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Amari: Bartenders are making their own, you can too!

Now you can discover what New York’s bartenders are doing: making your own bitter liqueurs for sipping or mixing.

Amaro means bitter in Italian. The plural form of amaro, amari, describes a category of herbal Italian liqueurs made with ingredients like herbs, roots, flowers, barks, and citrus. Products like Averna are on the sweeter side of the spectrum, those like Fernet Branca are on the drier side, and Ramazotti falls somewhere in the middle. You’ll find some interesting oddballs in amari like Cynar, a popular liqueur flavored with artichoke.

The first amari were created in Monasteries for medicinal purposes, and in the late 19th century, commercial bottles appeared in Italy’s apothecaries. These drinks are consumed after dinner as digestifs, and are purported to settle the stomach following a big meal.

Many bartenders at restaurants like Del Posto, Franny’s and Caffé Muzio are embracing the culinary DIY movement and have begun making their own with bases of wine, vermouth, or neutral grain alcohol. Each establishment has developed its own recipes to serve neat or in cocktails.

Elissa Crum, a bartender at Caffé Muzio, talked to me about the house-made amari they offer (pictured in this post). She explained that the Amari can be rather bitter and disjointed at first but, unlike fruit-infused vodkas, they mellow out with time; it takes a good 3-6 months for full integration. If you’ve added all your ingredients but don’t like where the flavor is going, you can tweak it by adding more spices and herbs.

Here is one recipe for you to try at home created by Caffé Muzio’s masterful mixologist, Kevin Patricio. To source some of the more esoteric ingredients, Patricio recommends SOS Chefs in NYC and health food stores like Bell Bates.

Muzio Amaro Bionda

Makes 8 cups

8 cups pure grain alcohol, or other neutral spirit

5 dried Angelina plums

1 Tahitian vanilla bean

1 large pinch orange blossom flowers

1 large pinch saffron

1 cup star anise, toasted and cooled

1 cup jujube

1 cup toasted Szechuan peppercorns

½ cup African banana peppercorns

½ cup Javanese peppercorns

½ cup elderberry

3 cups simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water)

3 cups bianco vermouth

1. Make the base: Combine the grain alcohol, plums, vanilla, orange blossoms, saffron, star anise, jujube, peppercorns and elderberry in a large, sealed container and infuse for at least 3 weeks, but preferably longer. When you’re ready to serve, strain through a coffee filter placed inside a fine mesh strainer.

2. Make the amaro: In a large container, combine the simple syrup, vermouth and 2 cups of the infusion, adjusting the dilution to taste. Serve neat and store in the refrigerator for up to a year. The remaining base will keep indefinitely.