It’s no secret that amaro, with its bittersweet, herbaceous qualities, is tailor-made for post-dinner drinking. A complex blend of bright citrus and aromatic botanicals, each expression is effectively a cocktail unto itself. It’s no surprise, then, that so many minimalist builds lean on the liqueur to round out a recipe. So, while drinking it neat is never a bad idea, you can easily upgrade your amaro from digestivo to proper nightcap with just a few ingredients.
One of the more fail-safe templates to lean on for post-dinner drinking is, ironically, the reigning king of aperitivo—the Negroni. In Shelley Lindgren’s Blessed Thistle, named for a medicinal plant often used in amaro production, the classic combination of strong, bitter and sweet comes together in the form of the expected gin and Campari alongside both CioCiaro and Cardamaro, which take the place of sweet vermouth and lend an earthiness to the familiar template. The artichoke-based Cynar, meanwhile, is the amaro of choice in Dan Greenbaum’s Remember the Alimony, in which fino sherry shares the stage, supported by a small measure of gin.
In Joaquín Simó’s Midnight Marauder, the equal-parts formula remains, but gin is traded for mezcal while the gentian-forward Bonal and Cynar team up in lieu of Campari and sweet vermouth for a less piney and more smoky take on the Negroni. Gin is likewise nowhere to be found in Tristan Willey’s Sharon, a low-proof spin on the template that subs manzanilla sherry in as the base for a slightly savory interpretation that feels right at home as a final course.
Even in small quantities, the right amaro can hold its own against heavy hitters like rye or gin. Such is the case with the Toronto, a spirit-forward recipe from the pages of David A. Embury’s 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks which requires only a quarter-ounce of Fernet-Branca to dress up the rye base, sweetened with a touch of Demerara syrup. An even smaller amount of Fernet-Branca—just a barspoon—appears in the Hanky Panky, a sweet Martini created by legendary Savoy Hotel bartender Ada Coleman, which goes to show that even a little amaro is better than no amaro.