I nurture a secret affection for Amaros. It stems from my time with the Canadians, judging the National Wine Awards for the last five years, and visiting often. The Canadian crew have a big thing about Amaros, and in particular, Fernet Branca. Fernet is an acquired taste, but thanks to them, I acquired it. We even drink it on the bus, heading out or back from evening events.
There’s no tight definition for an Amaro. It’s a herbal liqueur, based around bitterness, and the whole category is very well explained in this article in Saveur. Notice that Fernet Branca is last. Avoid Fernet Menthe unless you are a bit crazy in the head. It’s mintier (if that were possible) and sweeter than Branca.
The most famous Amaro is Campari, which is a sort of Amaro for cowards, but which is perfectly fine as a base for a negroni, as is the new Bitter from Martini.
This Asterley is really good. It’s made by two brothers in Forest Hill, London. One of them is married to a Sicilian, hence the desire to produce this most Italian of drinks. In the mix are 24 botanicals including gentian, hops and wormwood. It’s blended with their signature vermouth made from English Pinot noir grapes. The result is pretty compelling.
How do you drink it? In Argentina, where Fernet Branca is like a religion, it’s mostly blended with coke, which is a travesty. Instead, pour over ice and sip after a meal. Or if you are like the Canadians, share a bottle on a bus.