Amaro translates from Italian into the word ‘bitter’ and is synonymous with herbal and botanical-based liqueurs that are usually consumed before or after dining. Amaro’s history is traced back to Roman times, but it’s in the 19th century where regional-specific iterations, often based on seasonal produce and local agricultural staples, engendered a more specific culture around the liqueurs.
Modern incarnations have increased in sweetness and richness of texture to meet mass market needs, but traditional styles are often dry and can be intensely bitter. While, in some respects, these beverages fall neatly under a nice category of liqueurs, there’s a broader scope than expected, with regional variants impacting on style.
While amaro made from artichoke (Cynar), pine needles, lavender, mountain chamomile et al (Argala Alpino) or gentian roots (Suze) may be more attractive to amaro enthusiasts, a shot of chilled Fernet seems ubiquitous in bar culture and one of the gateway drinks to introduce the broader spectrum. Likewise, the use of amaro in cocktails more broadly seems to be a current rising trend.
Never Never Distilling Co.’s Dark Series Black Juniper Amaro.
It pays heed then to pay attention to the sect of Australian producers making some of the most interesting and distinct examples. Taking cues mostly from Italian versions, the local gear promotes not only judicious inclusion of native Australian ingredients, as well as (in some cases) utilising seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs and botanicals.
An early, high-quality practitioner is Never Never Distilling Co.’s Dark Series Black Juniper Amaro, made in collaboration with the gun bar crew at Melbourne’s notorious cocktail venue Black Pearl. The Black Juniper Amaro is of course led with juniper piquancy and herbal lift, though that’s married to strong, savoury elements of gentian, wormwood, coffee and an alpine/herbal menthol lift. It’s a very bitter style but one with great drinkability, and best downed as a chilled shot a la Fernet Branca. An introduction to Australian amaro through familiarity works a treat here.
Autonomy Distillers is a Melbourne-based, boutique producer of spirits with a focus on apertifs and liqueurs. Cleverly, they lean more heavily into Indigenous ingredients and produce Autonomy Native Australian amaro through the lens of 10 Australian botanicals, including lemon and cinnamon myrtles, pepperberry and lemon-scented gum. The resulting amaro shows scents of Australian forest, like going on a bush walk, and has upfront sweeter fruit characters followed by sweet-earthy spice. It’s a beautiful homage to Australiana, in its way.
Autonomy Distillers' Native Australian Amaro.
Maidenii Nocture Vin Amer likewise introduces thematics of ‘Australian botanicals’ to the mix, though based on flor-aged rose wine and wormwood, inclusion of quandong, muntrie, riberries and desert lime lend depth and piquancy to the amaro – it’s brooding, dark, spicy and pleasingly bitter.
Perhaps most interesting of all, and certainly left of centre, Beechworth Bitters Company was born out of chef Michael Ryan (Provenance, Beechworth) finding great interest in the genre of amaro, and produces them from a ‘chef-centric view’ in a more fluid interpretation, drawing inspiration not only from the seasonal garden, but Victoria’s High Country native growth.
B8 Amaro by Beechworth Bitters Company.
Perhaps most quixotic is B8 Amaro which is, as the name hints at (V8 juice anyone?!) forged from tomato, beetroot, carrot, celery, artichoke and herb. It’s super intense, tastes almost like a seasoned tomato juice and yet refreshes and resets the palate with each sip. This amaro is intensely savoury, even more so due to the addition of koji and kombu.
The dreaming and believing of Australian amaro producers is writ large here, with creativity and personal expression making the category flourish.