Don’t be Bitter if You Get Amaro for Christmas

Its Christmas time, and the gift season is upon us.  While our family is not crazy with exchanging gifts, it is always a struggle to try to keep track of everyone’s taste and interests.  Thankfully, I hail from a family of food lovers who like nothing more than to try new culinary experiences.  While having Italian bitters may not be new, having batch made by yours truly is, so don’t be spilling the beans to my family as you know the contents of one of their presents.

I’ve been on a liquor making kick lately, and came across a recipe for Amaro which sounded intriguing, and decided to investigate exactly what is required to be an amaro.

a bit of tipple for the holidays


Amaro (or “bitter” in Italian, plural Amari) is an Italian herbal liqueur, commonly consumed as a post dinner digestif. It is usually bitter and sweet, sometimes syrupy, with an alcohol content between 16% and 35%. Amari are typically produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peels in alcohol, either neutral spirits or wine, mixing the filtrate with sugar syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in casks or in bottle.

A typical Amaro is flavoured with several (sometimes several dozen) herbs and roots which can include: gentian, angelica, and cinchona (China), lemon balm (melissa), lemon verbena (cedrina), juniper, anise, fennel, ginger, mint, thyme, sage, bay laurel, citrus peels, licorice, cinnamon, menthol, cardamom, saffron, rue (ruta), wormwood (assenzio), and  elder (sambuco).

Similar liqueurs have traditionally been produced throughout Europe, with local variations, notably in Germany, where they are called Kräuter Likör, and several other countries including Hungary, Netherlands, and France.  However, do not be looking for liqueurs from those countries to be called Amaro, as that term is reserved for products of Italy.

Amaro is not amaretto, another Italian liqueur that tastes of almonds, nor is it amarone, a rich Italian dry red wine from Valpolicella.

Types of Amari

Medium – These amari beverages average 32% alcohol by volume, with an even balance between bitter, sweet, and citrus tastes. Examples of this type are Ramazzotti, Averna, Jägermeister, Lucano, Luxardo Amaro Abano, Amaro Bio.

Fernet – more sharply bitter than other amari. Brands include Fernet Branca, Fernet Stock, Luxardo Fernet, Amaro Santa Maria Al Monte.

Light – These amari are lighter in color and often have more citrusy notes. Examples include Amaro Nonino, Amaro Florio, Amaro del Capo, Harry’s.

Alpine – flavored with ‘alpine’ herbs, sometimes with a smoky taste, typically around 17% alcohol content. Examples include Amaro Alpino, Amaro Zara, Amaro Braulio.

Vermouth – wine-based spirit, typically with an alcohol content near 18%, with very little bitterness. These amari resemble vermouth. Examples include Amaro Don Bairo, Amaro Diesus del Frate.

Carciofo – made with artichoke, usually around 17% alcohol content. These amari are usually taken as an aperitif, rather than a digestif. Examples include Cynar and Carciofo (multiple producers).

Tartufo – made with black truffles, bottled at 30% alcohol. Amari of this type are produced in the central Italian region of Umbria, famous for its truffles, as well as in San Marino.

China – made with bark of Cinchona calisaya. The oldest and most popular brand is China Martini, based in Turin. It is traditionally drunk hot.

Rabarbaro – made with rhubarb.

Others – made with honey (‘miele’),  fennel (‘finochetto‘, commonly from Ischia and the Amalfi Coast), metals (e.g. Ferro China Bisleri, which contains ferrous ammonium citrate), unripe green walnuts (‘amaro nocino’ – nocino in a bitter form).

