Over the past five or so years, aperitivi and amari—those bittersweet, herbal liqueurs traditionally sipped in Italy before or after a meal, respectively—have topped trend reports, spreading in popularity and availability from the Boot to the bars, restaurants, and distilleries of the United States. In Colorado, you may have noticed the roving amari cart at Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine or been enticed by an amaro-centric cocktail at Uptown’s Southern Italian restaurant Coperta.
But none have gone as far as Elliot Strathmann, co-owner and bar manager of Highland’s Spuntino, who has been handcrafting amari using local botanicals since 2014. He experienced the digestivi tradition firsthand as he and his wife, Cindhura Reddy (Spuntino’s chef-owner), ate their way across Abruzzo, Italy, in 2012. “At the end of every meal, the old guy of the establishment would come out with an unmarked bottle and insist that we drink some,” Strathmann recalls. “It was always genziana, a gentian-root-based liqueur traditional to Abruzzo. It’s bitter as can be and I hated it at the time…but now I get to be that guy.” Strathmann has made more than 30 batches of aperitivi and digestivi liqueurs, including a Campari-esque version with local chokecherries, a Fernet-Branca-style amaro, and of course, a Colorado genziana with foraged gentian root. Should you care to try one or two, Strathmann will eagerly oblige.
Local Amari To Love
Leopold Bros. Fernet Leopold Highland Amaro
Tastes Like: Butter mints, cocoa nibs, rose petals, and honeysuckle
How To Enjoy: Shoot it like a San Francisco bartender, if you dare.
Leopold Bros. Aperitivo
Tastes Like: Grapefruit peel, coriander, vanilla, sarsaparilla, and gentian root
How To Enjoy: It’s tasty in a spritz with lime.
Spring44 Distilling Fortify Bitter Liqueur
Tastes Like: Tart cherries, burnt citrus, winter spices, and oak
How To Enjoy: It plays well with bubbles, preferably sparkling wine.
Peach Street Distillers Amaro Liqueur
Tastes Like: Palisade wine (the base), grapefruit, juniper, clove, and cardamom
How To Enjoy: Mix it into a mezcal Negroni.
Bitter Is Better
There’s a wide range of quaffs around town that will tempt you to embrace amari.
If You Like… vodka and soda
Try a Venetian Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco, soda, and an olive)
If You Like… dry martinis
Try the Contessa (Death’s Door gin, Aperol, and Cocchi Americano)
At Bar Helix
If You Like… old fashioneds
Try the Amaro di Amaro (Amaro di Angostura, Old Grand-Dad 114 bourbon, and Demerara sugar)
If You Like… after-dinner espresso
Try the Vanguard (Four Roses bourbon, George Dickel Whisky, Leopold Bros. Aperitivo, Lustau sherry, and house-made chocolate-espresso bitters)
If You Like… Jägermeister
Try the on-tap Ferrari, aka a 50-50 (equal parts Fernet-Branca and Campari)
At Ste. Ellie