Liqueurs are a familiar category of spirits. In the United States, they are defined by meeting a minimum sugar content. The category encompasses everything from the ubiquitous orange curaçao and triple sec-style orange liqueurs, raspberry and other fruit liqueurs, nut liqueurs like amaretto and Frangelico, coffee liqueurs, and more esoteric styles, like violette liqueur. The category has to be quite broad to contain all these styles, so it’s developed many sub-styles over the centuries. One of those sub-styles is so distinct from the usual sweetness of a liqueur that it has another name altogether.
What is Amaro?
With the release of our newest limited edition spirit, Bokamaro, we’ve fielded this question a number of times! Amaro means “bitter“ in Italian, and the plural form is Amari. Amari are bittersweet liqueurs, usually known for their herbal & citrus notes; the style of spirit originated in Italy.
Bitter liqueurs are also produced elsewhere in the world, such as Kraüterlikör in Germany, and similar spirits found in Hungary, France, and elsewhere around the globe.
The bitterness of an amaro can come from almost any bitter source! A variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs have all been used to give different amari their bitter notes. These range from bitter herbs like gentian root, wormwood, or cinchona bark, to other bitter plants, leaves & fruit, such as cape aloe and Turkish rhubarb root.
Bokamaro is our first amaro, and in the tradition of all our limited release spirits, it’s an unusual one! Most amari achieve their bitterness with fruit or herbs, but Bokamaro gets its bitterness from more than a few atypical sources. The main bittering agent is the same cape aloe mentioned before (also known as bitter aloe) and even-more unusual elements like quassia wood (also known as bitter wood) and the fascinating bitter melon.
Variations in the Category
Amari are classified as a branch of liqueurs, so they contain a significant amount of sugar; however, they’re most known for their bitter character. Every amaro has at least one bittering agent and one sweetener. The degree of bitterness can vary a lot! Sometimes amari that are on opposite ends of the bitterness spectrum can share similar notes in their flavor.
Amari are often sipped after dinner as a digestif, as an aid to digestion after a rich meal. They may be enjoyed neat, or on the rocks, or in a mixed drink – there are many possibilities.
In addition, Amari cocktails are a wide-ranging category, and count a number of classics among their ranks! These include:
Negroni (& White Negroni): the original is just gin, vermouth & Campari – our White Negroni uses Gin No. 11, Bokamaro & dry vermouth
Black Manhattan: this cocktail substitutes in amaro for the traditional sweet vermouth
Modern Originals: as the category of amaro has grown, the number of fantastic amaro cocktails has increased apace!
The way you choose to enjoy your amari is just that — up to you! We’re more than happy to provide inspiration though; if you want any ideas, head to our cocktail archive.