The concept of an American-made amaro is fairly new one. That makes sense; our infatuation with amaro here in the U.S. is a relatively recent phenomenon, at least when you consider Italy’s been cranking out these bittersweet herbal liqueurs for centuries.
But as American craft distilleries continue to grow and expand their product offerings, domestic amari are becoming increasingly common. Among Boston-based distilleries, Bully Boy Distillers became the first to release an amaro when its Italian-inspired digestif debuted this past October.
The Long, Bitter Road to Amaro
At its core, making amaro is a reasonably simple affair: toss some herbs, spices, citrus peels, and other botanicals in a neutral grain spirit; let it all sit for a few weeks; strain out the solids, add a little sweetener, and you’re good to go.
Perfecting the recipe is another matter entirely.
Bully Boy’s amaro is the culmination of a two-year process of discovering the right combination of botanicals, tweaking their proportions, and letting each batch rest for three weeks before it could even be tested. The subtlest change to the composition would cause the process to start all over again.
The final product comprises 26 botanicals, including grapefruit, rhubarb root, Szechuan peppercorn, and fig, rested in a combination of rum and neutral grain spirit. A blend of Amarillo, Cascade, Citra, and Galaxy hops contribute a sturdy bitterness.
Worth the Wait
The resulting amaro is spicy, floral, citrusy, and bitter. The aroma, bright and vibrant, jumps out of the bottle as soon as the cork is removed.
On the nose, the amaro pops with grapefruit and peppercorn. On the palate, the amaro is smooth and herbal, with big notes of citrus and fig, along with tart and earthy flavors like rhubarb. The finish is long, with a warm, spicy bite. The flavor is bitter, of course, but not aggressively so. It’s easily one of the most floral amari I’ve encountered.
In the Glass and in a Drink
Like any good amaro, Bully Boy’s needs little or no adornment. A splash of lemon or a dash of bitters might play well with some of the botanical notes, but I’m happy to just enjoy it on its own. Smooth and drinkable at 58 proof, the amaro serves as a splendid way to conclude an evening or round out a satisfying meal (making it especially useful in this season of overeating).
Which is not to say that it’s not a welcome addition to cocktails. Amaro often plays a complementary role in drinks, but I wanted to try something that would showcase it.
The Reverse Manhattan turns one of the world’s most iconic cocktails on its head, with two ounces of sweet vermouth and one of rye whiskey. I swapped the vermouth for Bully Boy’s amaro, obviously. And in place of rye I opted for bourbon, which served to balance the amaro’s spiciness with some sweetness. Grapefruit bitters and an orange twist help accentuate the citrusy notes in the amaro.
Reverse (Amaro) Manhattan
2 ounces Bully Boy amaro
1 ounce bourbon (I used Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut, an overproof bourbon)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash grapefruit bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice; strain into a chilled glass and garnish with an orange twist.
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