It’s Time to Amor Amari and Other Bitter Spirits

Nov. 6, 2018


It’s OK to be bitter.

No really, it is.

While taste buds may have evolved to associate bitter flavors with things that are hazardous to our heath, in the beverage industry, bitter can actually be delicious.

Over the past few years, once obscure and overlooked spirits like amari and other bitter liqueurs have moved from the back bar and onto the cocktail menu, as a new wave of bartenders recognize the balance and complexity these spirits add to drinks. Some on premise establishments are even creating full menus of after dinner digestifs, leveraging these spirits’ medicinal origin.

National publications have already caught wind of this trend as well, including Eater, Forbes, Food and Wine, and Wine Enthusiast.

So, what exactly are these misunderstood spirits? And how did something so bitter become such a sweet addition to American beverage programs?

Amaro 101

The word “amaro” means “bitter” in Italian. Today, amari are a broad and loosely defined category of bittersweet Italian-born herbal liqueurs that are flavored with herbs and botanicals through maceration. Any number of spirit bases can be used to create an amaro. Today, there are even a few that are made from wine that that has been fortified with neutral spirit to help isolate the botanical flavors of the maceration.

Amari are unique in that, like wine, they have a true sense of terroir and encapsulate the flavors of where they’re made. The wide range of indigenous botanicals, herbs, spices and other ingredients that are used to flavor these amari, however, are closely guarded secrets known only to the producers and few others. These ingredients can often be quite lengthy and read like a potion straight out of Diagon Alley: gentian root, lemon verbena, juniper, anise, fennel, ginger, mint, thyme, wormwood, saffron, elderflowers, bay laurel and on, and on.

Some of these ingredients are added for flavor. Others, such as ginger and mint, were originally included because of their perceived medicinal qualities, mainly the ability to calm a rowdy stomach after a decadent meal. This is why so many Amari are served after dinner as digestifs, where they can work their wonders on stuffed stomachs.

How To Serve Them

Traditionally, amari are served one of two ways, either before a meal as an aperitif to “stimulate the appetite” or as we previously mentioned, sipped after dinner as a digestif aimed at aiding digestion and prolonging the meal.

In the U.S., where cocktail culture is in full swing, creative mixologists are using these amari to add balance and nuance to what could otherwise be a drink that is just too sweet. Bittersweet cocktails like the Toronto, Black Betty, Black Manhattan and the Roman Holiday are all appearing on drink menus in one riff or another. Many bartenders are simply swapping out sweet vermouth for an amaro to make a drink that was once warm and inviting, now dark, brooding and mysterious.

Perhaps the biggest signs that bitter is back in the U.S. is the fact that there is now an entire week dedicated to celebrating the OG bittersweet cocktail, the Negroni. That’s right. Negroni Week is officially a thing.

There are other ways to incorporate amari as well, including in hot beverages like coffee and hot chocolate or even mixed with beer to create a savory shandy.

Recently, many bars have been adding amari flights to either their drinks or dessert menu. By offering you customers a flight of Amari – three one-ounce pours served neat and served side-by-side – you give them the chance to interact with their drinks and really experience the spectrum of flavors that amari have to offer.

No matter how it is served, amari are quickly becoming an essential ingredient to any bar, as well as a retail staple. Don’t be bitter and let this growing trend pass you by. Contact your Breakthru Sales Consultant today to explore our full amari portfolio.

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