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Can You Shakerato It?

September 12, 2022

Story: Brad Thomas Parsons

photo: Shannon Sturgis


Can You Shakerato It?

September 12, 2022

Story: Brad Thomas Parsons

photo: Shannon Sturgis

A quick shake can transform your favorite liqueur into a frothy, aperitivo-ready, one-ingredient cocktail.

Last fall, I fell down a bittersweet rabbit hole. Teaming up with bartender Robby Dow (formerly of Brooklyn’s Grand Army), I submitted 22 bottlings of amaro to the shakerato treatment. Our goal: to observe how temperature, a bit of dilution and a vigorous shake might transform an already-singular ingredient into something extraordinary.

Although many of the legacy brands of amaro fell flat, with washed-out shades of brown and disappointing, dissipating bubbles, there were certainly some standouts. When shaken, Braulio and other alpine-style amari resulted in a stout-like layer of foam that lingered long after being poured into a glass, often tasting like a one-ingredient composed cocktail. It was with these successes in mind that Dow (now the general manager at Dram & Draught in Wilmington, North Carolina) and I, along with Grand Army beverage director Ally Marrone, reconvened our shakerato experiment, this time focusing on aperitivo bitters and liqueurs to see whether any could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Campari Shakerato

This time, the lineup included 25 bottles, including Italian and domestic brands in both red and bianco expressions, as well as a selection of French-born aperitifs and liqueurs, with a few three-packs of Underberg for good measure. 

Our approach remained the same, with Dow and Marrone splitting the shaking duties. Two ounces of each sample was shaken vigorously with ice for 7 to 10 seconds. The contents were then shaken again, without ice, for 10 to 15 seconds before being poured directly into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. 

Rather than the darker shades of amaro we saw in the first go-round, which evoked Coca-Cola, cold brew and perfectly pulled pints of Guinness, this time vibrant shades of red brought to mind Cheerwine and Sanbitter sodas. Once again, lower ABVs and higher sugar content played a pivotal role in the success of these liqueurs in the shakerato format, especially since, unlike amari, aperitivo bitters aren’t traditionally consumed neat. “That added water and aeration would often push something that was there the whole time to bloom, from a background player into a dominating role,” said Dow. A savory, herbal note meant to be more subtle, for instance, would instead dominate on the finish.

Red bitters topped our final picks, with only the golden-hued, jewel-toned gentian liqueurs Avèze and Suze making notable impressions from our selection of French entries. Served shakerato, the list that follows would feel right at home on any aperitivo cocktail menu.

Campari Shakerato

To determine our shortlist of favorites, we rated each of the 25 shakeratos we sampled on taste, texture, color and visual appeal.

The Top Five


The Campari Shakerato is one of the few examples of the technique that has become a classic aperitivo cocktail in its own right. Once shaken, it held a true layer of foam, almost like you’d see on an Irish Coffee. “You drink with your eyes first, and this is just beautiful,” said Dow. “The texture is perfect. It’s tight, classically bitter and sweet with a pleasant acidity. It’s like you’re drinking a cocktail.” Aside from a slight pop of cherry, the taste was very similar to Campari on its own, but the incredible texture transformed it. The shaken Campari proved to be not only the shakerato benchmark, but the one to beat.

  • From: Milan, Lombardy, Italy
  • ABV: 24%

Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Bitter

When shaken, the Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Bitter had the texture of a rich strawberry purée; we were all rooting for the beautiful white layer of foam on the surface to hold on, and it did. Sipped neat, this was herbaceous and bitter, but shaking mixed up the balance in a good way, highlighting some distinct flavors. “I’m loving the strawberry-balsamic quality, but a much higher level of acid,” said Marrone. She also picked up a note of savory wormwood, likely from the Italian artemisia that, along with other botanicals like saffron and angostura bark, rests in white oak casks before bottling. “Other than Campari, this one is the best we’ve tried,” noted Dow.

  • From: Turin, Piedmont, Italy
  • ABV: 28.5%

St. George Spirits Bruto Americano

As with the amaro shakerato sessions, American-made versions didn’t fare that well compared with their Italian brethren. An exception was Bruto Americano, a unique, botanical-rich red bitter from California’s St. George Spirits. Though it looked like a strawberry milkshake at first, that creamy head soon fell in the center like a soufflé; the complex, funky taste played up notes of savory basil and eucalyptus. Dow picked up cherry cola on the nose, while Marrone appreciated how the shakerato version transformed something “fat and bitter,” lengthening it and highlighting unexpected botanical notes in a new way.

  • From: Alameda, California, United States
  • ABV: 24%

Select Aperitivo

The lowest-proof aperitivo among the top five, Venice’s beloved hometown bitter (and key ingredient in the Spritz Veneziano) had one of the best-looking frothy crowns of the bunch. When shaken, it took on an orange phosphate profile, which also came through on the palate, as Dow picked up a floral orange blossom note akin to Amaro Montenegro. Overall, the texture was a bit leaner than Campari and not quite as bitter. “This has way more going on in each sip than everything we’ve tasted so far,” said Marrone.

  • From: Venice, Veneto, Italy
  • ABV: 14%

Amaro Santoni

The newest release of the lineup, Amaro Santoni, a collaboration between celebrated Italian-born bartender Simone Caporale and Stefano Santoni, was one of the most aromatic of the lot. But when chilled and shaken, the perfume-like bouquet and taste went down some unexpected side roads. Dow was focused on a certain celery seed note, reminiscent of the Baltimore-based spice blend Old Bay. The cinnamon and clove baking spice notes, meanwhile, reminded Marrone of a gingersnap cookie at Christmastime. “It’s got this Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme sandwich cookie but with straight-up ginger coming through,” she said. We all agreed it would make the perfect wintertime shakerato.

  • From: Florence, Tuscany, Italy
  • ABV: 16%

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Tagged: technique