Frothy and bitter cold, the Caffè Shakerato—Italy’s take on iced coffee—is an effortless way to upgrade your afternoon caffeine fix. Born in Puglia in the 1950s, the simple serve of shaken espresso or coffee with ice is often sweetened with sugar or a flavored syrup (typically almond or chocolate) and served in a cocktail glass. Head north, swap espresso for Campari, and you’ve got the Campari Shakerato, a drink made famous at the historic Camparino bar in Milan. Vigorously shaken with ice and served in a cocktail glass, the method transforms both temperature and texture, rendering Campari’s signature botanicals and bitter profile in a whole new form.
These two drinks represent the primary Shakerato styles you’ll encounter across Italy, but something so simple will no doubt be tinkered with, whether adding milk or even a cream liqueur to your Caffè Shakerato, or dressing up your Campari Shakerato with a lemon twist. Stateside, the Shakerato is often hiding in plain sight. At Melfi’s, a clubby Italian restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, owner Brooks Reitz offers Shakeratos that are brought to life courtesy of a vintage Le Jie double-cup automatic cocktail shaker. But even here, they move beyond the single-ingredient template in favor of extreme-shaken versions of the Negroni and Espresso Martini (they did kindly whip up a Hard Start Shakerato for me when I stopped in for a late-night dinner at the bar). At SRV, a Veneto-inspired Italian restaurant in Boston, bartender John Benevides curates a flight that offers the same amaro in a trio of side-by-side applications: neat, over ice, and shaken with a bit of lime juice.
Amaro is traditionally served neat at room temperature, but as with the category itself, there are no hard and fast rules. I often request my amaro served in a chilled rocks glass; at times, that turns into the bartender offering to stir it over ice, adding a bit of dilution. On a recent trip to Brooklyn’s Grand Army, where beverage director Robby Dow has been experimenting with shaking amari, I realized that there might be a place for the Amaro Shakerato on American bar menus.
“I’ve been infatuated with amaro on its own, but like the modern Garibaldi interpretation from Dante, it’s cool to see simple things become incredible things by switching up a single technique,” says Dow.
Dow’s trip down the Shakerato rabbit hole began one night at Hart’s in Brooklyn, when bartender Leah George Brown whip-shook the alpine amaro Braulio as a nightcap for Dow. “I saw the Braulio sit there in the glass for a while and noticed it wasn’t changing; the foamy head lingered,” says Dow, who was fascinated by the amaro’s ability to effectively become a completely different drink.
When I caught wind of Dow’s experimentation with shaking different styles of amari, I asked Dow if I could tag along on his next round of R&D. A couple weeks later, I showed up at Grand Army before service, weighed down with two tote bags of amari, which we added to the bar’s curated lineup, totaling 22 bottles in all. Most were Italian-born, joined by two domestic offerings and a pair from Mexico. Our goal was to see which ones might be “menuworthy,” focusing on color, taste and texture, but ultimately I was curious to see how a quick shake over ice transformed the expected taste of each amaro. Here’s a look at our takeaways, suggested techniques and the top five, ranked.
Robby Dow shakes a tin full of Braulio to achieve a frothy pour of the alpine amaro.
How to Shake and Serve
For the best chill with minimal dilution, Dow settled on a reverse dry shake. He adds the amaro to a tin filled with standard-size ice and shakes hard for seven to 10 seconds, then fine-strains the mixture into the empty tin and discards the ice. Dow then dry-shakes without ice for 10 seconds and strains directly into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. “It’s simply showing a tasty new way to drink something that already tastes amazing on its own,” he says. Dow leaves his Amaro Shakeratos as-is, letting the beautiful layer of foam serve as its own garnish, but there’s potential to consider an expressed and discarded swatch of citrus, a small twist, or even a complementary fresh herb like mint, sage or rosemary.
Even when different bottlings are within the same category (fernet, for instance), each amaro is going to react differently to the Shakerato treatment. We quickly noticed that almost all the legacy, gateway-style amari we shook up, like Meletti, Averna, Ramazzotti, Montenegro and Lucano (both classic and Anniversario) didn’t improve upon their room-temperature state. None of them could hold their bubbles and the thin layer of beading immediately dissipated. Further, although Averna kept its color, the others all faded like a flat Coca-Cola left out in the sun.
The fernet and vino amaro categories also showed poorly. The Mexican-made Fernet-Vallet and Amargo-Vallet, as well as Grand Army’s beloved Fernet-Branca, looked beautiful and maintained creamy heads long after being poured (the Amargo, in particular, looked like a cherry-red Trinidad Sour), but were ultimately undrinkable. Meanwhile, of the two examples of vino amaro, Cardamaro had a promising start but the amber-honey color faded as the bubbles dissipated into obscurity, while Pasubio’s appearance was beautiful and looked like a red ale with a thick foam, but the chill brought on a sourness that overpowered the brambly, savory nuance that makes that amaro great.
To the contrary, there seemed to be something mystical happening with all of the alpine-style amari we observed; while some didn’t taste as good as they looked, each one filled up the glass with a bountiful, beautiful layer of everlasting foam. We both suspected it might have something particular to sourcing of herbs and botanicals, and I wondered if juniper might be the common thread. When I shared the results with Daniel Warrilow, the Italian portfolio ambassador for Campari America, he didn’t seem surprised. He agreed that juniper was a key factor, pointing out that, in Braulio’s case, its oils remain in the amari after maceration, giving it aroma, flavor and, most importantly, texture.
Shaking amaro with ice can transform the flavor and texture of the liqueur in question.
The Top Five
Of the 22 Amaro Shakeratos we sampled, we narrowed down a shortlist of our personal favorites. In these five amari, the quick shake and chill down honored the original appeal of the neat, room-temperature classic serve while adding a new layer of flavor, texture and complexity.
As we suspected based on Dow’s early efforts, the iconic alpine amaro Braulio was the only brand with a perfect score. When shaken, the body took on a more honeyed hue, but a ring of darkness slowly rose from the bottom of the glass. With its 1-inch layer of aromatic foam, it filled up the entire Nick & Nora glass. “I’ve never seen any shaken amaro achieve that level of foam,” says Dow. “It’s like there’s an egg white in there.”
- From: Bormio, Lombardy, Italy
- ABV: 21%
Brancamenta maintained the Guinness-like head achieved by its bitter brother, Fernet-Branca, but stood out on flavor thanks to its lower ABV and sweeter profile. Both Dow and I agreed that it came on like a composed cocktail, putting us in mind of a Grasshopper.
- From: Milan, Lombardy, Italy
- ABV: 30%
On its own, Amaro dell’Etna has a classic Sicilian profile of bright citrus. But adding botanicals sourced from the rich, volcanic soil of nearby Mount Etna introduces a Braulio-like alpine complexity to the trademark robust profile. When shaken, this took on the reddish color of Dr Pepper and elevated the herbal profile from secondary to primary.
- From: Catania, Sicily, Italy
- ABV: 29%
Heirloom Pineapple Amaro
Heirloom Pineapple Amaro was the only American-made amaro that made the final cut and maintained its striking texture nearly two hours later. “This is on the better end of what I’ve seen in my past experiments,” says Dow. “If I walked into the room and saw this, I would think it’s a pour of beer, or it could be a Gold Rush cocktail.”
- From: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
- ABV: 30%
“Stay, stay, stay. Don’t go, I want you to stay,” Dow whispered as he watched the foam form at the surface of the glass of shaken Cynar. The carciofo-style amaro kept its trademark bitterness but was a bit more viscous, like it had been served from a nitro tap.
- From: Padua, Veneto, Italy
- ABV: 16.5%