“Amaro is almost like a language, and each region in Italy has a slang,” says Francesco Amodeo, who grew up on the Amalfi Coast and founded D.C. liqueur maker Don Ciccio & Figli. “You will never find the Alpine amaro in the south. You will find the more citrus-oriented amaro, where if you go up north you will find more rosemary, thyme-driven amari; the herbs that grow up there are different.”
What’s more, as we get into the season of gustatory overindulgence, there’s little better antidote for a food coma than one of these bad boys. Although Jeff Faile, beverage director of Fiola and Casa Luca, says he’s always delicate about pitching diners on the digestive properties of amari, their capacity to clear the head and the innards has long been part of amari’s appeal. (Not everyone is so guarded: In describing the amaro he’s developing for Don Ciccio, Amodeo tells me, “You will see when you try it: After a minute and a half, you will digest everything you ate that day.” I’m assuming that won’t be as dramatic as it sounds.)
My initial resistance to amari, I think, sprang from sifting through too many stories written by smug-sounding Europhiles who explained the drink to American consumers in the reassuring tones of someone calming a toddler getting a tetanus shot.
Yes, they soothe, you were raised on Frosto-Choco-Smacko-Pops, and your infantile, sugar-addicted palates will probably be shocked by the terrible bitterness of amaro. But perhaps you can grow up.
Too often these stories have a whiff of That Guy Who Spent a Semester in Milan and Now Understands the World on a Whole New Level. He conveys with every sigh his disdain for us poor Yanks with our Super Big Gulps and our love of sprayable cheese. Having tried Morbier flavored with vegetable ash, and coffee from beans that have traveled through the intestines of a civet, he has recognized the folly of his erstwhile love of Slim Jims and Miller Lite. He has evolved.
It’s not even that That Guy is wrong. But does he have to be such a jerk about it? Doesn’t he realize that the difficulty of finding your favorite amaro in local liquor stores is the madre of all First World problems?
Such stories also encourage amaro newbies to brace themselves for something unpleasant. Not necessarily so. Sure, if you start out at the deep end, you might be in for a slap in the palate. Faile describes one of his current favorites, Amaro Dell’Erborista — a dry, bracing creation from Fiola chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi’s home region of La Marche — as an example.