Saturday 7 April 2012

Amaro Digestivos

Let's take a look at some of the most popular amaro digestivos, which are amari to be enjoyed after a meal to aid digestion (this is for the most part a tradition, but because of all the herbs involved, you'd be surprised at how a little Fernet can really calm your stomach).
The most traditional way to have a digestivo in Italy, and this includes grappa, is to enjoy it alongside an espresso or coffee after the meal, and in some cases, even pour your amaro into your empty coffee cup to combine a bit of the flavours. I like to enjoy mine in a small liqueur glass just neat, but some of more bitter amari are actually really refreshing afternoon or aperitivo drinks with some ice or soda (I most often drink my Fernet with a hefty splash of soda).

The most popular and available brands in North America are Averna, Montenegro, Fernet Branca, and Ramazzotti (there are numerous others you can find here, and hundreds more you'll find in Italy, but I have to narrow it down. For more examples of what to buy, including some prices, check out this post on buying amaro in B.C.).

Averna Amaro was created by monks, as is often the case in France and Italy, in Sicily in the tradition of Csitercian and Cluniac convents. In 1859 the recipe of herbs for infusion with alcohol was passed on to Salvatore Averna, who was both a Judge Peach and a benefactor of the Convent of St. Spirito's Abbe in Caltanisetta. By 1868, Averna had started his own production of the recipe for houseguests and friends. His son, Francesco, took the recipe and presented it at other monestaries and friars throughout Europe, and by 1895 even presented it to the king. In 1912, Averna became the offical supplier of amaro to the royal household in Italy, and after the early death of Francesco, his wife carried on the legacy until his sons again took over and finally began to export their product to America. By the late 1950's, production had become big enough to sustain a large business, and in another twenty years, Averna became one of the most popular amari in Europe. Averna as a company expanded to produce wine and grappa, but it's biggest product and legacy is that of its amaro. It has a dense but smooth taste, combining herbs, roots, citrus, which are steeped in a neutral alcohol base (likely grappa, but again, I don't have confirmation) before a natural caramel is added. Averna on the rocks is a very suitable aperitivo, but typically is consumed neat as a digestivo. It has a high alcohol content for typical amari (32%), and has a fairly heavy, thick, dark, slightly bitter taste, balanced by a sweet vanilla and caramel, making it excellent for a post-meal drink. I often drink it neat at the end of the night, and so should you - it's an excellent starting point for digestivos.

Amaro Montenegro has a somewhat different beginning, as it was produced in 1885in Bologna by an already established spirit manufacturer by the name of Stanislao Cobianchi. He infused a neutral spirit with many combinations of herbs from his travels all over the world before finally settling on the perfect recipe (supposedly after many sleepless nights), and named it in honour of the marriage of Victor Emmanuel III to the second queen of Italy, Princess Elena of Montenegro. The producer claims it to be the top-selling brand in Italy, though I've seen no confirmation of this (yet I have seen numerous claims that Fernet is the top-selling amaro in and out of Italy). The aroma and flavour bring a fair amount of orange peel, along with coriander, red cherry, pekoe tea, cucumber, and other more bitter but subtle components. It is most popular alongside a coffee or espresso, as is the most traditional Italian way.

Amaro Ramazzotti dates back further than any other I've found, to 1815, when Ausano Ramazzotti perfected his recipe in Milan, and sold and shared it as the expected medicinal tonic - supposedly the first Italian bitter liqueur. It wasn't until 30 years later, when Ausano opened up a cafe and started liberally serving his amaro that it started to become popular, and in 1848, he opened a bar next to the new La Scala theatre, where he served Ramazzotti instead of coffee as a digestivo. The business carried on through the family, production and sales grew, especially during WWI, when it became one of the first advertising campaigns, calling itself "the King of aperitifs." The demand continued to grow through the 50's, when a new, much larger factory was built, and again in the 70's, when an even larger factory was built. In the 80's, it was bought by the Pernod Ricard group, increasing its advertising and brand even further, and it became a socialite rage to sip Ramazzotti in Milan. The recipe includes 33 different herbs and spices, in particular orange peel, cardamom, myrrh, galangal, and cinnamon, and tastes quite similar to traditional cola. It's slightly weaker in flavour and proof than Averna, and I find it might be an even easier starting point.

For information on Fernet, check out the posts I did during Fernet February.

Now that we've discussed aperitivos, digestivos, where and what to buy, we can move on to some original cocktails from some talented bartenders...

[[ See my post on amaro aperivos here ]]
[[ See a buying guide for amaro here ]]

[[ See "The One Hit Wonder" from L'abattoir in Vancouver here ]]
[[ See "The Penny Farthing" from Pourhouse here ]]
[[ See an introduction to amaro  here ]]
[[ See "The Imperial Eagle" from Bourbon & Branch here ]]
[[ See "Sevilla" from Beretta here ]]
[[ See "Fallow Grave" from the Toronto Temperance Society here ]]
[[ See "The Black Prince" from Phil Ward here ]]
[[ See "Bad Apple" and "Jackson Ward" from Amor y Amargo here ]]
[[ See "The Four Horsemen" from Jay Jones at Shangri-La here ]]
[[ See Colin MacDougall from Blue Water Cafe here ]]
[[ See "Debbie Don't" from Dutch Kills here ]]
[[ See "Welcome to the Dark Side" from Cin Cin here ]]
[[ See "Foolish Games" from Russell Davis here ]]
[[ See "Intro To Aperol" from Audrey Saunders at Pegu Club here ]] 

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