Cocktail bitters such as the well-known angostura and Peychauds are very bitter alcoholic liquids that started out as medicinals but are now used to lend a bitter flavor to cocktails. They are usually too strong and bitter to drink own their own. In other words, they are not “potable.” For this reason, they can be sold in grocery stores despite their alcohol content. Amaro, however, means bitter in Italian and amari (the plural) are often described as Italian bitters. You won’t find any at the grocery store, though, so what is the difference between amari and bitters?
You can learn more about bitters by visiting the following pages:
What Is Amaro?
An amaro, basically, although bitter, is mild enough to drink straight. Although we use a couple of dashes of cocktail bitters to flavor mixed drinks, a couple of dashes of amaro would make little difference. According to Brad Thomas Parsons in Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, “amaro refers to the collective class of Italian-made aromatic, herbal, bittersweet liqueurs traditionally served as a digestif after a meal.”
So, amari are liqueurs, just as bitters are and they are made in the same way as liqueurs. For that matter, bitters are made in the same way, but with a stronger infusion. You can learn about how liqueurs are made and learn how to make your own homemade cocktail bitters here at CulinaryLore.
Both bitters and amari use the same types of ingredients such as bitter barks, herbs, seeds, spices, citrus peels, and other botanicals. Amari tend to be made with neutral spirits or wine just as most bitters (there are no rules). But amari have more sugar and more the ratio of liquid to ingredient is higher.
Some Italian Amari are:
- Amaro Averna
- Amaro Lucano
- Amaro Montenegro
- Amaro Ramazzotti
- Amaro Sibilla
- Nardini Amaro Bassano
- Amaro Dell’erborista
- Amaro Abano
- Amaro Istria
- Amaro Meletti
There are also amari from other regions.
Amaro, by the way, is not related to amaretto.
As Mark Bitterman points out in Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters & Amari, there are really no rules. You can find bitters that are very sweet, and amari that are less sweet and very bitter. Sometimes it may seem the only defining distinction is that bitters come in small bottles and amari in large ones, but the basic differences outlined above should serve.
Bitterman reveals that you can easily turn bitters, store-bought or otherwise, into an amaro (or something like it), which can be drunk as a digestif or aperitif. Or, if you’re not into fancy talk, anytime you want.
All you need to do this is a couple of tablespoons of bitters, one aromatic and one flavored (your choice) a tablespoon of thick syrup and a tablespoon of water.
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