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.
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.