Amaro regains the spotlight

27 July, 2023

Shay Waterworth finds an ancient Italian drink style is enjoying a resurgence globally, with modernism meeting tradition as new brands emerge.

Amaro is the Italian word for ‘bitter’ and it encompasses a vast range of herbal liqueurs made in Italy. From Campari to Fernet-Branca to Cynar the sector covers lots of different styles from all corners of the country. Many amaro brands are steeped in history and are synonymous with the pre and post-dinner moments, but the resurgence of classic cocktails and the emergence of ‘New World’ amaro has brought the category back to centre stage in the on-trade.

Many of the world’s classic cocktails use an amaro in some form. The Negroni, Aperol Spritz and Boulevardier are just some of the drinks which have contributed to growth in the category. In a report written last year for Drinks International by Carlo Carnevale, Campari Group head of marketing Julka Villa said: “Italian amari are in great shape too, considering how heavy the impact of lockdown has been on the category, since its main consumption time bracket is after dinner (up 21% in 2021 vs 2020; up 1.5% vs 2019).”

In a recent report by, amari expert Sother Teague adds: “One thing that I think is phenomenal is the preponderance of the Aperol Spritz being everything. I would say three to five years ago, we weren’t nearly as amenable to drinking one, and they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are. Same with the Negroni. I can remember in my lifetime, and I’ve been bartending for 22 years, where I was surprised to see someone order a Negroni. The changes have been pretty big.”

Traditional roots

Braulio, based in Bormio in the Italian Alps, is one of the oldest and most traditional amaro brands on the market having been created by Francesco Peloni around 150 years ago. As was the case with many traditional amari, Peloni was a pharmacist and his recipe was created for medicinal purposes before being sold commercially in 1875. Aged at least 15 months in oak barrels, Braulio only discloses four of its local botanicals – wormwood, juniper, yarrow and gentian root – and in 2014 the brand was acquired by Campari Group.

For Braulio, the digestivo is a key moment in its sales strategy and in 2013 it launched its Reserva edition, which is aged for up to 24 months and is specifically targeted towards the after-dinner occasion. Since the acquisition almost 10 years ago, Braulio has undergone a full rebrand and in July this year it refurbished its 19th-century cellars in the centre of Bormio to create an immersive consumer experience. The opening of Casa Braulio aims to convey not only tradition, but the production and ageing processes involved in creating the digestivo serve. Under the stewardship of Campari the growth of Braulio is evident and, while its volumes are undisclosed, master distiller Edoardo Peloni told Drinks International during the opening of Casa Braulio, that the brand is adding 10 of its oversize Slavonian oak barrels a year to its cellars, with plenty of floor space yet to fill.

“Casa Braulio is a further confirmation of our aim to continue investing in Braulio and let this Italian aged amaro become the Alpine region ambassador, not only for Italians but for everyone who comes to Italy,” says Ludovica Riciputi, global marketing manager of Campari’s amari brands. “It’s a tangible symbol of our deep connection to Bormio and Valtellina, representing the authentic alpine spirit, and a symbol that will proudly be celebrated with other important initiatives for the local community in the next few months. Maintaining and strengthening the link with the territory, fully respecting the product and its authenticity, is essential for the discovery and recognition of Braulio.”

New world amaro

Being traditional doesn’t necessarily require history. Legendary bartender Dale DeGroff and absinthe distiller Ted Breaux recently launched DeGroff Aperitivo alongside DeGroff New World Amaro, contributing to the new wave of amari being produced outside Italy.

“I had an aperitivo behind my bar in the ’90s, but that was the decade of neon colours and powdered drinks mixes… consumers had no interest in such a strong, bold flavour. Now things have clearly changed and consumers want and expect complex, bold flavours in their cocktails,” says DeGroff. “I could have created a single spirit, but my passion is cocktails. By creating these products, I get to play across the board.

“Ted is a master of botanicals who played a key role in convincing the Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau that the US should bring authentic absinthe back to the fold. There is no one better qualified to create the taste we wanted – unique in the category as well as complex and delicious.”

Breaux adds: “Our goal was to create unique flavours that would appeal to mixologists – a select blend of botanicals (fruits, roots, flowers and leaves), but absolutely no artificial ingredients or colours. These are big flavours with rich colours – the way nature intended.”

While DeGroff is a big-name release in the trade, there are now lots of amaro brands in the States doing interesting stuff. Heirloom’s Pineapple Amaro, for example, is a contemporary twist, while Tattersall Fernet, LA-based Amaro Angeleno and Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro in the Napa Valley are, like DeGroff, taking traditional methods and styles but using their own local ingredients.

In the same report previously mentioned by, Louis Catizone, producer of the American amaro brand St Agrestis, says: “It’s an amazing time to consume Italian spirits, whether they’re made here or elsewhere, because there’s so many more of them on the market. There’s a brand called Amaro Silano from Calabria, where my father’s from. We used to smuggle bottles in a suitcase back from Calabria. You wouldn’t even see it in other parts of Italy, and now it’s here in the States.”

Spirits categories across the board go in cycles of popularity. Right now, Italian amari is enjoying a purple patch driven by the resurgence of classic cocktails, but what’s even more encouraging for the category is the formation of modern classics such as Paper Plane, created in 2008 by US bartender Sam Ross, which also uses the classic Italian spirit. Heavy hitters such as the Negroni and Aperol Spritz will, of course, continue to thrive long into the future, but modern twists using craft versions of Italian amari will percolate into these classic serves. The New World amaro movement is on the march, and right now there appears to be space on the market for both innovation and tradition.

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