Amari Throwdown

Dave posted a while back about Amaro Montenegro, which is quite good. We’ve also posted about several other Amari (plural for Amaro) used in mixed drinks. I thought it would be a good idea to taste test a selection of Amari back-to-back to answer the age old questions of which one is best and whether or not I actually need 3, 5 or even 8 different bottles of Amari in my bar. OK, the question is hardly age-old – I just thought of it yesterday – I think it remains a question that’s dying to be answered, though.

Amari (Italian for “bitter”) are herbal liquors that are traditionally used as digestifs (French) or digestivi (Italian) – served after a meal to aid in digestion. They’ve become more popular recently as a mixer in cocktails. For the most part, their initial taste is sweet with a bitter aftertaste that lasts on the tongue. Bitter is the key here though, you won’t be using these to sweeten your drinks. 

For this taste test, I used: 

  • Luxardo Amaro Abano
  • Averna
  • Amaro Ramazzotti
  • Fernet-Branca
  • Cynar
  • Becherovka
  • Aperol
  • Campari (not officially an Amaro, but it’s very bitter and fits the category, IMO)

 

Amaro Taste Test

  • Luxardo Amaro Abano – Strong herbal taste with a little bit of pepper. Medium sweetness up front and medium bitter finish. The very strong herbal taste keeps it from being one of my favorites. 
  • Averna – Spicey taste with smooth herbal finish. A little heavier than average and a little oily (this is a positive to me). Medium sweetness and medium bitter finish. This is my favorite Amaro. Fabulous in Dave’s El Monje Loco.
  • Amaro Ramazzotti – A bit more citrusy than the others with a sharper, more defined herbal taste. Still, medium sweetness and medium bitter. Close runner-up to the Averna.
  • Fernet-Branca – Minty smell and strong minty finish. Very different from the rest of the group. Low sweetness to start and high bitter to end. If you’re going to mix with it, make sure you drown it out. Let’s see if I can find the words . . . awful, simply awful. Yeah, that’s the ticket. 
  • Cynar – Made from artichokes, although you can’t tell in its taste. Oily, with a long bitter finish. Low in sweetness with a medium-to-high bitter finish. It’s different from the rest. Not one of my favorites, but I’ll give it a shot in cocktails to see what I can do with it.
  • Becherovka (Czech) – Very strong nutmeg/cinnamon after taste. Very low in initial sweetness and medium bitter finish. Again, quite different than the rest because of it’s taste. The savory overall taste with nutmeg/cinnamon throws you aff a bit. This could easily and totally dominate a drink. If I use it, it’ll be by the spoonful.
  • Aperol – Almost a bit of fruit in the initial taste. High in sweetness and low in bitter after taste. In fact, the aftertaste is more of a dry, flat taste on the tongue instead of bitterness. This is more versatile than many of the others. I’ve tried it in a few drinks already and it’s definitely a keeper.
  • Campari – Again, this is not officially an Amaro, although I have no idea why. Campari is bitter at first taste and has a strongly bitter aftertaste. If it weren’t for the fact that my wife likes it in a Negroni (Dave still needs to publish his recipe), I might not even keep it around.
I’m going to add one more to the list although it, again, is not an official Amaro. Pimm’s No. 1. Not as bitter as many of the others and not as sweet on initial taste. Pimm’s is also an herbal digestivo, but it’s based on gin. While there probably aren’t 100s of drinks that you can use this with, it does add an option for toning down a drink that’s too sweet without overpowering it.
 
Amaro Taste Test
 
 
So, to answer my own questions . . . 
  • If you plan on drinking these liquors straight up or even on the rocks, you may, in fact, like to have many of these in your bar (BTW, these are not expensive bottles $15-$20 for most of them and they will last forever). Their tastes are all unique and each one has it’s own flavor and texture. But, if you’re using them for mixed drinks, one or two will do the job very nicely.
  • Of the Amari listed, my favorites are Averna, Rammazzotti, Aperol and Pimm’s No. 1. If I were to pick just one, it would be the Averna. Rammazzotti is a close runner up, but I would replace the Averna with it and not bother with both. The Aperol and Pimm’s No. 1 are in addition to the Averna, they don’t replace it.
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About Will Herman (102 Posts)

I don't know what it takes to become a professional mixologist, but I'm going to night school at my own home bar to achieve that status. For now, I'm an amateur cocktail creator who enjoys learning about new drinks and rediscovering the classics.

Comments

  1. What an amazingly great review!

    Just a few thoughts to add:
    – It’s too bad you couldn’t get your hands on some Amer Picon, which apparently was the favorite 100 years ago and was the original ingredient in the Brooklyn cocktail.
    – I find the Cynar and Campari to be pretty comparable – you might try making a Negroni with the Cynar and see how you like it.

  2. While I appreciate you doing all this work, I think I may want to answer the age-old question for myself 😉

    I’m having an Amaro renaissance & discovered your post. Thank you!

  3. Thanks, Jemma and good luck on your Amaro discovery. Please report back what you find!

  4. I bought a bottle of Amaro Ciociaro this week and we tried it last night in comparison with Amaro Averna – just sipping it straight, after dinner. It has a much “sharper” flavor in comparison with Averna’s super-smooth taste, and it also has a different after-taste that does not kick in until several seconds later. It is not as “chocolatey,” which can be a benefit in mixed drinks, as I find that Averna heaviness sometimes is too noticeable in a cocktail (that’s why I like the Ramazotti). It probably will not be my preference for a digestif, but I think it will go well in cocktails – I will be mixing it and will report back. The Ciociaro is considerably less expensive than the others, so if it works in the cocktails it’s a good option for the starter bar.

  5. Dave – check out Nardini Amaro: http://www.nardini.it/amaro-nardini-eng.html . Will wasn’t wow’d by it, but I’m a huge fan. I drink it straight as an apéritif or digestif.

  6. I have quite a bit of experience with a wide array of amaros and Campari has always been referred to as such in my circles. Where do you get the info that it’s not an amaro? Also, as someone who really loves amaros I’m not wild about Aperol though it works fine to round out certain cocktails. In use, in my opinion, it is a bit like the TANG of amaros 😉 Doesn’t have any of the sincere herbal punch, complexity, strength, or history that the other standards do. It’s a newer invention on the market by comparison to many and usually used in spritzers. I am a girl… but it’s one bar component that personally feels too girly for me! I’ll never buy another bottle.

    • Hey Liz, thanks for the comment! Campari isn’t considered an amaro by many because it’s marketed as an aperitif, not a digestif like most amari. But, like I said in the text, I have no idea why it’s not in the amari category. I agree with you, it totally fits the bill.

      I mix with Aperol once in a while. As you say, it doesn’t have the punch that other amari have, yet I still like it for the bittersweet taste it can bring to a drink. Recently, I’ve been playing with it in tiki drinks. It brings a really unique taster to them. It, too, fits in the amari category like Campari, IMO, but, as you say, it’s a lightweight.

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