An amaro (meaning "bitter") is the quintessential Italian after-dinner cordial, an herbal liqueur made by infusing alcohol with a wide variety of herbs, roots, aromatics, and spices.
The major commercially produced varieties include Ramazzotti, Averna, Fernet-Branca and Amaro Montenegro and there are hundreds more. Many are made by monasteries throughout Italy, following centuries-old traditional recipes that were originally believed to have medicinal properties.
This recipe for a homemade version yields a simple amaro that's not too sweet and not too strong, about 30% alcohol. A tiny glass will be very tasty at the end of a meal, aiding digestion and spreading a pleasing warmth through your insides. It calls for some somewhat-obscure roots and spices. Your best bet for finding them would probably be a natural-foods store or a homeopathic pharmacy. Use dry vermouth for this recipe. Dry vermouth is often more citrusy, herbaceous, and will taste more floral than sweet vermouth.
A homemade amaro also makes for a really original—and much-appreciated—hostess or holiday gift.
- 5 lemon balm leaves (Melissa officinalis)
- 5 sage leaves
- 10 rosemary leaves (not sprigs)
- 1 flowered top of a European Centaury plant
- 15 juniper berries
- 5 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick (1/2 inch long)
- 1 piece Florentine Iris root (orris root, broken up into smaller pieces)
- 1 piece calamus root (sweet flag, broken up into smaller pieces)
- 1 piece yellow gentian root (bitter root, broken up into smaller pieces)
- 1 piece carline thistle root (broken up into smaller pieces)
- 2 flowering milk thistle leaves
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grain alcohol (Everclear)
- 2 2/3 cups dry white vermouth
- 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Gather the ingredients.
Macerate all of the herbs and spices in the grain alcohol for 5 days in a large glass jar, tightly closed. If it's warm and sunny out, wrap the jar in dark paper to keep the light out and set it in the sun to steep.
At the same time, combine the vermouth and the sugar in a second glass jar, close it tightly, and store it in a cool, dark place for the same 5-day period; the sugar will gradually dissolve.
After 5 days, strain the alcohol through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean glass bottle, stopper it, and store in a cool dark place. Transfer the strained herbs and spices to the vermouth-and-sugar jar and let them steep for another 7 days.
Then strain the infused and sweetened vermouth through a fine-mesh sieve into the bottle with the infused alcohol. Let the mixture sit for 1 day, then filter (through a paper coffee filter). You can, at this point, transfer your homemade amaro into an elegant bottle, tightly corked. Let it age in a cool, dark place for at least 8 months.