Amaro is the bitter end in Italy, but popping up in U.S. cocktail culture

S. IRENE VIRBILA
Los Angeles Times
Modified: February 27, 2013 at 5:27 pm •  Published: February 27, 2013
Advertisement
;

photo - A selection of Italian bitters, including Amaro Nonino in the glass, is displayed at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, California. (Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
A selection of Italian bitters, including Amaro Nonino in the glass, is displayed at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, California. (Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Altogether, Osteria Mozza’s Amari Bar stocks 50 to 80 different types. Over at Sotto, bar director and amaro enthusiast Julian Cox has assembled a couple of dozen and is working on collecting a good many more.

In Italy, amari are most often drunk as a digestivo, or digestive, after a meal. Mozza wine director Taylor Parsons remembers when he was living in Lucca, Italy, lunch inevitably ended with coffee and an amaro, never dessert. 

No question, it’s Italians and Italophiles who are most likely to order a glass after dinner at Osteria Mozza or Sotto. It’s part of the culture of the table in Italy, and when they’re dining at these two Italian restaurants, they want the full experience.

Now the cocktail crowd is driving the surge in interest as well. At first, there was a macho component. But now there’s a cross-pollination as mixologists experiment with subbing amaro for Campari or sweet vermouth in cocktails. “An old-fashioned made with amaro is really fun,” says Parsons. “You can make a million different Manhattans with the lighter styles substituted for sweet vermouth.”

Cox, who put together the bar program at Sotto, is fascinated with amaro. At first encounter, though, as a young bartender in the making, it was hardly love at first taste. He eventually discovered the huge variety of flavors and styles.

After tasting a couple of dozen amari in a wide range of styles, I’m still no fan of Fernet Branca, but I can easily see how one amaro leads to another. And another.