Food and Drink

How Craft Cocktail Culture Paved the Way for American Amaro

Groundbreaking bars like PDT and Dante were just the beginning.

Photo courtesy of Forthhave Spirits
Photo courtesy of Forthhave Spirits
Photo courtesy of Forthhave Spirits

For the better part of 15 years, amaro has been trending among American bartenders. It started with the rise in popularity of what is now the default “bartender handshake,” a shot of Fernet-Branca. This was soon followed by waves of Negronis and Aperol Spritzes on drink menus at bars and restaurants that focus on craft, regardless of whether the food program was overtly Italian or Mediterranean. By the mid-2010s, every bar worth its salt could serve a solid Negroni.

As amaro culture continues to evolve in bars and industry circles, a new trend has emerged. American-made amaro is the latest way creative distillers and bartenders are incorporating traditional flavours and techniques into profoundly local liquids.

Photo courtesy of Lo-FI Aperitifs
Photo courtesy of Lo-FI Aperitifs
Photo courtesy of Lo-FI Aperitifs

Cocktail Culture

One of the bars that played a critical role in driving American amaro trends was New York City’s PDT. On its menu and in its eponymous cocktail book, published in 2009, PDT featured such variations as Katie Stipe’s Siesta, a tequila iteration, and the Berlioni, a slightly off kilter Negroni made with Cynar. Meanwhile, Dante, the Manhattan cocktail bar that opened in 2015, put the Negroni and Italian aperitivo firmly front and center on the global bar stage, and garnered numerous accolades in the process.

As PDT’s influence and ethos started to spread, amaros began to move from the dustiest corners of the back bar to make their way into glasses. Old Fashioned and Manhattan riffs were among the first to receive the amaro treatment: The Redhook, Newark, and similarly themed drinks begin to show up on menus in Brooklyn haunts such as Clover Club and now-shuttered Prime Meats.In 2011, Sother Teague opened Amor y Amargo, the first amaro-themed bar in New York City. It remains a mainstay for industry and consumers to sample and compare the best and newest products in the category. Similarly themed programs, such as Billy Sunday in Chicago and Republique in Los Angeles soon followed, and continue to be bastions for the category, stocking large amaro selections and creating appealing cocktails with them.

Several books on amaro and bitters have been published in the past decade, too, and, in many cities, a wide array of bars run Negroni Week menus and happy hours.

Hihitetlin/Shutterstock
Hihitetlin/Shutterstock
Hihitetlin/Shutterstock

American Amaro

As these developments gathered steam, so did another, simultaneous trend. Across the country, bars, distilleries, and breweries opened to meet a growing demand for locally made products like beer, wine, cider, and every spirit category under the sun. Soon, American amaro began to show up on the scene as well.

In 2018, Highwire Distilling, based in Charleston, SC, released its first version, a soft, medium-bodied expression featuring tea and mint. Shortly thereafter, J. Rieger Co. released a coffee-inspired amaro that anticipated the craze for coffee liqueurs and Espresso Martinis that we’re in the middle of right now.

Lo-Fi Aperitifs, a brand that launched in San Francisco in 2015, uses a range of local and traditional ingredients in its products that are specifically targeted at bartenders.”Hibiscus may be the most important ingredient for us,” says Victoria Canty, Lo-Fi’s LA-based ambassador. “It not only imparts a floral and tart flavour profile, but it gives us our naturally pink iconic colour, something truly unique to Lo-Fi. It was also created with bartenders and cocktails in mind.”

Photo courtesy of Forthhave Spirits
Photo courtesy of Forthhave Spirits
Photo courtesy of Forthhave Spirits

Back in NYC, producers such as St. Argestisis and Forthave put out expressions that skewed more on the bitter end of the spectrum. Forthave founders Aaron Fox and Daniel de La Nuezare say their inspiration came from their initial encounter with Varnelli Amaro Dell Érborista at a dinner in Brooklyn six years ago. “Part of the impetus of the brand was to be able to create a product that could address questions around transparency in regards to ingredients-in our case, as we are based in Brooklyn, this meant incorporating products from the Hudson Valley,” Fox says.

Since then, Forthave has released numerous expressions that draw inspiration from the local landscape. Walnuts harvested from the Hudson Valley make their amaro a popular choice in a Black Manhattan, while their bitter expression has made its way into various Negronis in a range of bar programs throughout New York City.

Amaros’ diversity in cocktails and as standalone spirits “really leaves the door open for so many new ideas and iterations within the category,” Maybee says. “The possibilities could truly be endless.”

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Shannon Mustipher is a spirits educator, consultant, and author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails.

Food and Drink

Red Rooster Is Serving Free Chicken and Piping Hot Cash This Christmas in July

Get your early dose of festive cheer.

Red Rooster Christmas in July
Instagram / @redrooster_au

The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.

From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.

Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.

Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.

Terms and conditions apply. Visit Red Rooster’s Christmas in July to see all the deals.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.