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The 10 best amaros and how to drink them

One category of drinks that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves is amaros. Traditionally defined as Italian bitter herbal liqueurs, these make for not only extremely useful cocktail ingredients but also delicious aperetifs or digestifs to enjoy as sippers. While you almost certainly recognize some of the better known examples in the category like Campari and Aperol, there are also hundreds of smaller brands and other options for you to explore.

Amaros won’t be to everyone’s taste — they tend to have strong bitterness as well as plenty of sweetness, and are often syrupy in a way which makes them pleasing to some and off putting to others. But if you’ve never tried amaros, or if you’ve only tried a small selection, then it’s worth hunting down some examples to test out. They tend to be reasonably low in alcohol compared to spirits, so they won’t knock you over, and if you know how to work with them then they can be wonderful additions to a home bar.

I’ve been an amaro enthusiast since I was introduced to the sweet, fruity Montenegro while on vacation in Italy, and now I love using them in cocktails as well as drinking them neat. If you’re looking to branch out into this exciting and delicious world, here are 10 of my favorites that I recommend as well as tips on how to drink each one.


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The most widely recognized icon of amaros is Campari, the bright red, bitter star of cocktails like the negroni and the boulevardier. No home bar could be complete without a bottle as it finds use in a wide range of drinks which benefit from its bracing herbal bitterness. If you’ve only experienced Campari in cocktails and you’re interested in using it in your own creations, it’s instructive to try a small sip of it neat to see just how sweet it is as well as being bitter — you can even use it as a sweetener in some cases.

However, most people aren’t going to enjoy neat Campari, so my recommendation for a drink to show off its depth is a Campari spritz. Simply add a healthy slug of Campari to a glass of prosecco and top with a little fizzy water for a deeper, more sharp take on the ever-popular Aperol spritz.


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Speaking of Aperol spritz, the next item on our list is the glowing orange star of the ever-popular summer drink. Aperol spritzes are everywhere, and for good reason — Aperol has many of the interesting herbal qualities of Campari but a less bitter, more fruity flavor which makes it more approachable. Though some people deride Aperol for being too trendy or too sweet, to my mind it’s popular because it’s delicious, and that’s not a bad thing. My tip to make Aperol spritzes more interesting for those who are bored of them is to try using a big, salty olive as a garnish instead of the usual slice of orange. The salty brine adds a great contrast to the sweet notes of the drink.

As for how to drink it, though, a lesser known beer cocktail that I adore in an Aperol mist. It combines hearty wheat beer with a zing of fresh lemon juice and a healthy pour of Aperol. The result is something rich in texture with a bready, chewy note from the beer that is shot through with bittersweet Aperol. Delicious and unexpected.


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As mentioned in the introduction, this fruity liqueur is what first drew me to amaros. It’s extremely smooth and definitely on the sweeter end of the amaro spectrum, but it has a pungent almost rose-like scent which is unlike anything else I’d drunk before. It’s easy to drink and easy to enjoy, so it’s the perfect bottle to bring out for a quick round of drinks before or after a meal with friends. If you like the vanilla notes of almond biscuits or the sweet, sippable qualities of limonchello but are looking for something a bit more unusual, this is a great choice.

There are various ways to enjoy Montenegro like the Montenegro sour, and it goes well with bourbon too, but my favorite way to enjoy this is simply to sip it neat. Add an ice cube if you like, but this is an easy, fun, unfussy sort of amaro to share with friends.


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From something everyone will enjoy to something that some people definitely won’t, we come to the weird and wonderful Cynar. Made from, of all things, artichoke, this amaro is less savory than you might imagine and tastes almost more like something licorice or aniseed based. While some people will be put off by that description, if you find most liqueurs too sweet or too one note, then this will be right up your alley. When mixed into cocktails it brings a rich, earthy note which I can only describe as tasting like mud — but in a good way.

My favorite drink with Cynar is my go-to choice for lazy summer evenings: a Cynar fizz. It’s incredibly simple to make, with equal parts of Cynar and fresh lemon juice poured over ice and topped up with fizzy water, but it has a rich complexity which belies its simple construction. For my fellow lovers of black coffee, red wine, and other bold, bitter flavors, this one is a must.

