What do you reach for at the end of the working week? A cold beer, a crisp glass of white wine, a gin and tonic…? According to Bacardi’s Cocktail Trends Report in 2021, more of us are starting our evening’s leisure with an aperitivo – and increasingly, those drinks are being made using amaro.
Traditionally a bitter, herbal after-dinner liqueur – of the kind you might have enjoyed following a hefty Italian farmhouse dinner – amaro is becoming increasingly popular in pre-dinner cocktails and Spritzes. Indeed, the same trends report found that amaro has seen a 38 percent growth in interest from bartenders, as drinkers seek out a slice of the Italian good life to kick off their evening’s drinking.
The drink’s international boom means there’s greater variety of Italian amaro now available to drinkers looking for alternatives to Campari and Aperol – star bartender Simone Caporale’s Santoni from Tuscany and Hotel Starlino from Turin, to name just two – but perhaps surprisingly, there’s also a growing number of British amaros on the market. Makers in the UK are taking their cue from the highly regional flavours traditionally found in the spirit, but using local ingredients to create their own twist.
Botanicals and bitterness are perhaps the only two prerequisites for amaro – ‘I call the category the Wild West,’ says Rob Berry who, with his brother, created Asterley Brothers Dispense Amaro. ‘There’s no real classification or regulation, and I think what we like about it is that you can make something that is a bit sweet, a bit herbal, a bit bitter. It’s wide open.’
Dispense has an English Pinot Noir base, for example, whereas Sweetdram in Edinburgh stakes a claim to being the world’s first Scotch-whisky-based amaro. There’s no standard ABV, either – Sweetdram’s Whisky Amaro sits at a punchy 40% ABV, whereas High Point’s Ruby Aperitif is alcohol-free. ‘Making amaro means we can create something based on flavour rather than category,’ explains Daniel Fisher, Sweetdram’s founder and master distiller. ‘We can take whisky and accentuate the characteristics of it that we love with the botanicals we use.’
The appeal of amaro for spirit makers is clear – it’s a way to play with botanicals that’s more interesting and less constrained than in ginmaking. As for consumers, with bitter-trained palates as a consequence of the gin boom, a desire for lower ABV drinks, and a yearning for the glamour of Italian aperitivo culture, there couldn’t be a better time to explore the British boom.
Eight British amaros to sip or mix
The tart, sweet-sourness of British gooseberries and rhubarb makes Sipello distinctly fruity up front, with floral and spice notes developing over time. Made using botanicals hand-picked from the wilds of the hills of Surrey and named for the first sip of the evening, this amaro takes four weeks to macerate and blend, proving the adage that good things come to those who wait.
Doghouse Distillery Doppelgänger Aperitivo
The team at Doghouse Distillery describe Doppelgänger Aperitivo, an IWSC 2022 Silver medal winner, as England’s answer to Aperol, and given its almost luminous red colour, the comparison stands. Made with 19 botanicals on an English wheat spirit base, it’s a citrussy and herbaceous amaro ideal in a Spritz.
Stellacello Amaro London
One of the first on the British amaro scene, Joe Stella’s eponymous Stellacello Amaro was created as a reaction against the gin craze of the time, as well as a love letter to his Italian ancestry. Mix it with cola and it will remind you of the bittersweetness of Cinotto.
Asterley Brothers Dispense Amaro
With 30 percent of the base taken from English Pinot Noir, Dispense has a slightly tannic structure and an acidity that lifts the whole texture of the drink. The team took its botanical lead from Nicholas Culpeper’s London Dispensary, focusing on bittering agents with a long history of use in the capital.
Sweet Dram Whisky Amaro
At a punchy 40%, Sweet Dram’s Whisky Amaro doesn’t downplay its Scottish roots. Made with a bespoke blend of four Scotch whiskies at its base, Sweet Dram believes it was the first of its kind. Drink it neat after dinner in winter, or over ice in summer.
Cotswolds Distillery Amaro Liqueur No. 1 and No. 2
From the English whisky maker comes not one but two different amaro styles: one based on its flagship Signature single malt and another on its Peated Cask whisky. Using herbal, citrus and spice tinctures layered over a bitter base, the result is two quite different botanical spirits that still allow the whisky to shine.
Highpoint Ruby Aperitif
Drawing from their experience in fermentation as brewers, the High Point team have created a complex non-alcoholic aperitif-style drink. Featuring hibiscus, lavender, wormwood, pink peppercorn, and orange and pink grapefruit zest, the result is a zesty, bittersweet fermented aperitif that stands up to its alcoholic counterparts.
Another non-alcoholic aperitif, Everleaf’s original liquid, Forest, features a blend of 14 botanicals including saffron, Madagascan vanilla and orange blossom. Its complex, bittersweet flavour – which merited a Gold medal in the IWSC 2021 alternative drinks awards – is specifically designed for Spritz drinkers seeking a relaxed evening of imbibing.