picture of a noble stag.




7.jpg(46 proof) has a delicate bouquet and flavor of bitter orange, coriander, cucumber, orange peel, pekoe tea, red cherries, and tangerine. Its initially sweet taste quickly turns mildly bitter.



70 proof) is a pale yellow, bitter liqueur made from such selected herbs as absinthe, licorice, and rhubarb for power and the fruits peach and apricots for elegance. A touch of barrelaged nebbiolo grape spirit rounds out the finished product.


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