Amari amore

A bittersweet addition to the bar

Amari liqueurs (amaro is the singular and means bitter in Italian) have captured the imagination of bartenders and mixologists nationwide, a trend now popular in Nashville. Even if you’ve not yet tried them, you’ve probably wondered about the exotic bottles on the back of the bar and heard the names Campari and Cynar, maybe Aperol and Averna. If you hang with the professionals, then you’ve heard the name Fernet batted around.

A few big brands are usually available in Nashville liquor stores, but hundreds of amari are made all over Italy, each with its own bittersweet character and secret blend of herbs, flowers, vegetables, citrus peel, spices and barks. Most amari are digestifs served neat or over a little ice after dinner to aid digestion. Campari and Aperol, however, are marketed as appertivos. Either way, innovative beverage professionals are embracing the complex flavors and bitterness and are putting them to work in appetite-stimulating cocktails. You can, too, after a modest investment at the store.

We asked Jessica Backhus, a Husk bartender and a Grand Cru Wine and Spirits staffer, to share some hints for mixing it up with amari. She suggests that you start with your favorite classic cocktails and add a hint of Italian bitterness. Remember, a little goes a long way.

The Negroni cocktail is the genesis of appetite-stimulating bitter cocktails. Make it with equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth. You can easily substitute another amaro for the Campari so experiment and find what you like. Try an Americano, similar to the Negroni, except soda replaces the gin.

Aperol, very bright orange in flavor and color and less bitter, makes a refreshing cocktail when splashed into a glass of prosecco. The color alone will make you cheer louder for the Vols. Aperol is also a fun, citrusy addition to a classic margarita.

The classic daiquiri of rum, lime juice and simple syrup also enjoys a slightly bitter edge with amaro. Pick different brands and give them a try—they are very interchangeable.

On your next visit to Husk, remember to order a “Weekend at Baxter’s,” their new tiki-style rum cocktail with orange blossom honey, lime juice, grapefruit bitters and a Cynar float.

Amari are also quite compatible with your favorite American whiskies. Enhance a classic Manhattan or old-fashioned. Replace the sweet vermouth with an amaro or use a little of both. Try an amaro over ice lightened with seltzer water and a citrus wedge or splash a little amaro into a gin and tonic.

And if you don’t develop a fondness for bittersweet amari, the bottles’ bold graphics and old world labels are still the best looking on the bar. Look for these brands at your favorite bar or liquor store:

Montenegro—Herbal, medicinal, cherry, coriander, bitter orange.

Ramazzotti—Thick dark chocolate and coffee, white pepper and citrus.

Cynar—Made with artichokes, but you can’t really taste them. Very herbaceous and worth buying just for decorating the bar.

Fernet-Branca—Minty, menthol and very medicinal, the big boy amoro that’s very polarizing. Love it or hate it.

Averna—Blood orange, lemon, grapefruit, caramel, honey, almost chocolaty. Bright, refreshing and versatile.

Aperol—Easy on the bitterness, sweet and citrusy. Plus, the orange color is spectacular.

Campari—Classic bright red and bitter. Hard to find anything more refreshing than a Campari and soda.

by R.B. Quinn and mindy Merrell

Follow Cheater Chefs Mindy Merrell and R.B. Quinn at cheaterchef.com.