How do you make a bartender happy? Ask him to play with amaro. This vast class of herbal Italian liqueurs has been somewhat of an industry insider’s club for years—so much so that a shot of Fernet-Branca is called “the bartender’s handshake,” a nod from one discerning professional to the next. But as the craft cocktail renaissance has dawned over the nation, amaro has moved from the shadow of the bar to the spotlight.
Bellissimo Bev // Mills Higgins of The Anchorage mixes the Nosfumato, a perfect fall homage to the Italian liqueur amaro.
And with just cause. Dating back to before Medieval times, amaro has been prized for centuries in Italy for its digestive qualities: the complex combination of herbs and botanicals macerated in wine or a neutral spirit works to stimulate the appetite (aperitivo) and ease digestion (digestivo). While delicious served straight to open or close a meal, amaro is also inspiring a new wave of cocktails—one that reflects our nation’s changing palate. Modern cocktails and cuisine are abandoning the sugar high of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s in favor of balance—a quality that nuanced, bittersweet amaro brings to the bar.
Because amaro is such a broad and diverse category (unlike other spirits, it is not strictly regulated for style or ingredients), chasing that balance can be a bit of a rabbit hole for bartenders. “Looking for the little subtleties in each one is exciting,” explains Rob Romanstein, bartender at The Anchorage. His eyes light up as he spins through various types of amari, noting flavor profiles that range from refreshing menthol to bitter licorice. Try amaro and you may find yourself equally entranced: the complex flavors are balanced and surprising and, thanks to their ancient medicinal qualities, somehow rejuvenating. But most importantly? “Amaro tends to punch above its own weight,” says Mills Higgins, another bartender at The Anchorage. “And that makes it fun.”
The Anchorage, 586 Perry Ave, Greenville
1 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 oz. Campari
1/2 oz. Sfumato
1/4 oz. Falernum
Couple dashes of Xocolatl mole bitters
1. Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice. Stir until chilled.
2. Take a grapefruit peel and rub the oil along the inside of the glass.
3. Strain chilled drink into rocks glass and add a large ice cube. Serve with the twisted peel as garnish.
A-more Amaro // Taste these takes at two notable Greenville cocktail bars:
At once sweet, bitter, and spicy, this coffee-based cocktail promises an all-over warming effect.
Vault and Vator, 655 S Main St, Greenville
This savory-sweet herbal sipper features Averna, bourbon, and seasonal figs.
Stella’s Southern Brasserie, 340 Rocky Slope Rd, Greenville