Winterize That Cocktail With the Amazing Amari

Posted December 4, 2018 7:31 p.m. EST

Amari, the bitter European-style aperitifs and digestifs, in New York, November 2018. This season, bartenders are combining amari with brown spirits like dark rum, bourbon, rye and Scotch for autumn and winter drinks. (Ryan Liebe/The New York Times)

NEW YORK — Like putting away the flip-flops and taking out the boots, changing your cocktail wardrobe makes sense as winter nears. It’s easy to swap those martinis for darker, more brooding manhattans.

But many more options are opened up by using amari, the rich, bitter, herbal European-style liqueurs — before-dinner aperitifs and after-dinner digestifs — that have become more popular and widely available. This season, bartenders are combining them with brown spirits like dark rum, bourbon, rye and Scotch for autumn and winter drinks.

Clayton Rollison, the chef at Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, makes a variation on the Brooklyn cocktail with bourbon, amaro, maraschino liqueur, dry vermouth, blood orange liqueur and bitters. “Amari add structure and backbone to cocktails,” he said.

At the 18th Room, a speakeasy-style bar in Chelsea, Brendan Bartley, the bar manager, said, “A bar without amaro is a bar missing a limb. It’s the secret hidden behind some of the most iconic classic drinks, like the Brooklyn cocktail.”

Amari and whiskeys come into play in other inventive riffs on the classics. The Mull It Over, recently created by Jenny Schubert, the manager of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan, adds amaro and bourbon to what amounts to a mulled-wine recipe.

Among several cold-weather cocktails for the winter pop-up at the Williamsburg restaurant Sunday in Brooklyn is the Sleigh Ride, a complex and interesting take on Irish coffee, made with single-malt American whiskey, two kinds of amaro, coffee and Demerara (brown sugar) syrup, and crowned with whipped cream. (In addition to winterizing cocktails by using amari, many bartenders are replacing simple syrup with richer Demerara syrup. To make it at home, bring brown sugar and half as much water to a simmer, cook for a minute and then cool to room temperature.)

Another drink on the Sunday in Brooklyn list, a seasonally adjusted Negroni called Ugly Sweater Weather, keeps the gin but replaces the usual Campari with heavier amari, and includes amontillado sherry.

The Old Barbados, a cocktail at Saltine restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, combines Amaro Montenegro with dark rum, Demerara syrup and Angostura bitters.

Sondre Kasin, the head bartender at Cote, a Korean steakhouse in the Flatiron district, says amaro is perfect for the colder months, to pair with flavors like honey, citrus and spices. Adding it, he says, is like seasoning food. “It enhances flavors and gives the drink more character.”

RECIPES:Manhattan With Amaro and Cocoa

Yield: 1 drink


1 ounce rye whiskey

1 ounce amaro, preferably Averna

1/2 ounce crème de cacao or other chocolate liqueur

5 drops Bittermens Burlesque or Angostura bitters

3 cracked green cardamom pods, for garnish


1. Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add the rye, Averna, crème de cacao or liqueur and bitters, and stir 20 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with cardamom.

Rum Manhattan-Style

Yield: 1 drink


2 ounces dark rum

1/2 ounce amaro, preferably Amaro Montenegro

1/4 ounce Demerara syrup (see note)

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters


1. Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add the rum, amaro, Demerara syrup and bitters, and stir 20 seconds. Strain into a coupe or martini glass.

Note: To make Demerara syrup, place 1/2 cup Demerara or light brown sugar and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Cook about a minute, until the sugar has dissolved. Cool to room temperature before using. (There will be extra syrup; refrigerate if not using immediately.)

Cold-Weather Negroni

Yield: 1 drink


1 ounce gin

1 ounce amaro, preferably 1/2 ounce each of St. Agrestis and Amaro Montenegro

1/2 ounce amontillado sherry

1 lemon twist, for garnish

1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)


1. In a rocks glass, combine the gin, amaro and sherry with ice. Stir 10 to 15 seconds. Garnish with the lemon twist. If using thyme, briefly ignite the sprig, blow out the flame and float the thyme on the drink.

Spiked Mulled Wine

Yield: 1 drink


1 1/2 ounces bourbon

1/4 ounce amaro, preferably Nonino

1/2 ounce crème de cassis

Dash ground nutmeg

1 1/2 ounces cabernet sauvignon


1. Fill a copper Moscow Mule mug or rocks glass with ice cubes. Add the bourbon, amaro, cassis and nutmeg and stir 20 seconds until cold. Top off with wine.