The Italian custom of reaching for a bottle of amaro to settle one’s stomach after a meal dates back centuries—and persists today in every corner of the boot. It is, undoubtedly, one of Italy’s greatest traditions.
It’s become a staple stateside as well, but in America we have bartenders to thank for our modern embrace of this category of bittersweet, herbal liqueurs. It’s through their inventiveness in creating cocktails that demonstrate the dynamic versatility of the different styles that amaro has become a go-to behind the bar.
Whether used as a modifier, like vermouth, or as a base ingredient, amaro can introduce an herbal complexity along with a rich texture, and each bottle of amaro is singular in its profile. For example, Averna’s classic Sicilian profile of bright citrus and aromatic Mediterranean herbs has made it a gateway amaro for many people new to the category, while Cynar’s lower proof and pronounced bitterness has made it a dynamic amaro that works in virtually any style of cocktail. And the full-bodied, barrel-aged blend of alpine aromatics in Braulio brings a warm brightness and forest-floor profile to drinks.
Bartenders continue to be among the best ambassadors to help educate people on amaro; they created the vehicles by which these storied elixirs made their way into the hands of eager drinkers, after all. To recognize their work, PUNCH has gathered together a spirited band of “Amarophiles”—10 bartenders from cities across America who, through their drinks, demonstrate a unique approach, and passion for, the amaro category—to create a series of original cocktails highlighting Averna, Braulio and Cynar in inventive ways. Here are their drinks.
Our Swords | Dan Sabo
“I love working with amaro because of the immense variety within the category,” says bartender Dan Sabo, “and how much you can change a drink by subbing a small amount of one amaro for another to create something entirely different.” Named after the Band of Horses song, Our Swords is a bittersweet julep that is built on a base of Cynar. “This drink grew out of my love of the pairing of artichokes and peaches; they’re a delicious duo,” says Sabo. “I built off this like I would a culinary dish, and added some nuttiness with the sherry, some tart sweetness with Cherry Heering and fresh green flavor from mint.”
BB Highball | Jon Mullen
Brooklyn bartender Jon Mullen’s avant-garde highball is inspired by seasonality and sustainability. To a base of Braulio, he adds dehydrated citrus juice (or “citrus caramel,” as he calls it), fall-forward concord grape juice, a measure of gin and bitters. The dehydration of the juice is his means of repurposing fresh citrus that is past its prime and would otherwise be tossed out; it results in a high-acid jelly that is a great balancer in drinks and, in this case, punches up the aromatics in Braulio. “Small doses of amaro are great to add bitterness and texture to drinks,” says Mullen, “while more amaro-forward cocktails offer an opportunity to introduce guests to the category and the complex flavors it has to offer.”
Pineapple Express | Caitlin Patterson
Caitlin Patterson’s Pineapple Express gets a double-dose of amaro courtesy of both Averna and Cynar. To that, she adds a measure of rosemary-infused mezcal and incorporates her tropical flair by way of fresh pineapple and lime juices. “The Averna and Cynar… really bring something to the table to round out the drink and keep it from becoming overly sweet,” she says.
Alpine Pass | Max Green
For bartender Max Green, amaro has become a bona fide staple. “I can’t imagine a world where bitters aren’t part of a cocktail,” says Green. “Amaro is invaluable.” The name of Green’s bitter highball-spritz combination is a nod to Valtellina, the Northern Italian valley where Braulio is made, and a key travel route between Italy and Germany. The pronounced bitterness and complex flavors of Braulio are rounded out with a “subtle sweetness” from vermouth; meanwhile, “the menthol and woody notes evolve, and the essential oils of citrus add a bright undertone,” he says.
The Turnbuckle | Jen Akin
Seattle bartender Jen Akin adds amaro to her tiki-style cocktail for added depth. “I love the bittersweet and savory elements of Cynar and I think this cocktail really showcases those elements,” says Akin. “The nuttiness of the orgeat and the tart fruit from the passionfruit play beautifully with Cynar; [it’s] a perfectly balanced bittersweet and tropical cocktail.”
Agave Gracias | Christine Wiseman
The inspiration for Christine Wiseman’s Agave Gracias cocktail started with piloncillo, a rich, unrefined cane sugar from Latin America. In her Old-Fashioned variation, she adds Braulio for its “rich, refreshing, bitter backbone” and rounds out the Latin American inspiration with mezcal. “I love to work with amari because of the complexity of each one,” says Wiseman. “By simply adding a half-ounce of amaro to a cocktail you can completely change the vibe and energy of the drink.”
Thunder Gun Espresso | Annie Williams
“My style is clean and boozy, but more than anything, I love getting people to try new things,” says Columbus, Ohio, bartender Annie Williams, “and I love this drink because it’s a little outside of my comfort zone.” She calls for Averna in her amaro-forward Thunder Gun Espresso cocktail for its “beautiful coffee, citrus, cinnamon and bitter chocolate notes.” Williams also loves “the complexity that amaro inherently brings to a cocktail.” Here, the familiar notes of coffee from the cold-brew and aromatic, spicy chocolate bitters help make this a great “intro to amaro” cocktail.
North Country | Jared Sadoian
Jared C. Sadoian often turns to “upside-down” drinks—where the base and modifier ratios are flipped—for a way to pair strong flavors in a way that won’t, as he says, “put you under the table.” His Manhattan variation marries fall in New England with the warm spices of the iconic alpine amaro, Braulio. He combines heirloom ice cider from northern Vermont, bonded apple brandy and an aromatic dash of bitters to bring it all together in the glass. “This is a full-flavored drink that remains light on its feet,” says Sadoian. “It’s versatile as an aperitif or a lingering after-dinner sip.”
Cynar and Kola | Orlando Franklin McCray
A natural curiosity for employing alternative acids in cocktails led New York bartender Orlando Franklin McCray on a self-described “kola nut kick.” This, coupled with his continued desire to “make highballs a little more interesting but not at all complicated,” brought about his inventive take on the Cynar and Cola recipe found the back label of the Cynar bottle, which he spikes with his own version of cola syrup. “I wanted to make it my way,” says McCray, who, like many bartenders, is drawn to amaro for its versatility as a modifier, a base ingredient or simply a cocktail in and of itself, to be enjoyed neat.
Après Ski Julep | Stacey Swenson
Named after the leisurely lifestyle she imagines to be endemic to the Italian Alps, Stacey Swenson created her Après Ski Julep to spotlight “Braulio’s fresh, minty alpine brightness and warming spices.” While many bartenders use amaro as a modifier in cocktails, Swenson prefers to use Braulio in place of the base spirit, swapping in a high-proof bourbon as a modifier. “It’s a way to cut back on the alcohol without sacrificing flavor,” she says. “Amaro was my gateway into my love for spirits and cocktails. It’s so complex, but so comforting and soothing at the same time.” The result is a spirited, cold-weather julep.