Bitter truth: the story of Amaro

It’s as easy as one-two-three — one part soda, two parts Aperol and three of Prosecco, poured in that sequence over ice in a large wine glass, with a slice of orange added for good measure. A drink known the world over as the Aperol Spritz, and now to be found on menus across India.

Kode in Mumbai’s Lower Parel has even begun popularising it as the perfect brunch cocktail, and an alternative for people looking beyond Mimosas or Bloody Marys. At about 11% alcoholic volume, it also makes for a guilt free way to spike your midday.

From Italy, with love

Italy’s gift to the world, apart from high fashion and fast cars, are the bitter spirits known as Amaro or Amari, whose wide range of taste profiles, from Aperol to Campari, Cynar and Fernet, enable them to be slotted either before or after a meal. What is common is their taste profile, which (as their category suggests) is a bitter one, with Aperol perhaps being an outlier in that respect with a grapefruit and orange nose and a sweeter taste profile.

Subham Gupta, bartender at Delhi’s PDA, an Italian cocktail bar says, “The stereotypical impression of an Indian consumer with a sweeter palate is belied by the receptiveness we are getting for our Campari and Aperol based cocktails.” Apart from the Aperol Spritzer, PDA also does the Boulevardier, the Negroni and a neat twist on the latter, which I tasted last month, the Camomile Negroni, which uses Camomile infused gin as the base of this classic Campari cocktail.

The cocktail menu at PDA is not easy on the pocket, but the high rollers who pop in, before heading up for a meal at Diva, the Italian restaurant helmed by Ritu Dalmia, don’t really mind forking out ₹1,200 for an Aperol Spritz, and this clientele is a well travelled one, already familiar with this drink from bar crawls around the world.

Mumbai’s Kode also does a Spanish style G&T (Gin and Tonic), marked by the addition of 10 ml of Aperol to the classic, served Spanish style in a large wine glass.

Himanshu Desai, the beverage innovation head for Massive Restaurants in the West, is taking great pleasure in introducing Aperol and Campari into cocktails, and claims that consumers are definitely taking to it. He says that the complexity and bitterness of these drinks is making guests sit up and take notice.

‘Train your palate’

Desai agrees with Gupta that it’s the mature, well-travelled Indian who is glad to see these brands on local menus, with a recent Italy-returned consumer at Kode also surprising him by asking for a shot of Fernet. It is an intensely bitter spirit, typically had as a digestif, with a chilled shot of it being a classic way to round off the meal.

In fact, Amaro (or Amari) were traditionally seen as having medicinal or elixir like properties, helping with digestion. Most Amaro are marked by the infusion of several herbs and roots.

What is also helping the growth of Amaro in India is the increasing sophistication of bars and bartenders, with spirits like this being particular favourites due to their complexity and bitterness. Brands are also doing their bit to promote them.

The recently concluded Negroni Week is a promotion run around the world by Campari, with bars across the country participating and creating their own variations of the Negroni. I enjoyed in particular the desi twist with jaggery syrup and kokum that I sampled at the launch event at Delhi’s Paparazzi.

Bittersweet pick-me-up

The Spritz itself as a drink style dates back possibly to the Austrian occupation of Italy in the 19th century, with the name deriving from the German word “spritzen” or to spray. An anytime drink, the Aperol Spritz in particular works very well as a part of the aperitivo (or aperitif), something to help kick start cocktail hour. In Venice, it is accompanied by cicchetti, the ever present savoury snacks.

Fernet Branca is the next Amaro that we can expect to see, and clearly the most bitter of the lot! Fernet is also drunk around the world, enjoyed with cola in Argentina, as a chilled shot in Europe, with ginger ale in the USA or also increasingly as a cocktail ingredient.

Gupta at PDA also wishes to see Branca Menta introduced, a mint driven variant of the original Fernet Branca recipe, which he says should find good traction with us mint-loving Indians.

Drinks like Campari and Fernet require you to “train your palate to like it,” as Desai puts it, with possibly a more mature drinker opting for this, while the Aperol Spritz cuts across all age groups and sexes. The drink even inspired a Guinness Record in 2012, with 2,600 people coming together to clink their glasses in the world’s largest Aperol Spritz toast.

The writer is the co-founder and CEO of Tulleeho, a drinks training and consulting firm and founder-CEO of Bar X, a bar products retail venture. Follow him at @tulleeho

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 2:09:32 AM |

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