A couple of years ago, I reviewed the book Amaro by Brad Parsons. It was eye opening to me because at the time I bought it, I knew the author but not the subject matter. I honestly had no idea what an amaro was and was shocked to find that, depending on how broad of a definition you use, I had two of them in my cocktail station.
Since the time of that review, I have literally tripled the number of “true” amaros that I keep in the house. That’s right, I’ve gone from one to three. By the expanded definition that Mr. Parsons’s book uses, I had three and now have five. But that doesn’t sound nearly as impressive.
Speaking of the definition if I am going to take a look at a random selection of amaros, I should probably spell that out for you, shouldn’t I? The definition that I use is the subtitle to the book that first defined it for me. Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs is the full title so I use “bittersweet, herbal liqueur” as my definition. I’m not running an encyclopedia of non-bourbon spirits here so I don’t feel too bad about being more general in my definition than a site that specializes in the category would use.
Now most of these came into my house on the wings of a cocktail recipe. You obviously need Campari for a Negroni or a Boulevardier. Fernet-Branca was something that was sent to me as a sample well before I officially accepted samples and I kept buying it because I really enjoy the Toronto cocktail. Ramazzotti I bought because I was intrigued by a recipe I found for a Black Manhattan, but not knowing anything about Amaro, I bought what I could afford. Averna I bought to make a Black Manhattan when the store I was at didn’t carry Ramazzotti. And Amaro Montenegro I bought because it was used in a drink that I really enjoyed during my last trip to Vegas.
So now that you know how I chose all of these, let’s look at each one individually. I’m going to give you a little background info drawn from Mr. Parsons’s book, as well as my nosing and tasting notes. Since the Black Manhattan was what started me dipping my toes into the world of amaro, I’ll look at whether or not it works in a bourbon version of that recipe using Heaven Hill 6 year old Bottled in Bond (now discontinued). If it doesn’t work in that, I’ll give you the recipe of a cocktail that I do like it in.
Background info: 23% ABV. Produced in Bologna, Italy. Known ingredients include orange peel and vanilla.
Nose: Floral, cloves, mint, ginger.
Mouth: Cola, orange, ginger, light herbal notes. Faint lingering bitterness.
Does it Black Manhattan? Yes. The resulting drink is herbal, floral and sweet. It complements the bourbon nicely.
Background info: 30% ABV. Produced in Canelli, Italy. Known ingredients include bitter orange, cardamom, clove, galangal, myrrh, star anise and sweet orange.
Nose: Black pepper, anise and citrus.
Mouth: Sweet. Follows the nose with citrus, anise and black pepper notes.
Does it Black Manhattan? Yes. The resulting drink brings out the cherry and baking spice notes of the bourbon.
Background info: 29% ABV. Produced in Caltanissetta, Italy. Known ingredients include lemon and orange essential oils and pomegranate.
Nose: Molasses, a slight smokiness, rosemary leaf.
Mouth: Caramel candy, wintergreen, root beer, and cinnamon.
Does it Black Manhattan? Yes. The resulting drink is sweet and brings out the herbal and baking spice notes of the bourbon. Tastes like you mixed the last two in some proportion
Background info: 39% ABV. Produced in Milan, Italy. Known ingredients include aloe ferox, bitter orange, cardamom, chamomile, cinchona bark, galangal, laraha, laurel, myrrh, rhubarb root, saffron, and zedoaria.
Nose: Menthol, nutmeg, flower petals.
Mouth: Menthol, peppermint, lightly burnt sugar, an underlying bitterness, and lingering herbal notes.
Does it Black Manhattan? NO!!!. The resulting drink is just menthol and bitterness. Though I basically knew this wouldn’t work going in due to the relatively high quantity of amaro in the drink. Instead, might I recommend the Toronto?
the Toronto Cocktail
2 oz Rye
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
1/4 ounce Simple Syrup
2 dashes of aromatic bitters
Background info: 24% ABV. Produced in Milan, Italy. Known ingredients include water and alcohol. They won’t admit to anything else according to Mr. Parsons.
Nose: Bitter orange peel, a hint of mint.
Mouth: Very bitter. Very sweet. Lingering bitter orange peel and floral notes.
Does it Black Manhattan? Not really. The Campari overpowers the bourbon. Instead, might I recommend a Negoni, a Boulevardier, or if you are feeling up to the bitterness, a Bitter Black Manhattan?
1 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari
2 oz Rye or Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari
Bitter Black Manhattan
2 oz Rye or Bourbon
1/2 oz Ramazzotti Amaro
1/2 oz Campari
2 dash Orange Bitters
Orange Peel (for garnish)
I’m going to tell you right now, that I understand that this is not an exhaustive list. But these are the ones I’ve tried, liked and continued to buy. I do think I need to continue to look further afield though. After this experiment, I’m interested enough to do so. If you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments.
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