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.