Thanksgiving evening. You push back from the table feeling satisfied but a little bloated. You know there's a beautiful pie waiting in the kitchen, but you can't look it in the pie eye, you just can't. You need a break, a walk around the block or the entire city, and possibly some Alka-Seltzer.
Or, here's a thought: Try a digestive. These are a class of beverages intended to aid in digesting a meal. You'll sometimes see them called a digestif (the French word) or a digestivo (the Italian). Often they're consumed neat, either before or after coffee.
All sorts of beverages are used as digestives: brandy, grappa, Scotch, Chartreuse, limoncello, and even such after-dinner cocktails as the Black Russian. But today we'll focus on a specific subset, the amaro.
An amaro is simply a bitter liqueur. Most of them are Italian. Amari (the Italian plural of amaro) contain carminative herbs, which are meant to...well, I'll be blunt here. They're meant to prevent the formation of gas in the intestines. They relieve pressure in the gut, which helps you get over that bloated feeling.
Carminative herbs include angelica, anise, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, eucalyptus, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon balm, licorice, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pennyroyal, peppermint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, thyme, wintergreen, and wormwood.
I've discussed wormwood before, when talking about vermouth, the very name of which derives from the German word wermut. Amari are similar to both vermouth and cocktail bitters, in that they all use herbs, spices, and roots to flavor an alcoholic beverage and to either stimulate the appetite or aid in digestion.
Amari all generally have a bitter component to them, but some amari makers balance the bitterness by adding a lot of sugar to the mix. So amari run the gamut from bracingly bitter to cloyingly sweet.
I'll run briefly through a few types of amari here, and provide some examples.
Let's get one thing straight. The word fernet is Italian, not French. It's pronounced FER-net (it rhymes with "hair net"), not fer-nay.
Another thing to point out: Fernet is not a brand name, it's a class of amari. Ingredients often include myrrh, rhubarb, cardamom, saffron, gentian, and bitter orange peel. Fernets are often minty and bracingly bitter.
You may know Fernet-Branca (and you either love or hate it), but Branca isn't the only fernet around. Drinks editor Maggie Hoffman recently wrote about two other fernets: Luxardo and Leopold. Other brands that make fernets include Cinzano, Ramazzotti, 1882, and Martini & Rossi. If Branca reminds you of motor oil blended with cheap mouthwash, perhaps these other brands will suit you better.
And if not, there are other amari to try.
Averna is a milder, sweeter amaro than any of the fernets. It tastes of almond and citrus with a hint of licorice. I personally find it a little too sweet to sip on its own, but you might choose to differ.
Similar in profile to Averna but not as citrusy. Ramazzotti carries notes of cola, citrus, cardamom, myrrh, and cinnamon.
Saffron, violet, and anise flavors prevail in this lovely amaro. Meletti is subtly bitter, a little more so than etiher Ramazzotti or Averna.
Who hasn't seen Cynar behind the bar at a favorite local? The bright artichoke-centric label is hard to miss. But as Paul Clarke pointed out, Cynar does not taste like artichokes. Aside from the family of fernets, Cynar is the most bitter amaro on this list, but it's a balanced bitterness, one that doesn't overwhelm the other flavors.
This Thanksgiving, I'll be unwinding after dinner with a nice amaro and possibly a single-malt. How about you? What do you plan to drink after dinner?
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