U.S. distillers are creating a splash with their own versions of the bitter Italian liqueur. Here, a guide to the best American-made amari

Published on Saveur.com BY LAURA ITZKOWITZ MAY 17, 2019

When Amor y Amargo opened in 2011 in New York’s East Village, there was only one amaro produced in the U.S. on its shelves. Now there are more than 20, though Sother Teague, the bar’s founder and New York City’s resident amaro expert, says the American amaro scene is “still incubating,” so more bottles are bound to come out of the woodwork.

The rise in domestically produced amaro is, at least in part, correlated to an increased interest among consumers in amaro (plural: amari), the category of bittersweet liqueur originally produced in Italy. And though the Italian giants like Campari and Aperol still dominate backbars across the country, a number of craft distilleries that were already making vodka, whiskey, and other spirits right here in the U.S. are adding an amaro to their portfolio. There are even some distillers that started out expressly producing amaro, even if they have since added other liqueurs to their range.

“Whatever was being produced was just being consumed by the maker or the neighborhood, which is how it starts all over the world,” says Teague, explaining why he’s got so many more domestic amari on his shelves now than he did in 2011. Now that they’re becoming more available, America is going through a bit of an amaro craze, and Teague is one of its most vocal champions. At Amor y Amargo, he pours the products that he likes best, and distillers send him their bottles with the hopes of getting them on his shelves.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about amaro is that each one is so unique that almost everybody can find a type that suits them. While American distillers are using some less traditional ingredients like coffee or hibiscus, Teague believes there’s no fundamental difference between Italian amari and American ones, since they’re so hard to define in the first place. “Overwhelmingly, even American amari try to stick to the traditional thinking and methodology,” he says, alluding to the rich history of sourcing local botanicals for amari, and creating a taste of place. “Each one of these is trying to do things with stuff from where they’re at.”

While the American amaro market continues to grow, there are already a few available that are the best of the best. Here are the 10 American amari Teague recommends seeking out right now.

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The Coffee-Tinged Amari

Teague sees these as a great alternative to saccharine coffee liqueurs like Kahlúa and Tia Maria. Both amari are made using local coffee. Amaro Pazzo—which translates to “crazy bitter” in Italian—is produced by Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The base spirit is distilled on-site, where they also make vodka, gin, whiskey, and a few other spirits and cordials. It’s infused with wormwood, gentian, chicory, orange peel, and several other botanicals, and then blended with coffee by Madcap Coffee Company.

Bartender and distiller Ryan Maybee revived Kansas City whiskey—a type of whiskey that died out during Prohibition—and named his distillery J. Rieger & Co. after the family that used to make it in the early 1900s. He recently teamed up with Kansas City coffee brewers Thou Mayest to create Caffè Amaro, which Maybee ages in his old whiskey barrels.

ALEXANDER SINN • MAR 19, 2019

There was little fanfare Monday night as the Grand Haven City Council voted to allow Long Road Distillers to set up shop in town.

The approval of a tasting room at 102 Washington Ave. came after the council earlier this month rejected the Grand Rapids-based distillery’s proposal for a similar venue at the city’s train depot building near the waterfront.

Instead, Long Road will open a Grand Haven location as part of the space currently occupied by the Copper Post bar and restaurant.

For months, Long Road owners Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor attempted to win over city officials with their plan for the depot, but Mayor Geri McCaleb and Councilman Dennis Scott disapproved of bringing an alcohol-serving establishment to the waterfront, due to the depot’s proximity to family-oriented activities at the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium.

Van Strien and O’Connor attended Monday’s meeting but declined to share comment to the council on the new project. Van Strien said he was disappointed with the city’s process for selecting a depot tenant, which the Long Road owners pursued for its historic nature and waterfront locale.

Council members thanked the business owners for not abandoning their quest to come to Grand Haven.

Councilman Josh Brugger said the city was able to expedite the approval process, placing both a public hearing and liquor license approval on Monday’s agenda.

“I’m glad you didn’t give up on us,” Councilman Bob Monetza said.

Monetza’s thoughts were echoed by both the mayor and Scott as the council approved the liquor license 5-0.

Van Strien said the plans for the Washington Avenue venue will be similar to the proposal for the depot, with an emphasis on cocktails and retail. He said the site is at a crossroads in the downtown between restaurants and retail, and will straddle both markets.

There are currently no plans to build a kitchen in the space, Van Strien said, and food options may be limited upon opening. Long Road and Copper Post will remain separate entities, he added.

After Long Road was rejected for the depot space, Van Strien said numerous property owners in and out of Grand Haven approached him and his partner with offers — none of them public listings.