The following brands are commercially produced [the bulk of this list comes from Wikipedia]:


  • Amaro 18 Isolabella
  • Amaro Abruzzese
  • Amaro Antico de Capua
  • Amaro Asiago
  • Amaro Averna
  • Amaro Braulio
  • Baroche Amaro Bio (an all-organic amaro)
  • Amaro Borsci
  • Amaro Campano
  • Amaro Ciociaro
  • Amaro del Carabiniere
  • Amaro dei Trulli
  • Amaro di Sicilia
  • Amaro di Etna
  • Amaro Don Bairo
  • Amaro Erbes
  • Amaro Florio
  • Amaro Giuliani
  • Amaro Gambarotti

Rome in the evening, a time for sipping

  • Amaro Lucano – has a zesty, peppery sweet taste that makes the drinker think of cola.
  • Amaro Medeiterraneo
  • Amaro Mio
  • Amaro Montenegro
  • Amaro Nonino
  • Amaro Penna
  • Amaro Poli
  • Amaro Ramazzotti
  • Amaro san Giuseppe
  • Amaro Santa Maria Al Monte
  • Amaro Savoia
  • Amaro Sibilla
  • Amaro Tonico di Varnelli
  • Amaro Viparo
  • Amaro Zara
  • Averna Amaro Siciliano – burnt caramel and licorice are the prominent notes, and it ends with an entirely satisfying lemon punch.
  • Nardini Amaro Bassano

evening in Tuscany

  • Bénéfort
  • Carciofo
  • Cardamaro
  • China Martini
  • China Stemmi
  • Cynar – the predominate plant contribution here is the artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
  • Diesus Amaro del Frate
  • Fernet-Branca
  • Fernet Stock
  • Fernet Beltion
  • Ferro China Bisleri
  • Harry’s

sunset in Venice

  • Luxardo Amaro Abano – starts with some grassy notes but moves to white pepper and candied orange peel
  • Luxardo Amaro Fernet
  • Radis Amaro
  • Torani Amer
  • Vecchia Umbria
  • Vecchio Amaro del Capo


  • Amer Picon

Other Places

Vienna in the early evening

  • Becherovka
  • Gammel Dansk
  • Gran Classico Bitter
  • Petrus Boonekamp
  • Jägermeister
  • St. Hubertus (liqueur)
  • Unicum

So here’s my version, which I’ll call Falsi Amaro, as it was not made on Italian soil

Falsi Amaro

Note:  I used a recipe from Luscious Liqueurs, by A.J. Rathbun as a starting point, but could not find the same ingredients in my local market so decided to wing it, and happy had great results


1 ½ tsp whole anise seed
2 tsp fresh marjoram
2 tsp fresh rosemary
½ tsp gentian extract
½ tsp whole cloves
6 c vodka
3 c simple syrup


Grind the herbs with a mortar and pestle.  Put them in a large glass container with a lid.

Add the grain alcohol and extract and stir.  Place in a cool dry spot (away from sunlight and forget about it)  I kept mine for about 2+ months.  Every so often I would give it a swirl to shake things up.

Add the simple syrup, stir and reseal for another few weeks, I think I let it sit for another 3 weeks.

Strain the liqueur through a cheese cloth, repeatedly until it comes out clear – I had to do this at least twice, and it probably would have benefited from a third time.  Pour the heady nectar into the bottles you will store it in.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor and impress your friends.




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20 comments for “Don’t be Bitter if You Get Amaro for Christmas

  1. December 16, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    We have a similar drink here. It is so bitter it makes me gag… ;-P A very interesting post.



  2. December 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    Oh hey!! I made something like this before…with simple syrup, vodka, rosemary and lemon zest. I used it to bake an apple pie. It was lovely!
    sophia recently posted..You Raise Me Up

  3. December 17, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    Fascinating – had no idea there were so many types. I’ve never had it – although I am attracted to bitter… maybe it’s my heritage.
    Claudia recently posted..50 Women Game Changers (in Food) #28 Anne-Sophie Pic – tomato chutney

  4. December 20, 2011 at 4:55 AM

    I think this is a wonderful post! I love savouring Amaro & you have made one at home!

    I must try this one for sure! My favourite Amaro is the rabarbaro! It is so good! 😉
    Sophie recently posted..Joy Bauer’s Food cures book review & 2 recipes from her new book!

  5. December 20, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    how wonderful to find out about all the different kinds of amaro! Thanks for the great info!

