Bar manager and Amaro aficionado Heather Perkins of Pittsburgh’s DiAnoia’s Eatery on how to order Amaro without looking completely lost.

Heather Perkins
Credit: Sara Norris

Of all Italy’s aperitifs, Amaro is one of the most diverse. This category of liquers includes more than 10 different styles—each being anywhere from 17 to 70 proof and made from 13 to 36 different ingredients, some of which include fennel, artichokes, grapes and rhubarb, just to name a few.

Just a little bit of Amaro knowledge can go a long way in ensuring that you at least sound like you know what you’re talking about when ordering at the bar. Amaro aficionado Heather Perkins of DiAnoia’s Eatery in Pittsburgh, which lists more than 20 different styles of Amaro on its menu, shared her recommendations for which amaro to order based on both your tastes and where you are in your meal.

The Gateway Amaro

While Fernet is the first Amaro that many drinkers experience, Perkins thinks that Montenegro, a much more subtle Amaro from Bologna that is served on tap at DiAnoia’s, is the best starting point for the Italian liqueur. “Montenegro isn’t overly sweet, but it has these honeysuckle and orange blossom notes that are really nice,” she says. “It’s a great way to finish a meal and we like to offer a little nip of it—an ounce or so—to guests after dinner both to say thank you and to maybe introduce them to Amaro for the first time.”

The Coffee Drinker’s Amaro

Coffee and Amaro pair famously well together and, according to Perkins, there are two different ways to enjoy the combination: in tandem or mixed together. “We’re getting a big call for Averna, which an increasing number of guests have started ordering on the side with their iced coffee,” she explains. "We also do a Shakerato as well, which is a shaken, cold espresso drink that we then add Ramazzotti to for the little bit of sugar content and warm licorice flavors. It’s a great way to enjoy the spirit without it being too far off from its original flavor.”

The Bourbon Drinker’s Amaro

For many people, Amaro often tastes a bit too herbaceous and medicinal. However, Perkins believes that due to the liquer's range, there is always an Amaro to fit your tastes, even if you typically favor richer spirits like whiskey. “One of my personal favorites is Lazzaroni, which has great sweet cherry and tobacco notes,” she explains. “When you start talking richer, deeper flavors, you start pulling people in who are bourbon drinkers or others who prefer sipping on a spirit for the bold flavors.”

The Cold Weather Amaro

Most Amaros are traditionally served neat or, occasionally, over ice with a twist. For Perkins, though, it was her first experience with Rabarbaro Zucca, a rhubarb-based Amaro often served hot, that was a true epiphany. “Rabarbaro Zucca is a great substitute for espresso at the end of a meal on a cold night," she says. “It’s very similar to tea and perfect for those who are hot tea drinkers and are maybe stepping away from coffee, but still really love the tannins and bitter notes.”

The Best Amaros to Start & Finish a Meal With

In general, Amaro is most often enjoyed directly before a meal as an aperitif or afterward as a digestif. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re all interchangeable. Instead, Perkins points out that there are differences in what you should look for in a pre-meal Amaro vs. one to enjoy post-meal. “I would start with a Vecchio Amaro del Capo, which has this wonderful Calabrian fennel and anise flavor that really gets you excited to eat,” she says. "As a way to wrap up a meal, however, I would finish with something like Amaro Sibilla, which is especially dark and rich, if you aren't already enjoying a Montenegro, of course.”