Long Road also has a tasting room in Boyne City, and Van Strien said coming to Grand Haven and other Lakeshore locations are not “mutually exclusive.”

BY SYDNEY SMITH & JOE BOOMGAARDTuesday, March 19, 2019 04:53pm

GRAND HAVEN — Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers LLC hopes to open a new satellite tasting room on the lakeshore.

Long Road Distillers plans to move forward with an offsite tasting room at 102 Washington Ave. after the Grand Haven City Council voted unanimously in favor of supporting the company’s request for a tasting room license from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

The move comes just days after the body rejected the company’s plans to open a tasting room in the city’s historic former train station.

In a text message to MiBiz, co-owner Jon O’Connor said the Washington Avenue location “looks like a good path moving forward” for the distillery, although he acknowledged there were “still some hurdles” the company needs to overcome.

The initial plans call for a 1,000-square-foot tasting room, he said. The company also hopes to add outdoor seating.

If the Grand Haven plans come to fruition, the tasting room will be the second for Long Road, which also operates a tasting room in Boyne City. The distillery has a full-service bar and restaurant at its main Grand Rapids operations.

“The Long Road team is thrilled to join the Grand Haven community,” Kyle VanStrien, Long Road co-founder and co-owner, said in a statement. “We’ve been working to secure a location in or around downtown for nearly two years, and we’re excited to now find ourselves in the heart of the retail and entertainment district of the city.”

An official opening date has not been announced, though Long Road expects to begin the hiring process soon.

Changes enacted last year to the state liquor control code allow distilleries to serve full pours and cocktails at their tasting rooms, where they had only been allowed to offer samples in the past, as MiBiz previously reported.

By Justine Lofton | jmcguir4@mlive.com March 19, 2019

GRAND HAVEN, MI – Long Road Distillers is coming to Grand Haven despite being turned away from a city-owned property earlier this month.

The distillery will take over about half of the space currently occupied by The Copper Post restaurant in downtown Grand Haven, officials with both businesses said.

“It’s got really nice charm and a vibrant retail district,” said Kyle VanStrien, co-owner of Long Road, of why the company is determined to have a Grand Haven location. “We think we have something to bring to the community in terms of craft cocktails and our award-winning spirits.”

Earlier in March, city council voted down a lease that would have put the tasting room in the city-owned, now-vacant Grand Trunk railroad depot on the downtown waterfront.

The goal is to be open by this summer, he said. Long Road expects to offer handcrafted cocktails, spirit samples, special tasting events, merchandise, bottles and maybe food.

Long Road’s distillery, main tasting room and restaurant are in Grand Rapids. There’s also a tasting room in Boyne City.

During summers, customers flock to the waterfront and business in Grand Rapids slows, which makes Grand Haven a perfect complement, VanStrien said. The company has been working for two years to open in the beach town.

Grand Haven City Council unanimously approved a distillery tasting room license at 102 Washington Ave. for Long Road Distillers during a meeting on Tuesday, March 18. The license application still needs state approval through the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

The city council narrowly rejected leasing the historic depot space to Long Road, with some members objecting to the idea of a distillery so close to the waterfront stadium.

It’s “unfortunate” that the depot will sit empty, VanStrien said. But as soon as the lease was denied, downtown Grand Haven business owners reached out with alternatives. That included the owners of The Copper Post.

“It’s humbling to have that kind of outpouring of support,” he said. “We were surprised at the number of opportunities that weren’t right in front of us – that weren’t listed.”

The Copper Post, 100 Washington Ave., opened during June 2018 in a building that has seen a revolving door of bars and restaurants since 2014 when the Rosebud closed after 12 years. The Rosebud was followed by short stints of Joe’s Wooden Nickle and Grand Haven Brew House.

Business has been good so far, said Cooper Post operating partner Mike Thorp, but he’s not concerned about the loss of seating that will come with leasing or selling a large portion of its indoor space to Long Road. The details of the agreement haven’t been worked out yet, he said.

The Copper Post will keep its patio that has seating for about 75 in addition to the indoor bar area that’s immediately inside the door at the corner of Washington Avenue and First Street.

It is expected that Long Road customers will enter through a door facing Washington Avenue that was previously used but is now covered by the building façade, VanStrien said.

Long Road is expected to be in what is currently an additional dining room for The Copper Post. The space has its own bar and has in the past hosted music entertainment, but does not have its own kitchen.

Long Road and Copper Post officials said they hope the distillery will serve food although it’s not clear if it will be Copper Post’s food or something else.

An archway that connects The Copper Post bar to the future home of Long Road is expected to have a door when the distillery opens, Thorp said.

The distillery will “bolster our brand” and “raise the bar” for Grand Haven’s spirit offerings, he said of why the restaurant owners wanted Long Road in town enough to offer their own space. “It’s a win-win.”

