Jack, relaxing with his favorite Amaro
…And what is Amaro, really? Where did it come from? Why is it so damn sexy ? For some it’s an acquired taste, for others, they just “get it” because, clearly, they were born with a palate like a boss.
I was not born with a boss-like palate, so when I think back to the first sip of the stuff I ever tried, I remember thinking… what the hell is this!? It was bitter, it was sweet, it was aggressive and just confusing as hell. Dare I say, I was not an immediate fan of the stuff in general. What struck me over time was how big the curve was- how long it took me to get my palate to the point where I actually craved a progressively bitter taste.
Boss Palates: Fred Dame MS, Spreti Valente CS and Michael Jordan MS
The more I drank the more addicting it became. The gambit of flavors, sweetness and bitterness level of the amari in Italy and across the world is profound. Hopefully if you are new to this stuff, the information you get here will help you ease your way in so you can appreciate them properly. I know most of us veterans think its cute to drop a rookie off in Fernet-land, for shock value. It’s pretty hilarious to see the look on someone’s face, but that’s just plain rude… and I’m just plain guilty.
Amaro in Italy has a storied history, being born out of apothecaries and touted as a medicinal remedy for everything ranging from upset stomachs to malaria. Amaro, the word itself means “bitter” but there is a lot more to these complex beauties aside from their bitter quality.
Amari are considered aperitifs or digestives depending on the flavor and ingredient profile. Some can help settle a full stomach, while others are geared to crank up your appetite, again depending on the flavor and components of the product.
Typically they are lower in alcohol but can range from 16%-40%.
Some are made from macerating local herbs, flowers, roots in distilled grape pomace, while a majority appear to be based with a neutral grain spirit.
If you’ve drank enough wine in your life, or hang out with nerds like me, you may have heard the french term “terroir“. We use it to explain the connectivity of the land to a wine. For example a chardonnay from Chablis is going to taste a hell of a lot different than a Chardonnay from Napa, wine making practices aside. Since the soil and climate are so vastly different from place to place you wind up with a product that exhibits the qualities of the land in which they were born and connected to.
For the most part, Amaro is very similar when it comes to terroir. Most are made from local plant life so they wind up exhibiting the flavors of the land in which they were produced. A good example is pictured above, Jacks favorite Amaro Braulio. Made in the pine tree riddled lands of Bormio, a ski resort town situated in the northeasten side of the Valtellina district of Lombardia in central, Northern Italy. This area borders the Swiss Alps so the herbs that stand out in this Amaro are very piney indeed –Terroir.
Though the term Amaro is primarily reserved for Italian products, nearly every country creates a similar products or liqueurs. Germany has Krauterlikor, i.e. Jägermeister. France has Amer-Picons among many others, and Croatia produces a lovely bitter by the name of Pelincovac. America unfortunately has been better known for things like schnapps or artificially sweetened liqueurs like Hpnotiq. Thankfully that’s changing quite rapidly. We now have things like Grand Poppy, a 100% organic, California style Amaro made from native herbs like poppy and gentian. Oregon has Calisaya which is based on an old recipe from Italy and Colorado is home to one of the first producers of domestic Fernet.
We are seeing quite a few quality products popping up here at home… at long last. Ill be posting detailed notes on each of these products and many more throughout the world in the near future.
See you Amaro my friends.