It's hard to keep track of all the amari on the shelves at your local cocktail bar. Where once there was caramel-toned Averna and menthol-bright Fernet, there's now barely room for all the herbal tonics and digestifs. I love tasting them—the luscious, fruity grappa-based Nonino is a frequent after-dinner sipper in my house, and I'll try any cocktail with Cynar. But at a certain point you wonder: do I really need to buy all these bottles? Do they really each offer something different?
I recently saw a cocktail recipe that called for Amaro Nardini, and asked a bartender friend about possible substitutes. Averna has the right cocoa flavors, though it's more caramel-like and not as bitter and minty as Nardini. Montenegro (another favorite of mine, especially when mixed with orange juice and Aperol, as Jackson Cannon does in his Adriatique) might be a little closer, but the Montenegro is more saffron-dominated, with more clove than mint.
I decided to stop looking for a way out and just go taste it. I urge you to do the same; order a pour at a well-stocked bar and decide for yourself if it's a flavor you can pass by. I'm hooked. Nardini has a rich milk chocolate flavor, a touch of black licorice (though not enough to scare anyone away) and loads of peppermint. Bitter orange and gentian dry it out, but it doesn't have the vegetal side (or quite as aggressive a bitterness) as you'll find in Cynar. This stuff needs no adulteration (I like it on ice), though it's good with soda and orange peel. Or put it in a milkshake with some cacao nibs.