The term "bitters" refers to any of the number of spirits that are flavored with bitter herbs, roots and held to have medicinal qualities. "Amaro" is the Italian word for bitter and associated with the category of liqueurs that are commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif.
Amaros are usually semi-sweet to syrupy and have a high level of alcohol, between 16%-40%. They've been traditionally produced throughout Europe, and can range from the Alpine sourced herbs, flowers and roots to southern, coastal areas, influenced by citrus and spices brought from trade markets.
A bitter can be produced from macerating the botanicals in either a neutral spirit or wine, mixing the filtrate with sugar syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in casks or bottles.
Bitterness is a flavor that is usually acquired and developed to appreciate. The link between bitterness and health is evident in the fact that tonic water was originally conceived as an all-purpose pick-me-up containing the stimulant quinine, rather than as a mixer for gin.
The other unquestionable effective medicinal role of bitters is as an aid to digestion. These elixirs were taken as restoratives and remedies for a number of conditions, ranging from poor digestion to painful joints. The apothecaries who concocted them drew on the collected wisdom of herbal medicine, and added extracts of bark, roots, fruit peels to enhance the healing powers of the drink.
Amaro is typically drunk neat, sometimes with a single cube of ice and a citrus garnish. It can also be drunk with a light tonic water or in cocktails.
The earliest origins of bitters can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians, who may have infused medicinal herbs in jars of wine.
The most common flavorings for amaros:
The different styles of Amaros
Light: Lighter in color and usually more citrus notes
Medium: Moderate alcohol, typically 32% and balanced between bitter, sweet and citrus.
Fernet: Sharper than other amari. Saffron, mint, chamomile are characteristics. Deep colored.
Alpine: Originating from Alps or mountains.
Vermouth: wine-based, typically 18% abv, light bitterness. Range from white, rose, red.
Carciofo: (pronounced car-chi-oh-fo) Made with artichokes.
Tartufo: A style produced by adding black truffles.
China: (pronounced kee-na) A style predominately with Cinchona bark.
Rabarbaro: Made with rhubarb
Tenzing Bitter Liqueurs
CH Distillery Liqueur Amaro, Illinois
Lucano Liqueur Amaro, Italy
Luxardo Amaro Abano, Italy
Luxardo Aperitivo, Italy
Luxardo Bitter, Italy
Montanaro Liqueur di Camomilla, Italy
Tempus Fugit Liqueur Angelico Fernet
Tempus Fugit Liqueur Gran Classico Bitter
Varnelli Amaro Caffe Moka, Italy
Varnelli Amaro Dell Erborista, Italy
Varnelli Amaro Punch Fantasia, Italy
Varnelli Amaro Sibilla, Italy
Some notable examples of digestive bitters available today include:
Killepitsch (Düsseldorf, Germany)
Quinquina (France - originally from South America)
Riga Black Balsam (Latvia)
Schierker Feuerstein (Germany)
St. Vitus, (Germany)
Sirop de Picon (France)
Wódka Zoladkowa Gorzka (Poland)
Alomo Bitters (Ghana)
Amaro Montenegro (Italy)
Amer Picon (France)
Araucano (Valparaíso, Chile)
Balsam (Eastern Europe)
Becherovka (Czech Republic)
Fernet Branca (Italy)
Fernet Stock (Czech Republic)
Gammel Dansk (Denmark)
Gran Classico Bitter (Switzerland)