Feb. 7 2014 06:44 PM

Learning to love bitter liqueur, one amaro at a time

2-12 cocktails

I considered writing about romantic drinking spots for this column, but I'm utterly unromantic. I have, however, been thinking a lot about a type of spirit that sounds romantic: amaro (plural "amari"). The word is lovely to say, but the thing itself is bitter on the tongue, depending on where it hits—amaro, in fact, means "bitter" in Italian. On their own, amari are drunk as aperitivos, to stimulate appetite or, more often, due to their herbal properties, served post-meal, as digestivos, to settle the stomach.

Amari can make for tough drinking for folks who prefer cocktails that go down smooth or who simply don't want bitter flavors lurking in their drink. It's not unusual to see an otherwise impressive craft-cocktail menu without a single amaro.

But, time and again, I find that the cocktails I dig the most—the ones that have the most complexity and sophistication—contain an amaro. Last month, for instance, I wrote about North Park's Coin-Op, where my fave cocktail was the double-amaro'd Best Bang for the Buck (Averna, Fernet Branca, fresh ginger, lime and soda water). Averna is a more mild amaro while Fernet is, well, Fernet. Countless cocktail experts will tell you that when used well, an amaro can do for a drink what a perfect wine pairing does for a meal.

Here are some amari that make regular appearances on bar shelves, grouped by flavor profile: Citrus or fruit (Averna, Aperol, Zucca, Nonino, Montenegro, Gran Classico, Campari), herbal or medicinal (Fernet, Cynar), vermouth-y (Cardamaro, Punt e Mes), cinnamon (Becherovka).  If you're on the hunt for amaro-containing cocktails, ease into it with something like Polite Provisions' Veronica Rose (Aperol, rose-petal gomme, sparkling wine). Hit a little harder with Noble Experiment's Cobble Hill (rye, dry vermouth, Amaro Montenegro, cucumber). Sycamore Den doesn't shy away from amari, either. On its current menu is the amaro-centric Tattie-bogle (scotch, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and angostura bitters).

In the same way some folks avoid IPAs while others seek out the most bitter beers, amari aren't for everyone. But, they have range and variety enough to at least spark some appreciation—if, at least, to help that big dinner digest a little easier.


Email kellyd@sdcitybeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28