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Booze Cruise: Viva amaro!

Friday 09th, October 2015 / 13:10
By Jeff Jamieson

Booze-OctCALGARY — For a few centuries, Italy has known the beautiful herbaceous complexity and bitter-sweet balance of amaro. While there are a number of regions where the liqueur has fallen in and out of favour over the last 200 years, the liqueur has been a staple on many European bars for quite some time. Only recently has it become familiar in North America with many prominent establishments turning their attention toward the classic cocktail.

Amaro is the Italian word for “bitter.” There are many individual brands of amari [plural form]. They range in style and flavour profile based on a number of variables such as region and producer, what they all have in common is that they are all bitter or bitter-sweet liqueurs, made through the maceration of herbs, and spices in a pure wheat spirit. Amaro must be greater than 15 per cent alcohol but may go up to 40% in some rare cases. It is served straight up at room temperature, chilled, or over ice with soda water and an citrus peel, depending on the drinker’s preference.

Most amari fall under the category of a digestive (or in Italy “digestivo”), which are a category of liqueurs meant to follow a meal to help digestion and are even purported to have medicinal qualities. There are some amari that are considered to be aperitifs (“aperitivo” in Italy). These amari are to be enjoyed before a large meal and will help aide hunger and prepare the palette for food.

For many years amari were consumed in this fashion. Either before or after a meal, and often on their own. It wasn’t until the advent of the cocktail that the world realized that amaro was not only a wonderful sipping drink, it was also one of the world’s great mixing ingredients. And, if there is one word to describe why amaro has become so prevalent in cocktails, that word is “balance”. All amari are unique from one another, but most of them have some sort of inherent intensity. This intensity, when mixed in the correct proportions with the contrasting characteristics of other cocktail ingredients often achieves an undeniable balance within the cocktail. A sweeter, spicier amaro such as Amaro Lucano can balance out the sour and acidic characteristics of citrus juice. An intensely herbaceous and bitter amaro, like Fernet Branca can do wonders when combined with sweeter base spirits like bourbon. Likewise, a soft and subtle amaro such as Amaro Nonino finds balance when paired with an intense gin. Because of this ability to find balance in a cocktail, Amaro, it would seem, is one of the most versatile ingredients in a bartender’s tool kit.

Currently, my favourite cocktail containing amaro is a drink known as The Last Mechanical Art [sic]. It’s a wonderful drink that showcases the ability of amaro to help balance intense flavours. And better yet it is dead simple to make.

The Last Mechanical Art

• ¾ oz Mezcal

• ¾ oz Cynar Amaro

• ¾ oz Punt e Mes

• ¾ oz Campari

Shaken Stirred and strained into a coupe glass.

CORRECTION: The Last Mechanical Art cocktail should be stirred, not shaken. We apologize for the error.

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