Fernet-Branca. Averna. Cynar: What do they have in common? They’re all types of amaro. The bittersweet Italian liqueur is made by infusing grape brandy or a neutral spirit with any number of botanicals, citrus peels, aromatic barks and spices. Although all styles of amaro are bitter, flavor profiles can range from rhubarb to orange peel to coffee to menthol. amaro has traditionally been consumed as an after-dinner digestif, but lately, bartenders are turning to the complex spirit to add depth of flavor and dimension to cocktails.
Jay Sanders thinks amaro newcomers should take a shot of Fernet-Branca right off the bat. “It’s called the bartender’s handshake for a reason,” he says. “Typically, if we go out, someone’s having a shot of Fernet-Branca.” Although Fernet may be one of the better-known bottles, Sanders (who recently moved to Manifesto) used a range of amari to balance the drinks at SoT in Kansas City. “Amaro is an amazing way to add depth and balance to any drink you want to make,” he says. In particular, he says amaro is becoming a popular way to lend herbaceous notes to sweet Tiki-style cocktails. For instance, the recent Andy Rieger Takes a Vacation – named for his friend and the co-founder of J. Rieger & Co. – featured the local distillery’s Caffè Amaro with passion fruit, orgeat syrup, cinnamon bark syrup and lemon. Last month, South of Truman’s new general manager Taylor Johnson added a handful of cocktails on tap, including a classic Paper Plane with bourbon, Aperol, lemon and Amaro Nonino.
SoT, 1521 Grand Blvd., Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.842.8482, sotkc.com
Pig & Pickle
Some people enjoy shower beers, but Jeffrey Moll? He keeps a bottle of Amaro Averna in his shower caddy. The bar manager at Pig & Pickle in St. Louis first made his love of amaro well-known to diners at the now-shuttered Randolfi’s, where he snuck amaro into just about every cocktail on the lengthy list. “It’s almost like a holy trinity of flavor: You have bitter, sweet and herbaceousness," he says. When he joined the team at Pig & Pickle last fall, Moll brought one of his favorite amaro cocktails with him. The Cuban Missile Crisis features a base of Fernet-Branca with Carpano Antica vermouth, green chartreuse, Campari and Amaro Sibilla. The cocktail is also a favorite shift drink for bartenders at Planter’s House, where Moll splits his time behind the bar. This spring, he hopes to introduce a few more amaro-forward drinks there, too. “[Each amaro is] so very different, but they add so many layers of flavor and interesting nuances,” he says.
Pig & Pickle, 5513 Pershing Ave., Skinker-DeBaliviere, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.349.1697, pigandpickleeatery.com
Barred Owl Butcher & Table
When bar manager Andrew Ruth developed the bar program at Barred Owl Butcher & Table, he had to prove he could sell amaro. Now, the Columbia, Missouri, spot easily carries the biggest selection in town. “A lot of times, amaro is an expression of the region where it comes from,” he says. “Just like a wine, you’re tasting the terroir." At Barred Owl, the bartenders play with different styles of amari in the Keep it Classy, which features a bartender’s choice of a barrel-aged spirit and amaro with Benedectine. Barred Owl also makes its own house amaro: Herbs, citrus peels and botanicals are macerated with a neutral spirit and sugar. The Barred Amaro is on the sweeter side, with notes of caramel and orange, yet finishes bitter. An ongoing joke behind the bar is Barred Owl’s Infinity Amaro: an equal part of each and every amaro on the menu blended together. “It’s something you can’t get anywhere else, and it’s actually very tasty,” Ruth says.
Barred Owl Butcher & Table, 47 E. Broadway, Columbia, Missouri, 573.442.9323, barredowlbutcher.com