ALEXANDER SINN • MAR 15, 2019

Long Road Distillers may be coming to Grand Haven after all.

After the Grand Haven City Council denied the Grand Rapids-based distillery use of its historic train depot building on the waterfront, property owners in the community reached out to help bring the business to town.

Copper Post, a bar and restaurant at 102 Washington Ave. in the downtown, has offered Long Road a portion of the venue for a tasting room, similar to the proposal for the depot.

A public hearing will take place at Monday’s City Council meeting to grant Long Road a liquor license.

Long Road co-owners Kyle Van Strein and Jon O’Connor had for months been courting the City Council to grant them a 20-month lease at the depot. On March 4, the council voted 3-2 in favor of the distillery, but the measure required a 4-1 vote because it involved a property agreement.

While Mayor Geri McCaleb and Councilman Dennis Scott were concerned about access to alcohol on the city’s waterfront, Councilman Josh Brugger was a strong proponent of bringing in the new business.

“Long Road is potentially a destination spot for people,” Brugger said, calling the likely outcome a “win-win” for the city and the business. He said he anticipates a unanimous vote Monday to approve the distillery’s liquor license.

Van Strein said he was disappointed by the city’s process for selecting a depot tenant, but the business has received an outpouring of interest and support. No listed local properties fit the bill, he said, but property owners extended offers personally.

“The silver lining is a lot of people agreed with us that the process was poorly handled,” Van Strein said. “We’re still committed to the Grand Haven community as a whole.”

Other West Michigan communities have also shown interest in bringing in Long Road, he said. While the distillery may expand elsewhere, Van Strein added, he is enthusiastic about coming to Grand Haven’s downtown.

The Copper Post has two venue spaces, each with a bar, and Long Road would occupy the left-hand side from the entrance at the corner of Washington Avenue and First Street.

Van Strein said he and O’Connor were drawn to the historic building and its interior character, and are open to making improvements. The venue is situated at the transition point of the downtown between restaurants and retail, which Van Strein said is a unique opportunity.

“Us having both dining and drinking components, as well as a heavy focus on retail, we think will be a great transition into the more retail-centric portion of Washington,” Van Strein said.

The Rev. Dr. Jared Cramer, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, urged the council to bring the distillery to the city. Cramer said the craft distillery movement is growing in the country and is just coming to prominence in Michigan.

Cramer said he hopes everything goes “like clockwork” with the approval of the liquor license.

City Council remains focused on bringing a tenant to the depot building to help the city break even on the operating costs, Brugger said. The building, at 1 N. Harbor Ave., features about a third of the space designed for a fixed vendor. The building has undergone renovations in recent years, and City Council will review plans Monday for continued upgrades.

Brugger said he is hopeful the council can agree to bring a vendor to the space soon.

“I have been a proponent of leveraging the community assets for the benefit of the community,” he said. “The depot is a community asset, and right now taxpayers are covering the bill for it. I’m optimistic we’ll find somebody to fill that space.”

By LESTER GRAHAM • MAR 15, 2019

On the counter there was a big stone mortar and pestle, and a capped bottle with a vivid green liquid in it labeled “ARUGULA.” It was clear, this was going to be a different kind of drink.

“I had reason to make some green cocktails a couple of weeks ago and I started thinking about how you can do that and arugula makes a really nice syrup. You just blend it with some simple syrup and you get this beautiful bright green syrup that has some of that nice peppery arugula bite,” explained Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings.

That peppery bite was inspiration for selecting a spirit.

“I immediately thought of long road distillers Wendy Peppercorn spirit,” Tammy said.

Okay. A green drink for St. Patrick’s day. That’s better than green beer, right?

“Anything is better than green beer, Lester,” Tammy quipped.

But, it still didn’t really explain the mortar and pestle. In it were bright pink peppercorns and some salt.

“I thought it really needed a touch of salt and it also just needed a touch of something else,” Tammy said.” “That Wendy Peppercorn is a great spirit. But I wanted the peppercorns to be a little more punchy so I decided that it would be delicious and pretty if I were to put a rim on the glass.”

You’ve probably seen a bartender just dip the rim of the glass in some liquid and then dip it in some salt. That means salt is on the outside and the inside of the rim.

“Here I just carefully used a lime wedge to only put some moisture on the outside of the rim and then I rolled it through that salt and pink peppercorn blend. So if you turn out to not like the saltiness or you don’t like the extra pink peppercorn you’re not constantly bringing more of that back into your drink as you sip it. And for the same reason I also chose to only rim half the glass,” she said.

