When people think about Amaro, they usually think of Italy. And for a good reason.

The name “amaro” literally means “bitter” in Italian, which is the defining flavor note of this bracing digestif. Many of these palate-challenging bitter liqueurs are Italian-born, also Amaro’s ancestral home. Some of the best-known Amari are ubiquitous brands like Campari, Nonino Quintessentia, and Aperol, but the category stretches beyond these common cocktail components.

Once upon a time, Amaro was touted as having medicinal qualities, and devotees still swear by its ability to aid digestion after a meal or stimulate your appetite before one. In its simplest form, Amaro is a recipe of herbs, roots, and other botanicals infused into a base spirit to hit a flavor profile and bottled at a relatively low ABV, usually around 30 percent. These recipes are often kept secret, many of which date back hundreds of years.

While Amaro gains popularity among spirits influencers as a shot, neat sipper, or a balancing foil to sweetness in cocktails, collections of these polarizing liqueurs are popping up in unlikely bars. Case-in-point is Sputyen Duyvil, a well-regarded beer hall in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood whose owner added an impressive lineup of Amari to his back bar and made it his business to introduce his curious customers to the drink.

“Amari is deceptively drinkable and incredibly unique,” explains Sputyen Duyvil owner Joe Carroll. “It’s probably the ancient medicinal/digestive herbal concoction part that drew me in years ago.”

Carroll concedes most of his patrons are unfamiliar with Amaro. But he is on a mission to educate customers by preaching the joys of bitters. Here he recommends five must-try Amari in different styles, including well-known Italian classics and a new-school, Brooklyn-born sipper.

Photo courtesy of St. Agrestis

St. Agrestis Amaro

60 Proof (30% ABV), $42

“This is a killer new amaro made in Brooklyn by two sommeliers,” said Carroll. “It’s super complex and aged in whiskey barrels, but not dense or syrupy.” This domestic Amaro was created in 2014 and uses a blend of 20 different botanicals that are individually macerated in cane distillate. Sixteen weeks of bourbon barrel aging pull the flavors together, picking up vanilla and caramel notes. This is definitely at its best sipped neat.

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Lazzaroni Ferro China

42 Proof (21% ABV), $30

Carroll is a fan of this lesser-known Amaro. “It is by far the most unique,” he said. “Ferro China is a category of Amaro that is made from ferric citrate (Ferro), essentially iron, and cinchona bark (china), which is what quinine is made from. [It has] wild flavors that include, but aren’t limited to, the taste of pennies.” While that flavor note might sound odd, hints of coffee, chestnut, and vanilla flavors come together to round out the palate.

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Photo courtesy of Lazzaroni Ferro China

Photo courtesy of Amaro Montenegro

Amaro Montenegro

46 Proof (23% ABV); $33

Montenegro is another popular and relatively easy-drinking Italian amaro that works well in drinks like a Black Manhattan or a simple Monte and Mezcal. The distillery is located in Bologna, with a secret blend of 40 botanicals used to create this immediately recognizable liqueur. The brand describes Montenegro as having seven key flavor notes, from fresh and balsamic to spicy and floral. The last note is called Premio, a micro-distillation of five botanicals added to the mix in a minimal amount. To make your own Back Manhattan, check out the recipe below, created by Amaro Montenegro.

What You’ll Need
1½ oz Amaro Montenegro
1½ oz Rye or Bourbon Whiskey
3 drops of Angostura Bitters
Maraschino cherry for garnish

How To Make It
Combine ingredients into a mixing glass, fill with ice and stir until very cold, about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

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Rucolino Amaro alla Rucola

60 Proof (30%), $45

“Rucolino, from Italy’s volcanic island of Ischia, is made with arugula,” explained Carroll. “Though I truly dislike arugula in my salads or sandwiches, I absolutely love the flavors it adds to this amaro.” Citrus, herbs, and roots are the other ingredients used to flavor this Amaro, which is macerated in its base spirit for 40 days to infuse it with flavor. After adding sugar the Amaro is aged for another 40 days in stainless steel tanks. The result is cedar, sweet, and bitter flavors backed with an earthy spiciness from the arugula.

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Photo courtesy of Rucolino Amaro alla Rucola

Photo courtesy of Fernet -Branca


78 Proof (39%), $34

Fernet is a divisive Italian barrel-aged Amaro known for its bracing palate with notes of menthol and spice. The flavor profile is simply too assertive for many, but devotees love it. It’s also a favorite of bar industry folks and is sometimes known as a “bartender’s handshake” when ordered as a shot. The recipe is well-guarded, but some of the botanicals used in this Amaro are aloe from South Africa, Italian chamomile, and galangal root from India.

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Jonah Flicker is a freelance writer who covers spirits, lifestyle, and travel, with a particular focus on all things whiskey. His work has appeared in outlets including Robb Report, Esquire, USA Today, Maxim, Liquor.com, and many others. Over the years, he has traveled the world visiting distilleries from Kentucky to Scotland to uncover the stories behind the spirits.