Amaro, an Italian herbal liqueur, is made from a secret medley of herbs, roots, flowers, bark and citrus peels. Traditionally consumed as a digestif, amaros now wind their way into countless craft cocktails, adding complexity, sweetness and a lightly bitter bite. In a cocktail dubbed The Diplomat, for example, Boise's Modern Hotel blends Amaro Nonino with tequila, dry vermouth, orange bitters, coffee beans and orange peel. This month, we sampled a few amaros side-by-side to savor their differences. Here are the panel's results:
Amaro CioCiaro, $25.55
This 30 percent ABV libation pours a dark brown in the glass, with pungent wafts of orange peel and root beer on the nose that one taster described as a "combo of soda pop and medicine." On the palate, it's earthy and brooding with a subtle sweetness to counteract the lingering bitter finish that another taster compared to "biting into a citrus peel." This amaro would make a great mixer.
Amaro Nonino, $45
There's even more bright citrus on the nose of this 35 percent ABV, whiskey-hued amaro, which is made from a grape distillate base. Subtle licorice notes also come through, though they're not nearly as rooty or pronounced as in the Amaro CioCiaro. The palate is clean and elegant, with a balanced sweetness and complex bitter finish. This was the panel's favorite sipper.
Liquore d'erbe Amaro Tosolini, $34
With a syrupy, dark brown hue and a medicinal nose, this 30 percent ABV amaro was the panel's least preferred. Perplexingly, it managed to be both too sweet and too bitter at the same time. One taster compared it to "burnt licorice root covered in sugar," and "goldenseal tea with root beer dumped in it," adding "the first one is a pretty party, comparatively." (Not available on shelves at ISLD stores, but can be special ordered.)