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Ten Essential New-School Amari and How to Use Them

February 01, 2023

Story: Brad Thomas Parsons

photo: Lizzie Munro


Ten Essential New-School Amari and How to Use Them

February 01, 2023

Story: Brad Thomas Parsons

photo: Lizzie Munro

A wave of new domestic and Italian amari have entered the market. Here, Amaro author Brad Thomas Parsons narrows the field to the must-have bottles.

The last time I put together a lineup of “new look” amari was in the spring of 2020, when most bars around the country were closed and the opportunity to go out and enjoy an amaro with friends seemed like it might never return. Things have changed, not only in the landscape of bar and restaurant openings but in the amaro market, too. Now, with a number of new-school releases on my radar, it’s time to take a closer look at the essential bottles to try. (If you’re looking for my thoughts on must-have classic amaro expressions, don’t worry; we have that, too.) 

This group of 10 amari and bitter liqueurs hails from Italy, Germany and the United States, where the nearly decadelong boom of regionally inspired domestic amaro shows no sign of stopping. Some are brand-new releases, while others have been around for a few years and are either just now getting the attention they deserve or are finally distributed widely enough for most to seek out. Across the board, these bottles represent the intersection of Old World and New, whether it’s modern producers bringing a contemporary point of view to a historic category, or recent European imports championing the ethos that everything old is new again. Here are the bottles to seek out.

Amaro Santoni

The Santoni brand dates back to Italy’s stylish Dolce Vita era of the 1960s, when founder Gabriello Santoni was known for his amaro Rabarbaro Santoni. This signature expression spotlighted regional ingredients such as rhubarb, olive leaves and iris flowers. His son Stefano took over the family business in 2013, and in 2018 partnered with acclaimed Italian bartenders Simone Caporale and Luca Missaglia to launch Amaro Santoni, a contemporary interpretation of the inaugural amaro. The newer version is made with 34 herbs and botanicals, including those found in the original Rabarbaro alongside sweet and bitter orange, ginger, lemon balm and wormwood.

It first landed stateside last summer and has already won over a number of bartenders. “In color and texture it comes on more like an aperitivo than an amaro,” says Eloy Pacheco, head bartender at New York’s Dante. “It’s bright and floral, with berry notes that really come through, especially [in] lighter, refreshing aperitivo applications.”

Try it in: Negroni Sbagliato, Garibaldi

  • Price: $40
  • From: Florence, Tuscany, Italy
  • ABV: 16%

Fred Jerbis Fernet 25

From his home in Friuli, former perfumer and bartender Federico Cremasco has been on a mission to produce a more organic, botanical-driven approach to amaro in an Italian landscape that, despite the liqueur’s homegrown legacy, has often overly commercialized it. A standout among the portfolio of small-batch spirits—gin, vermouth, amaro and bitters—that make up the brand is his Fred Jerbis Fernet 25.

The clear bottle reveals an unfiltered amber liquid that stands in contrast to the black licorice hue of most fernet expressions. That color is courtesy of a six-month rest in chestnut barriques from nearby Udine, which also imparts a distinctive bitterness that makes its presence known without overpowering. While it plays well in cocktails, Fernet 25 is a lighter, less aggressive, more floral fernet you won’t mind sipping on its own, whether neat at room temperature or in a chilled glass.

Try it in: Hanky Panky, Toronto

  • Price: $38
  • From: Polcenigo, Friuli, Italy
  • ABV: 34%

See the Elephant Amaro di Rucola

See the Elephant Amaro di Rucola is produced in Agropoli, near Salerno on the Cilento Coast of southern Italy, using regional herbs and botanicals. Kyle Harder, the American founder of the brand, is admittedly coy about revealing any ingredients in the formula beyond the arugula that appears on the bottle (rucola translates to arugula). 

Isaiah Kimball, the lead bartender at Luca in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has been an early advocate for See the Elephant, calling it “a great introduction to a bigger conversation that is amaro.” He notes that the brand’s eye-catching design makes it appealing to guests who are inspired to try it as an after-dinner digestivo, and he’s been using it in an amaro-based flip as well as an Espresso Martini riff. “They took a bitter, somewhat polarizing Italian ingredient and created something smooth, well-rounded yet complex, that speaks to Italian tradition.”

Try it in: Black Manhattan

  • Price: $36
  • From: Cilento Coast, Campania, Italy
  • ABV: 30%

Stambecco Maraschino Cherry Amaro Liqueur

Hailing from Piedmont, Italy, Stambecco Maraschino Cherry Amaro Liqueur takes its name, and iconography, from the large-horned ibex goats that roam the Alpine slopes near the Vergnano family–owned distillery outside of Turin.

In 2020, master distiller Beppe Ronco released this contemporary amaro made with maraschino cherries and their pits. This central ingredient delivers distinctive notes of nutty marzipan reminiscent of amaretto, resulting in a lighter, balanced, bittersweet amaro perfect for mixing in cocktails, whether an amaro Old-Fashioned or Manhattan variation, or on its own over ice with a splash of soda.

Try it in: Godfather, Amaretto Sour

  • Price: $29
  • From: Moncalieri, Piedmont, Italy
  • ABV: 35%

Michelberger Forest Herbal Liqueur

Though this liqueur is technically a schnapps, or more specifically a Kräuterlikör (like Jägermeister or Underberg), even its producers claim it presents more like a woodsy amaro. The brand is a collaboration between Tom Michelberger and Nadine May, proprietors of the namesake boutique hotel in Berlin, and Gerald Schroff and the late Ulf Stahl from the Preussische Spirituosen Manufaktur, a Berlin-based distillery that dates back to 1874.

