Feeling Bitter

We look at the versatility of amaro
By Christopher Coates
Italy's influence on the global palate is undeniable, but there's one key component of Italian food and drink culture that, while no less important, has passed much of the world by. I'm talking, of course, of Italy's penchant for the bitter herbal liqueur known as amaro. The name literally translates as 'bitter' and describes a category that, while mostly associated with Italy, can act as an umbrella term for a whole host of drinks. Amari can range from around 15 to 40% ABV, may have wine, grappa, or neutral spirit as a base and can arguably also include digestifs such as Jägermeister and bitter liqueurs such as Campari or Aperol among its ranks. One notable sub-category of amaro is the especially bitter fernet, of which the most widely known is the Fernet-Branca brand. Although there's a huge degree of variation between the amari produced by different companies, what all have in common is a distinctive bittersweet profile that bartenders find indispensable. For us whisky lovers, amari can be used to great effect in order to pull out or balance the key flavours of our favourite drams - something the team at Bramble has demonstrated in these three cocktails.

The 747 is a punchy take on the Paper Plane, a modern classic created by Sam Ross in 2007, that really plays to the spicy ginger cake and marmalade profile of the Tamdhu. The Montenegro and Aperol bolster those all-important orange notes, while the respective clove and pink grapefruit elements bring fruit-packed panettone to mind. The Thorn is an unusual twist on the classic julep. The unctuous Nardini really plays well with the Four Roses' vanilla and oak notes, while the minty character of the amaro works with the leaves to create a refreshing top note. Together with the chocolate bitters, the Nardini's orange element delivers a cocktail that puts me in mind of Jaffa Cake crossed with After Eight. The DiBiase is a take on an indulgent cocktail called The Millionaire, but this twist has been named for Ted DiBiase, the pro wrestler known as 'The Million Dollar Man'. The 228 has a lot of sweet red berry notes layered on the base tropical character found in Sovereign. The pineapple syrup helps dial up those quieter base notes, while the Ciociaro's bitter herbal character brings balance and added complexity.

The cocktails

The 747


  • 60ml Tamdhu 10 Years Old

  • 20ml Amaro Montenegro

  • 10ml lemon juice

  • 10ml Aperol

  • 2 dashes walnut bitters

Shake all ingredients and strain into a chilled coupe.

Express and garnish with an orange twist.

The Thorn


  • 50ml Four Roses Single Barrel

  • 15ml Amaro Nardini

  • 10ml vanilla sugar syrup

  • 2 dashes 'Aztec' chocolate bitters

  • 6 large mint leaves

Build in a julep tin over crushed ice, taking time to muddle the mint leaves, and churn well with a spoon before topping with more crushed ice.

Serve with a straw and garnish with a mint sprig.

The DiBiase


  • 60ml Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish

  • 20ml Amaro Ciociaro

  • 20ml pineapple syrup

  • 20ml lemon juice

  • 7.5ml grenadine

Shake all ingredients and strain into a coupe.

An absinthe spray.

The Whiskies


10 Years Old 40% ABV
When Ian Macleod Distillers bought Tamdhu in 2011, almost overnight the distillery went from being an afterthought to one of the most stylish expressions available. Not to mention the review scores, which indicate that Tamdhu is turning the heads of more than just the sherry bomb chasers!

Four Roses

Single Barrel 50% ABV
This high-strength expression from Four Roses is one of those key bottles that no Bourbon lover's whiskey shelf should ever be without. Waxy wine gums and plums accompany rich spice and maple syrup in a palate that just keeps going and going.


228 Burgundy Finish 43% ABV
The purchase of Tullibardine by Terroir Distillers saw the release of a new core range based upon a NAS expression called Sovereign, which is matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels. This spirit is then moved to 228-litre barriques that previously held Pinot Noir.

The Amari

Amaro Montenegro 23% ABV

More than 130 years ago, Stanislao Cobianchi left Italy in search of adventure and, on his return, started a distillery. He named Amaro Montenegro in honour of Princess Elena of Montenegro and it swiftly gained a cult status in Italy. Today, it is perhaps the most readily available amaro outside of its home nation. I've heard it referred to as 'training wheels amaro' on account of its sweet, orange-led profile and relatively low ABV. While it is perhaps the most approachable of the three examples here, do not be fooled, it has a delightful kick of bitter orange peel that creeps up on you.

Amaro Nardini 31% ABV

With a history dating back to 1779, the company that produces this amaro is a true stalwart of the Italian drinks industry. Principally known as a grappa producer, Nardini is one of Italy's oldest companies and is still run by descendants of the founder. Today, it operates two grappa distilleries and also produces its own signature amaro. In addition to hints of coffee, liquorice, orange and dark chocolate, Amaro Nardini delivers a distinct peppermint character that makes it stand out from the crowd. Although mint forward, the overall profile is gentle and dignified - this is no Fernet-Branca Menta!

Amaro Ciociaro 30% ABV

Vincenzo Paolucci had experimented with the production of amari and fruit liqueurs for some years before he moved to Sora, in Ciociaria, to the southeast of Rome, in 1873. He founded the company that bears his name there as the area had perfect conditions to cultivate the plants used in his infusions. Today, the company is still a family concern and is run by Vincenzo's great grandsons. Amaro Ciociaro's complex profile offers significant sweetness, so be sure to use sparingly alongside other sweeteners. Expect notes of lemon, clove, cherry, and cola bottle sweets – seriously!

Bramble Bar
16A Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JE