Italy, the birthplace of amaro, is a land of many regions, each responsible for distinctive styles of bittersweet herbal liqueurs. Produced across the country, from the north to the south, each of these amari exhibits a sense of terroir that is, in many cases, inherent to the actual ingredients used in its creation. But there are other factors at play, including the people, culture and history of these regions, that help to inform each brand’s unique sense of place.
Averna has long stood as the archetypal example of the Sicilian style of amaro, embodying a balance of bitterness and sweetness with a bright bouquet of citrus notes that are symbolic of the region. With just one sip, the distinctive alpine profile of Braulio transports you to the majestic vistas of Bormio in the Italian Alps. And while the bright sun and blue waters of Sicily and the cool mountains and valleys of Bormio are emblematic of the organic landscapes of their regions, it’s the urban culture of Milan where the eclectic spirit and versatility of Cynar is on display. This is exhibited through its popularity in aperitivo culture as well as its ability to bridge a wide spectrum of drinks, from aperitivo to digestivo.
To better understand the differences between each of these three styles of amaro, we asked two bartenders, Chris Amirault of Los Angeles and Claire Sprouse of Brooklyn, to create a series of cocktails using Averna, Braulio and Cynar that evoke the culture and landscape of each brand’s home region.
“To me, Italy really highlights the romanticism that exists in the creation of amaro,” says Chris Amirault. “Each brand preaches the same foundations: terroir, family and tradition, and the terroir of each amaro is so different.”
Averna | Caltanissetta and Palermo
Produced in Caltanissetta since 1868 and still made from the original recipe, Averna’s key ingredients of bitter oranges, lemons and pomegranate peels are rounded out with a bouquet of Mediterranean herbs. The original formula for Averna was gifted by the Benedictine monks of the San Spirito Abbey in Caltanissetta to Don Salvatore Averna, a local benefactor of the Abbey who, with his family, helped make Averna known across Italy and around the world. “I’m very interested in storytelling aspects that link amaro to where it’s made,” says Amirault, who pays tribute to Averna with his deconstructed White Russian, the Smoking Jacket. Sprouse, meanwhile, was inspired by fresh pomegranates and “the many aromas distinctive to the Mediterranean: the salty sea, fresh olives, herbs, ash,” to inform her Italian riff on the Tequila Sunrise, the Parasole.
Braulio | Bormio
Nearly 1,000 miles to the north of Sicily, located 4,000 feet above sea level in the Valtellina valley in the Italian Alps, you’ll find Bormio, the home of Braulio, one of the best-known brands of alpine-style amaro. Created in 1875 by chemist Dr. Francesco Peloni, Braulio’s signature ingredients are gentian, juniper, wormwood and yarrow, a full-bodied blend that is then rested in Slavonian oak barrels to achieve a perfect balance of flavor. Sprouse turned to the crisp mountain air that is characteristic of Braulio’s birthplace as inspiration for her drink, the Alpine Apple, while Amirault homed in on two specific alpine botanicals—sage and chamomile—to form the foundation of his bitter, herbal Palio Julep.
Cynar | Milan
Cynar is made from a secret blend of 13 unique plants and herbs, but it’s artichoke leaves that form the foundation of this iconic carciofo-style amaro. While there’s a slight vegetal taste present from the artichoke, this low-ABV (16.5 percent) amaro also possesses a caramel smoothness, rounded out with notes of dried fruit and a pronounced bitterness that make it a go-to all-around amaro for mixing. The brand was born in Padua in 1952, created by Venetian philanthropist Angelo Dalle Molle, and is now produced just outside of Milan. It remains symbolic of the eclectic art, culture, restaurants and cafés of that energetic city. “Milan is a city is where old Italian history meets a modern design mecca,” says Sprouse, noting how the dynamic city shadows Cynar’s flexibility as an aperitivo or digestivo. Her New Tone is a food-friendly spritz-highball hybrid, while Amirault’s Choke Artist takes its inspiration from the Negroni template.