One thing that’s common in Europe, but relatively uncommon in the United States, is the drinking of straight (or neat) liquors or liqueurs, either before dinner (apéritif/aperitivo) or after (digéstif/digestivo). Sure, there are people here who enjoy a scotch or brandy after a big meal, but it’s not really an everyday part of American drinking. I am here to advocate in favor of this refined and civilized practice. Here I sit, after taking in a rich meal of roasted chicken and bread salad, and I am sipping Averna amaro, gently chilled with a single large ice cube, to cleanse my palate and help me relax a bit before bed.
Amari, if you don’t know, are herbal liqueurs from Italy, typically enjoyed after the meal. The word amari literally means “bitter.” Italy has a host of amari, at varying degrees of bitterness, but today, I’m going to talk about Averna. A bittersweet amaro, Averna is made from a blend of flowers, herbs, dried fruits, and spices, resulting in a complex taste with a lingering finish. A pleasant, satisfying sipper, a little Averna goes a long way as you unwind in the evening. No need to sip it solely as an digestivo, either. Because it cleanses and opens up the palate, it’s equally good as an aperitivo.
Lately, however, bartenders have started mixing it into cocktails. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Gary Regan offers up a couple of recipes mixing Averna with another Italian quaff, Campari. Of the two recipes, we’ve tried La Dura Vita and found it quite yummy.
La Dura Vita
- 1-1/2 oz. gin (Gary suggests Plymouth; I used Beefeater to good effect)
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1/2 oz. Averna amaro
- lemon twist, for garnish
Technique: Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir. Add garnish. Smile.