The Wendy Peppercorn is pretty intense, so Tammy decided to mix in some of Long Road’s Original Vodka. Add some arugula syrup and some lime juice and you’ve got a unique drink.

St. Patrick Peppercorn

1 1/4 oz vodka
3/4 oz Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz arugula syrup
Rim: salt and pink peppercorn

First, prepare your glass. Grind salt and pink peppercorn together in a mortar and pestle or blitz in a spice grinder. Place on a plate. Use a lime wedge to moisten the outside rim of a cocktail coupe, then roll in peppercorn salt. Set aside. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into prepared glass.

Arugula Syrup

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 handfuls baby arugula leaves

Make simple syrup by combining water and sugar in a saucepan and
heating until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. (Alternately, use 6 oz of
already-prepared simple syrup if you have it on hand.) Combine simple
syrup and arugula in a blender. Blend until well pulverized, but not
long enough to heat the syrup and turn it brown (15-30 seconds
depending on your blender). Strain through a fine mesh strainer and
store refrigerated.

This story has been updated to add the Arugula Syrup recipe.

By LESTER GRAHAM • JAN 25, 2019

Combining the best of an after dinner coffee and an after dinner amaro, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings came up with the perfect night cap thanks to a collaboration between a Grand Rapids distiller and a Grand Rapids coffee roaster.

Tammy has been playing around with a new product from Long Road Distillers named Amaro Pazzo in a collaboration with Madcap Coffee.

“There are a lot of different distillers in the state making coffee liqueurs. There’s ample opportunity everywhere,” Tammy noted, adding that she loves the sense of collaboration.

“But, what I really love about Amaro Pazzo is that it took coffee liqueur to a whole new level by incorporating these amaro elements,” she said.

Amaro is a category of liqueur. Historically, amari come from Italy. It seems as though every little town has its own amaro. Most of them are intended as an after dinner drink, a digestivo.

“They are often quite bitter, usually somewhat sweet,” Tammy explained. They include lots of botanicals and tons of interesting flavors.

Tammy was surprised that Amaro Pazzo’s coffee taste is not the first thing you note when taking a sip.

“There’s some orange peel in here so you get a little citrus up front. Then the gentian and wormwood that they’re using as bittering elements really come through. The coffee is actually on the finish,” she said.

She’s been experimenting to see how the new amaro might be used in a cocktail. Sticking with the ‘after dinner’ theme, she decided to concoct a night cap and calls it “A Grand Night” in honor of that Grand Rapids collaboration.

A Grand Night

2 oz Plantation Original dark rum
1 oz Amaro Pazzo
1/2 oz creme de cacao

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir to combine. Strain into a coupe cocktail glass.

Contributed by Amy ZavattoPosted on Jan 21, 2019

Minnesota fernet? Pineapple amaro? Our collective thirst for the Italian liqueur amaro is no bitter pill. So fully have we embraced the low-alcohol, bark and botanical-based digestif that it was only a matter of time before American-made versions began to blossom.

Around the turn of our current decade, companies like Root in Pennsylvania and Leopold Bros. in Colorado launched some of the first serious forays into the domain of digestifs. Today, producers from Buffalo to Los Angeles are on the forefront of a second wave of homegrown amaros. These are 10 standouts to check out right now.

8: LONG ROAD DISTILLERS AMARO PAZZO ($35)
Released in December, this is a collaboration between two Grand Rapids, Mich., producers: Long Road Distillers and Madcap Coffee Company. The bean base they settled upon for the liqueur is Reko from the Kochere region of Ethiopia and offers a citrus oil and candied ginger richness to the combo of botanicals used in the amaro, notably myrrh, turkey rhubarb, orange and wormwood. While they aren’t the first to make an amaro that looks to coffee for some extra complexity, they do appear to be the first to think carefully about what that coffee is and should be (aka, a single origin) and to really dial in how it plays with the botanicals.

POSTED DECEMBER 27, 2018, BY BOB BRENZING
For more, check out the Long Road Distillers website.

December 21, 2018 by Charlie Tinker

It’s a long road from Grand Rapids to Boyne City.

And the Long Road Distillers are making spirits bright in their new location.

They joined the four crew in the Heritage House Kitchen on Friday to concoct some holiday-worthy libations.

Polish Falcon

2 oz Long Road Vodka
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3-4 oz Ginger Beer
Add vodka, lime and ice to cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into metal mug, garnish with lime wheel and mint sprig.

Maple Wheat Toddy

1 1/2 oz Maple Wheat Whisky
1 oz Long Road Cinnamon Simple Syrup
1 oz fresh lemon juice
3-4 oz of hot water
Add whisky, simple syrup and fresh lemon to mug. Top with hot water and stir. Garnish with lemon wheel.

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