Tuesday, April 30, 2013

That's Amari

By Amanda Schuster

Have you ever felt bluch? That's not a real word, but you know what it means, don't you? My family made it part of their vernacular years ago, but everyone says it from time to time without meaning to. Especially at the end of celebratory meals like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or that time you went on a dumpling tasting in Chinatown, or when a bunch of "small plates" become a giant platter in your belly. Way too much consumption - bluch!

The Italians know a thing or two about indulgences and living life to the fullest, which is why they figured out a way around this problem centuries ago and created the digestivo called Amaro. Amaro, meaning "bitter", is a concoction of herbs, citrus rinds, botanicals and spices, all infused in alcohol or wine, and finished with a bit of sweet syrup to make it all go down. One of the best methods for producing a flavorful Amaro is through percolation - much like making a good iced coffee. The herbs and botanicals are placed in a part of the still and distillate is pumped over and through it, usually several times. An Amaro's alcohol content may fall anywhere between 16% and 35%, and these are often aged for several months to a few years before release.

Amari (in plural form) were originally procured from your local Medieval pharmacist, but things have gotten easier, more palatable, and thankfully less leechy since then. The recipes vary regionally and the exact ingredients are often considered protective property, some number of "secret herbs and spices" that have been passed down through a lineage of faithful cousins, and more often than not, monks.

Some Amari require a bit of palate conditioning to get used, but it's worth every effort. They really do help calm the stomach and aid digestion too. Amari only refers to this style of digestifs produced in Italy, however, there are several Amari-like styles found in the states as well, blending herbs like gentian root, chamomile and citrus for an authentic take on the classic. Other root liqueurs take the Amaro esthetic and use specific herbs and botanicals to create a distinctly American, soda jerk take on the genre. Then there are producers who go global, gathering their ingredients from several international sources at once to create a true world summit of a digestif.

Amaro style digestifs are most commonly consumed neat at the end of a meal, or at other times with a splash of soda (most ideally while sitting at an outdoor cafe in the sunshine and watching the world go by). However, they are now very much on trend with cocktail enthusiasts as substitutions for vermouth in riffs on classic cocktails, or as starring ingredients in their own right.

Give them a try. You don't even need to wait for your next bluch, though it would certainly help.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Amanda Schuster is a native New Yorker, but without much of the accent. The mobile landscape of the city has taken her on a whirlwind journey from Medieval historian, photo archivist, jewelry designer and invitation specialist to earning her sommelier certification in late 2005. After working as a retail wine and spirits buyer and freelance brand promoter, she turned to the one thing that has stayed a constant all these years – her love of writing. She has published dozens of articles on cocktails, spirits, wine and other culinary interests, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favorite cocktail is a Manhattan.

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