So long sweet summer — onto a bold and bitter season. Here’s what you need to know about amaro for the acquainted (and unacquainted).
To some drinkers, elegant amaro bottles with lavish labels and mysterious ingredients are intimidating. For those who appreciate the uniqueness of the Italian digestif, we bring you DiAnoia’s Eatery in Pittsburgh, where amaro enthusiasts consistently occupy the center bar.
Heather Perkins (pictured below), bar manager and amaro aficionada of the casual all-day Italian restaurant, happily educates guests on her impressive amaro selection of nearly 30 options ranging from 11-40 percent proof.
Montenegro, a delicious amaro from Bologna, is what Perkins likes to refer to as the “gateway” amaro. Its smooth, orange notes derived from the creator’s “secret recipe” of 40 herbs and spices are what set it apart from the rest.
“Introduction is everything,” Perkins describes. “I watched a group of eight women come in for their book club meeting. The son of one woman ordered a round of Monte for the group. They had no choice but to taste. They found it to be a true enjoyment after all.”
Guests at DiAnoia’s can opt for the Amaro New Fashioned, made with Nonino Amaro, Nardini Amaro and Demerara simple syrup — a twist on the traditional Old Fashioned. “Everyone seeks uniqueness, from cuisine to cocktails, it’s what they really want.” Perkins states. “So, when creating an introductory drink for a hesitant guest, work with a classic cocktail. You’re not changing the portions of their ‘weapon of choice,’ but replacing specific sugars with the roundness of amaro.”
The bartenders at DiAnoia’s act as ambassadors for the liqueur, starting with soft conversation to gauge drinker’s preferences. For the seasoned vets, bartenders like to offer something different, pouring amari from the states, such as the Italian-style Donna Rosa based in Washington, D.C. or the vibrant LoFi — similar to Campari — from Napa Valley.
“If sweet and floral is a preference, go for a bottle of Meletti,” Perkins suggests. “Midway point of balance? Reach for the Alpine flavors of Braulio with its invigorating pop of eucalyptus. If bitter is already in their rolodex of flavors, then perhaps the dark, rich maple qualities of Amaro Sibilla is the end-of-night spirit.”
Amaro isn’t just for drinking straight or for after-dinner enjoyment. Perkins’ Pro Tip: “Add Fernet to a classic Hanky Panky, or lean towards an Amaro Spritz, with amaro (typically Campari), prosecco and club soda for light daytime drink. Taste the flavor without it being too sharp.”
At DiAnoia’s, the cocktail list — half-traditional, half-crafted — is broken down into five categories: Morning, Noon, Night, After-Dinner, and Amaro. Since DiAnoia’s can be experienced at any hour, Perkins wants her guests to enjoy a nip of Montenegro on draft with a warm croissant for breakfast. Better yet, a fluffy Shakerato (pictured above), made with a double espresso and your choice of housemade limoncello, sambuca, or amaretto. “Why not get a feel of cocktails at 8:00AM?” Perkins asks.
Come noon, take pleasure in a Smallman Jabroni: A blend of local Maggie’s Farm La Revuelta rum, Campari, Punt E Mes vermouth, and Counter Culture cold brew coffee. Chilled to perfection and strained over a cold brew coffee cube in a stemmed glass, orange oils are expelled over the bright cocktail and topped with an orange twist. “We created this for Negroni Week; it’s a take on a coffee cocktail, and is still [available] on the menu,” Perkins explains.
Folks forget amaro can also be served hot. When in Italy, if you order a rhubarb-based smoky Zucca Rabarbaro, they will ask if you prefer it hot or cold. “It’s like finishing with warm tea.” There isn’t a right or wrong way to enjoy amaro, so try it hot, chilled, on the rocks, or with a splash of soda. “It adds a bit of culture and sophistication to your next drink order,” Perkins notes.
Acclaimed amaro expert and director of the amaro-centric New York City bar Amor y Amargo Sother Teague said it best: “I believe that ‘The Cocktail Revolution’ has come to a close and we’ve won! The consumer is educated and this has spawned a brand-new interest in what were once dusty esoteric bottles on the bar — effectively thrusting amaro into a limelight of popularity.”
New Fashioned Recipe: Combine Nonino Amaro, Nardini Amaro and Demerara Simple into a mixing glass. Add ice. Strain over large cube in a rocks glass. With a match, flame an orange zest and expel charred oils over cocktail. Discard peel and garnish with a Luxardo Cherry.