Amaro Nonino

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Amaro Nonino is on the fruiter end of the amaro range, with an orange-forward flavor and a sherry-like quality. It has a higher abv than other amaros, so there’s more of a solid heft to it, but that balances nicely with the fruit flavors. As it’s based on grappa it has that combination of sweetness and spiritousness, though it’s far less harsh that the abv would make you think.

To my mind, this is an essential bottle for a home bar even if it’s for just one drink: the Paper Plane. A modern cocktail classic, this combines equal parts of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice which are shaken together to create a complex, sophisticated cocktail that has fruity and herbal layers.

Fernet Branca

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For those who like their drinks dark and bitter, there is an amaro choice that’s obvious: Fernet Branca. This amaro built up a reputation as a favorite shot among bartenders, which has led to it popping up in bars all around the world. It’s strange, fascinating, and somewhat reminiscent of a syrupy cough mixture for adults. That might not sound that appealing, but its unusual flavor profile is part of what makes it such a cult favorite. It has an earthy, musky quality that is shot through with a healthy dose of mint to keep it fresh and not too heavy.

This goes well with ginger and can be mixed with ginger ale or coke, though I like to pour a shot into a strong black coffee for a bracing after dinner treat. As a bonus, if you absolutely love mint flavors then you might enjoy the even more minty Branca Menta, which I like to use with vanilla ice cream for an unholy take on the grasshopper cocktail.


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For something less weird and much more approachable, there’s Averna. This chocolately amaro has notes of orange and licorice, and a caramel quality which makes it easy to sip and to enjoy. It still has the herbal complexity that you’d look for in an amaro, but it’s mellow and smooth in a way that rounds off some of the bitter edges compared to others.

I like to add Averna to espresso martinis to give some herbal interest to a drink which can otherwise be overly sweet, or to use it in place of sweet vermouth with a dash of chocolate bitters for a darker and moody take on the negroni.

Punt E Mes

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While technically a vermouth, Punt e Mes often gets categorized in with the amaros because of its heavy use of herbs. It has cinnamon notes and a vanilla and berry sort of taste which means it’s often a little difficult to use as a sweet vermouth because it has so much complexity — but it makes a wonderful amaro.

Some people like to use this in a negroni but I find the flavor is a little too busy for that — however, it is absolutely delicious when enjoyed over ice with a splash of fizzy water and a slice of orange.

Bruto Americano

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While the other amaros we’ve been looking at are Italian, the style is occasionally made outside of Italy as well — such as the Bruto Americano from St George in the U.S. It’s not dissimilar to Campari, as you might guess from the bright red color, and it’s often suggested as a substitution for Campari for that reason. But it’s got more of an earthy, herbal taste to it and less of the citrus peel that you find in Campari, though it’s also less heavy on the bitterness.

Fans of the negroni will already be itching to try it in that drink, and that would be my recommendation — pair it with a citrusy gin and a sweeter vermouth like Dolin for a interesting take on a familiar classic.

Amaro Lucano

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I stumbled across Amaro Lucano in an Italian airport, of all places, and have never been so pleased at making an impulsive purchase in duty free. It’s a mild, soft amaro that would make a great entry into the world of amaros for those who find all the discussion of bracing bitterness and earthy flavors a bit much. It’s well balanced with plenty of florals and light spice to balance out the orange peel flavors, and you’d be happy to sip this neat on a warm summer evening.

If you fancy mixing with it, this is one of my favorites to use for a black Manhattan, which uses amaro in place of sweet vermouth. Two parts rye to one part Amaro Lucano, stirred well with a dash of bitters, makes for a spicy, herbal take on the well-known Manhattan.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet

Georgina Torbet is a cocktail enthusiast based in Berlin, with an ever-growing gin collection and a love for trying out new recipes. When she's not in her other life writing about science she's sampling local craft beers, hunting down interesting Italian amaros, or making strange and experimental cocktails for anyone who stops by her compact but much loved home bar.

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