A Bittersweet Beverage on the Rise

Amaro, an herbal liqueur traditionally consumed as an after-dinner digestif, is popping up in restaurants and bars around New Jersey.

Courtesy of Danny Childs

It’s customary to pair pasta with wine, but at restaurants and bars around the Garden State, a different beverage is on the rise: amaro.

Meaning “bitter” in Italian, amaro is a venerable herbal liqueur traditionally consumed as an after-dinner digestif. It’s made by infusing a base spirit (such as grape brandy) with a blend of herbs, roots, flowers and spices. Although all amari are bitter, flavor notes can range from rhubarb to orange peel, licorice, peppermint, even chocolate or caramel.

It’s a category that Danny Childs, who has a background in botany, knows well. In 2016, as the new bar manager of the Farm and Fisherman Tavern in Cherry Hill, he read Brad Thomas Parsons’s popular book, Amaro. “I was endlessly fascinated,” he says, “with how many kinds of roots and fruits and herbs and barks went into it.”

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The book inspired Childs to craft his own amari. He uses local ingredients, many of which he grows in the restaurant’s garden, to produce four seasonal amari (available to taste in a flight, or in various cocktails). In the spring, Childs makes a rabarbaro amaro that includes rhubarb, chamomile, violet, elderflower and strawberry (pictured). Summer’s tartufo amaro uses artichoke, cardoon, lemongrass and baby corn shoots. The fall amaro features wormwood, quince and peach leaves. Winter (“the most challenging to make” because nothing’s growing), is an alpine style with pine cones and needles, cedar and birch bark, staghorn sumac flowers and other foraged ingredients from the Pine Barrens. “For us, it’s a way to show people the bounty of New Jersey,” Childs says.

You can find amari brands like Montenegro and CioCiaro at Osteria Crescendo in Westwood and the Edge in Jackson.

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