In a previous blog post, we experimented with the Italian American cocktail to make use of two bottles of Amaro that were languishing in the bar. Ingredients for the Italian American include Campari and maple syrup as well as bourbon and bitters, so our goal for revisiting Amaro is to create a more straightforward cocktail along the lines of a Manhattan. The Manhattan, made with whiskey or bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, hasn’t gained traction with me, mainly because I don’t care for sweet vermouth. Substituting Amaro for vermouth provides the perfect solution.
Amaro is a distilled Italian liqueur made with a proprietary blend of botanicals and consumed as an aperitif/digestif. The two that we’ve tasted are very different, but what they have in common is a smoky aroma and somewhat bitter flavor. The lighter Amaro Montenegro is dominated by the spicy scent of clove and fruity orange peel, followed by light aromas of smoke and wood, and hints of vanilla, eucalyptus, and flowers. Lightly bitter orange and black licorice fill the palate and leave with a grapefruit-tasting finish.
The darker Amaro CioCiaro smells like a campfire, cedar and wood smoke. The campfire theme follows through on the palate with the flavor of barbecue charred meat. Although not as complex as the Montenegro, flavors of lemon rind, licorice, and coffee reveal themselves the longer they linger on the tongue.
The Woodford Reserve Bourbon we’re using is one of the more oaky bourbons in our collection. Oak on the nose is followed by maple, barrel char, and spicy pepper and clove on the palate. The finish is creamy with notes of toffee. Woodford offers a good level of complexity in a moderately priced bourbon.
- 2 oz. bourbon
- 1 oz. Amaro
- Dash of Angostura bitters (Orange bitters also work well, if available)
- Maraschino cherries
- Orange wedge
- Place a couple of cherries and the orange wedge in a glass and muddle gently.
- Add ice in the glass.
- Add bourbon, Amaro, bitters and stir.
Both Amaro Montenegro and Amaro CioCiaro work well in our Amaro Manhattan with the CioCiaro tasting slightly better. The pleasing bitterness and charred meat flavors of the Amaro complement the maple, oak, and spice of the bourbon. The muddled cherry and orange add a subtle fruit essence to the glass. A small amount of ice in the glass did a good job of lightly chilling without watering down. What we find remarkable is that a cocktail with so few ingredients can taste this complex.
Not being fans of vermouth, Amaro is a welcome change to our Manhattans!