  6. December 21, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    This is certainly inspirational. I have always meant to do something to flavor vodka! And cute title 😉
    I WIlkerson recently posted..Green Holiday Giving & a Giveaway …

  7. December 22, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    I do love herbs in any form! Would love to try this likör(Turkish term for liqueur). We love to accompany it with Turkish coffee and Turkish delight. Bet your Amaro will be an impressing pair!
    zerrin recently posted..Crunchy Cinnamon Biscuits

  8. December 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    I too am surprised at the varieties, LouAnn. My grandmother made the stuff all the time. And she did everything with it but drink it, lol…I’d love to try my hand at it. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Have a wonderful Holiday Season. It sure makes things a bit easier when there are people in the family who enjoy good food!!!
    Louise recently posted..No Doubt, It’s St. Thomas’ Day

  9. OysterCulture
    December 23, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    Rosa, this version is not bitter at all, you might like it, but heavy on herbal.

    Sophia – I bet this would be good in a pie – you’re a genius!

    5 Star – my pleasure

    I Wilkerson – every so often I get inspired with the title =) It was a wonderfully easy process so definitely give it a try.

    Zerrin – I could see how a Turkish coffee would “complete” it, what a great idea.

    Louise – I am actually the same way with booze, when my husband and I were dating he got a bit suspicious at the arsenal of alcohol I had but was comforted to find I mostly cooked with it.

  10. December 24, 2011 at 2:59 AM

    I’m always curious how the idea of such liqueurs are conceived. Amaro has such a broad range of spices and herbs. It’s impressive and would make a good and novel Christmas gift.
    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best recently posted..Happy Holidays!

  11. December 27, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Very interesting. I know little of bitters – remember having them in Austria once but recently my husband was not feeling well and our waiter brought him a bitters and soda and he really felt like it settled his stomach.
    tammy recently posted..Tidings of Joy

  12. December 28, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    I would love to find a bottle of Amaro under my tree. I am sure your family will be super happy. Thanks for sharing. I never realized there were so many variations.
    vianney recently posted..Roasted Grape Margarita

  13. December 30, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    Your posts are always so informative and fascinating! This is more a drink for my husband who actually likes trying all kinds of digestives, even the bitter ones. I find it interesting that so many are produced – we bought a bottle of something like this in Budapest which was originally drunken (or so they say) for health reasons. Cool! A very Happy New Year to you!!

  14. December 30, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    I’ve grown to enjoy bitters over the years. It’s one of my brother-in-law’s favorite drinks, so I have been sampling a few…

    Wishing you a happy & healthy 2012!

  15. December 30, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    What a wonderful liqueur, I must give this a try!
    I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and wishing you a most perfect 2012!
    Magic of Spice recently posted..What’s for Lunch? Winter Citrus Salad with Currants and Goat Cheese

  16. December 31, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    Happy New Year LouAnn!!!
    Louise recently posted..A Happy New Year Recipe

  17. December 31, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    Have you cooked with it? I hear that’s the new trend — not just using it for cocktails, but actually cooking and baking with it.
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..My Fave Eats of 2011

  18. December 31, 2011 at 10:20 PM

    I would really love to try it!
    Happy New Year, LouAnn!
    Angie@Angie’s Recipesa recently posted..Mango and Vanilla Ice Cream Trifles

  19. Leesie
    January 1, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    How lovely! My late Italian born father made his own grappa and homemade red and white wines. We had a wine cellar in every home 🙂 I wish he were still here as I’m now thinking of trying to make my own homemade concoctions! Even my son wants to make some of his own.


  20. OysterCulture
    January 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    Christine – It is interesting as to how they are made,my first attempt with limoncello really made me adventurous.

    Tammy – good reminder, everything in moderation and also that many of these bitters were first developed for medicinal purposes

    Vianney – it was well received, so gives me hope for something similar for next year.

    MoS – You should try them and I would love to see what you do with it.

    Louise – Happy New Year’s to you!

    Carolyn – I’ve never cooked with it, but I am very intrigued.

    Angie – You too, Angie

    Leesie – Wow, that sounds about perfect, a wine cellar in every home, ready for every event!

    Jaimie – I once got a bottle in Budapest that made similar claims and I was convinced it was more of a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

    Andrea – likewise – here’s to a wonderful 2012

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