Its golden straw color recalls the French gentian liqueur Suze, but Michelberger Forest Herbal Liqueur skews a bit toward the sweeter side of the bittersweet spectrum, while still packing enough herbal complexity to play like an amaro, especially as a modifier in cocktails. Tony Milici, bar manager at Rolo’s in Ridgewood, Queens, swaps it in for Amaro Nonino in the off-menu Paper Plane. “It’s got heat, and more green earth and pine, which makes it terribly interesting and worthy of the name ‘forest,’” says Milici. “I think the perfect application of [Michelberger] is in a shaken beverage. Agave is the layup in my opinion, but it adds solid depth to whiskey cocktails as well.”

Try it in: Paper Plane

  • Price: $51
  • From: Berlin, Germany
  • ABV: 35%

Faccia Brutto Carciofo

Brooklyn’s Faccia Brutto Spirits launched in March 2020, two weeks before bars across America were forced to close down. But owner and distiller Patrick Miller has more than made up for lost time, releasing seven expressions in the years since. The past two releases—the Sicilian-inspired Amaro Gorini and Centerbe, a homegrown take on the historic European herbal liqueur—proved to be incredibly popular. And Miller’s latest, Faccia Brutto Carciofo, is one of the best yet.

Cynar remains the category-killer of the carciofo style of amaro, but it’s exciting to see more domestic takes on this dynamic style. Miller macerates fresh artichokes from California’s Central Valley with a blend of 19 botanicals, including warming spices like allspice and cinnamon. It has a lingering layer of bitterness from dandelion root, and is versatile enough to pour over ice and top with soda or incorporate into modern cocktail applications.

Try it in: Bitter Giuseppe, Littly Italy

  • Price: $51
  • From: Brooklyn, New York, United States
  • ABV: 25%

Fast Penny Spirits Amaricano

In 2020, after two years in development, Jamie Hunt, a Pacific Northwest native with family roots in Sicily, launched Fast Penny Spirits as a way to celebrate the botanicals of the region. Her Amaricano is a showcase for Washington state ingredients and producers, including cacao nibs from Theo Chocolate, Rainier cherries, locally grown hazelnuts, organically grown saffron from Chelan County, cascara from Stamp Act Coffee, hops from Holy Mountain Brewing and foraged Pacific Northwest black truffles.

The result is a rich and slightly savory amaro with distinctive notes of sweetness and spice grounded in a foundation layered with a floral, woodsy, earthiness. While it’s not as bitter as other American amari, it’s certainly bold.

Try it in: Sharpie Mustache, Caffè Shakerato

  • Price: $55
  • From: Seattle, Washington, United States
  • ABV: 30%

Forthave Spirits Mithradates VI Vino Amaro

Aaron Sing Fox and Daniel de la Nuez, co-owners of Brooklyn’s Forthave Spirits, recently added a new expression to their lineup of botanically driven spirits and liqueurs. Forthave Spirits Mithradates VI Vino Amaro is the first wine-based release from the brand and the second offering in its historical line, where Forthave takes inspiration from the medicinal elixirs of antiquity and reformulates and reinterprets them as contemporary digestivos.

Red wine from New York’s Finger Lakes region is aromatized with 34 botanical extractions, including mace, rhubarb root and saffron, resulting in a vinous, slightly tannic amaro. While it can be treated almost like a sweet vermouth, Mithradates’ more esoteric character and distinctive profile can make it challenging to simply swap into a spritz. But it can hold up to more spirit-forward applications, and the European vermouth-on-ice approach really makes it shine on its own. 

Try it in: Manhattan

  • Price: $58
  • From: Brooklyn, New York, United States
  • ABV: 24%

Letterpress Distilling Amaro Amorino Riserva

Skip Tognetti started Letterpress Distilling in Seattle in 2012, launching with his flagship Amaro Amorino, a medium-bitter blend redolent of orange and baking spice, named after his grandfather from Abruzzo. Since 2018, Tognetti has created Amaro Amorino Riserva, an annual limited-edition release in which his house amaro is finished in various used whiskey barrels for at least six months.

His most recent expression, Batch #6, is limited to 351 bottles and rested for 12 months in Copperworks Distilling Co.’s American Single Malt barrels, which pass along distinctive notes of baking spice, subtle orange and vanilla. The riserva is bottled at 80 proof, resulting in a more assertive experience compared with the standard Amaro Amorino, but that hasn’t stopped Seattle bartenders from mixing it in whiskey-forward cocktails (though Tognetti calls out its affinity for boldly flavored tiki-style applications, too).

Try it in: Boulevardier

  • Price: $50
  • From: Seattle, Washington, United States
  • ABV: 40%

St. Agrestis Paradiso Aperitivo

New York’s first contemporary amaro producer, St. Agrestis has continued to expand across the country with innovative new releases, including doubling down on bottled and canned RTD options and embracing the nonalcoholic market with its popular spirit-free Phony Negroni. In the summer of 2021, co-founder Louie Catizone launched St. Agrestis Paradiso Aperitivo, a golden-hued, wine-based, citrus-forward bitter to complement St. Agrestis’ flagship amaro and Inferno Bitter.

The all-natural blend is made with cortese wine from Piedmont, which lends a pronounced acidity, and fortified with a grape distillate base. “St. Agrestis Paradiso has become a staple at our bar,” says Meghan Nuccitelli, owner of the Italian restaurant Sociale in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. “We keep it simple, serving it on ice with a touch of fresh lemon juice topped with seltzer for the perfect low-ABV refresher, and also offer to swap out the seltzer for brut nature cava to fulfill that spritz craving.”

Try it in: Spritz, Margarita

  • Price: $37
  • From: Brooklyn, New York, United States
  • ABV: 20%

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