Although amari are most commonly drunk as a post-meal digestif, the unsung heroes of the Italian bitters family should not be limited only to soothing diners who have overindulged with one too many courses. Usually drunk neat, the complex, herb-infused digestifs can vary widely in flavor and even alcohol content, but they also lend depth to cocktails and make excellent compliments to dark and light liquor alike.
But, if you're not sure about ordering amaro, let alone an amaro cocktail, allow us to point you in the right direction. Let's go amaro tasting, shall we?
Picon Punch at Teardrop Lounge
Teardrop owner/bartender Daniel Shoemaker makes his own amer picon, a vintage style of amaro that is not for the faint of heart. Packing an aggressive 90-proof wallop and heavy on the orange peel and bitters, this drink is a throwback to the amaro of the 1950s, before its flavor profile was softened to appeal to the mainstream palate. The amer picon makes an appearance in several of Teardrop’s drinks, but it’s the star of the show in the Picon Punch.
Your punch will be a tall lovely thing: The amer picon settles to the bottom as it’s topped with grenadine, soda water and a brandy float. Its sharp, bitter lemongrass flavor, as well as its relatively high alcohol content, makes this a solid 30-minute drink that mellows out as it opens up. Hungry? It pairs well with Teardrop’s goat cheese plate.
Teardrop Lounge, 1015 NW Everett St., 503.445.8109
Ramazzotti Swizzle at Nostrana
Nostrana’s cocktail menu has quietly embraced amari, fitting for a restaurant devoted to rustic yet elegant Italian fare. Order the Ramazzotti Swizzle to start, a drink made to showcase the notoriously sweet and cola-like amaro of the same name. Muscovado sugar, fresh lime and ginger, soda, and bitters finish off the drink, and the resulting flavor is a cheeky, refreshing twist on a traditionally rummy Dark and Stormy. (Hand it to bar manager Douglas Derrick for adding muscovado, a sugar commonly used in rum-making.)
Nostrana is featuring Cardamaro in its monthly Negroni, accompanied by Bols Genever, a malty gin, and Carpano Antica, that deliciously sweet Italian vermouth we’ve been known to mention. This version of the classic is the perfect palate cleanser to follow that bowl of paglia e fieno—okay, spinach and egg fettuccine—you just finished off.
Nostrana, 1401 SE Morrison St., 503.234.2427
The Camaro at Interurban
Jeff Seymour at Interurban makes the Camaro
This John Gorham-backed newcomer is shaping up to be the rogue mixology bar you haven’t heard about yet. Interurban boasts an extensive cocktail list, a well-funded liquor cabinet, and made-to-order bottles of Negronis and Manhattans to share with a friend (or keep to yourself, we understand). Bartender Jeff Seymour makes an off-menu ode to amaro that he calls the Camaro, which he’ll tell you is basically his “favorite four things in a glass.” Averna is served up with rye whiskey, a dash of Fernet, Campari, and Peychaud’s Bitters, and finished with a flamed orange twist.
The link to the vintage car is no accident: Seymour is quick to say that depending on how many you consume, the drink can be pronounced to either rhyme with amaro or sound like a sweet convertible, though he prefers the latter—and we concur. Enjoy this one towards the end of the night as its weight and sweetness act like a true digestif, cooled off by the dryness of the Fernet.
Interurban, 4057 N Mississippi Ave., 503.284.6669
Raines Law Room at The Box Social
Egg whites are often used in amaro cocktails, and this drink at North Williams’ new “drinking parlour,” Box Social, combines both elements into something like a deliciously frenzied Sazerac.
The Raines Law Room binges on amaro and bitters—Cardamaro is featured here, shaken up with Aperol (an orange-and-rhubarb bitters), Peychaud’s, and the aforementioned egg. The foamy tumbler you are handed is topped with house-made whiskey bitters, and the resulting cocktail has the soft, tangy, lengthy finish of a traditional flip, with the Cardamaro adding a balanced, herby sweetness.
Don’t miss the Beatnik either, a favorite amaro drink of bar manager Michael Rowe. It’s a tarry, dark, molasses-sweet thing in a tumbler, featuring the good stuff: Kopke tawny port, bourbon, Averna, and burnt lemon peel. It echoes the ethos of the Camaro with a twist of aged wine. Sip on this one slowly and get lost in the mural of Portland’s nightscape that sets the romantic tone in this well-appointed, softly-lit bar.
The Box Social, 3971 N Williams Ave., 503.288.1111
Tequila Improved at Kask
Kask’s bar manager Tommy Klus will tell you that he prefers using amari as accents in his spirit-forward cocktails. His current favorite, Tequila Improved, uses Ramazzottti to kick up his take on a tequila old-fashioned: Orange and Angostura bitters are stirred with agave nectar, El Tesoro blanco, and the amaro, then minimally garnished with a block of ice and an orange peel.
In the Tequila Improved, the Ramazzatti joins forces with the agave to soften the tequila, and it works beautifully. For better or for worse, you might be three of these deep before you realize it’s difficult to remove yourself from your bar stool. Sounds fun, right?
Kask, 1215 SW Alder St., 503. 241.7163
Go forth and try these local amaro-based concoctions, and let us know what you think in the comments!